Gambia imposes the death penalty in a manner that violates international law. The death penalty was abolished in Gambia in 1993; but, it was reinstated in 1995 after President Jammeh came to power, in response to a reported spike in violent crime and alleged cases of treason. A de facto moratorium on the death penalty – no one had been executed since 1985 – remained in effect until 2012. A constitutional requirement to review the death penalty 10 years after its enactment has been ignored. Two decades since the penalty’s reinstatement, the National Assembly has yet to review it.53 Since 2012, prisoners sentenced to death have been executed in violation of their fundamental due process rights, including ensuring that their right to appeal had been exhausted.54 On August 19, 2012, Jammeh vowed publicly to execute every prisoner on death row – at least 47 – by September of that year.
In the middle of the night on August 23, security officials took a woman and eight men on death row, including two Senegalese citizens, from their cells in the security wing of Mile 2 prison and executed them. Those executed included three former military personnel who had been convicted of treason and murder.
The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions said in his 2015 report that “the only difference between those who lived and those who died seems to be pure luck. The killings were, in other words, arbitrary and thus unlawful.”55 Their appeals had not been fully exhausted, and according to Amnesty International, neither they, nor their family or their lawyers, had been informed in advance of the execution date.
Human Rights Watch phone interviews with family member of those detained in relation to December 2014 coup attempt May 17, 2015. 53 UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. 54, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), G.A. res. 2200A (XXI), 21 U.N. GAOR Supp. (No. 16) at 52, U.N. Doc. A/6316 (1966), 999 U.N.T.S. 171, entered into force Mar. 23, 1976, http://www.ohchr.org/en/professionalinterest/pages/ccpr.aspx (accessed June 27, 2015), art. 6(2).
UN Human Rights Council, Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Human Rights Watch interview with Amadou Scattred Janneh, who was a prisoner held in the Security Wing at Mile 2 prison from January to August 2012 and who witnessed several men taken from their cells to be executed in August 2012, December 19, 2015.
STATE OF FEAR
Amadou Scattred Janneh, a former minister of information, was a prisoner in Mile 2’s security wing at the time of the executions. 56 He told Human Rights Watch: Armed men carrying handcuffs and leg irons came into the security wing. I saw them take Dauda, Malam Sonko, Abubakar Yabo. As they led Lamine Dabo away, he shouted to me, “Amadou! We are being executed!” We learned about another one, Tabara Samba, in the morning when a prison officer came to me crying and told me she [Samba] had also been executed. The prison officials were emotional about the incident. They dealt with us on an everyday basis and this had not happened for 25 years. After a widespread international outcry, Jammeh announced a conditional moratorium on executions58 to be reinstated if violent crime in the country increased.
However, in March 2015, Gambia rejected recommendations from 13 countries during its Universal Periodic Review at the UN Human Rights Council to abolish the death penalty.
In March 2015, a secret military court sentenced three soldiers to death (and three other soldiers to life in prison) on charges of treason, desertion, conspiracy, and mutiny, relating to their involvement in the December 2014 failed coup. The court martial, closed to the public, appeared to lack basic due process.
Currently, Gambia’s constitution allows for the death penalty only in cases of serious and violent offenses resulting in the death of another; the Criminal Code, however, allows for the death penalty in cases of treason, and requires it in cases of murder.