The recurrence of cases of human rights violations in The Gambia has always been a concern at the highest level for RADDHO and human rights organizations. Neighboring country of Senegal, Gambia has experienced a military coup since 1994 is characterized by a ferocious dictatorship that has always ignored the most basic rules on respect for human rights. This is also why RADDHO regularly publishes statements and press releases denouncing the serious and repeated human rights violations in Gambia.
These violations are manifested by ferocious crackdowns, intimidation, arrest and arbitrary detention of journalists, human rights defenders, artists and opinion leaders (political parties, trade unions, social and denominational associations , etc.). This had consequences forced into exile many Gambian citizens, were forced to leave their country for reasons of persecution, physical security, restricting their freedom, not to mention the threats against members of their families back home. Therefore, since January 2015, RADDHO recorded more than fifty (50) Gambian refugees whose cases were handled by a department that deals with the rights of Refugees, Asylum Seekers, Migrants and Displaced Persons.
Beyond these considerations, the regime of President Yahya Jammeh came to power following a military coup in July 22, 1994 overthrowing the democratically elected President “Sir dawda Kairaba Jawara”, has singled out the lack of rule of law and democracy, as it has never been during this regime, the regime does not have any separation and independency of the executive, legislature and judiciary in the Gambia. As proof, two (2) judges of the Supreme Court of The Gambia were dismissed in 2015 after criticism of that court by President Yahya Jammeh who were accused of having commuted to life imprisonment and death sentences.
In April 2013, amendments to the Penal Code adopted by the Gambian National Assembly increased the penalties for any person who “gives false information to public servants.” Section 114 amended passed the fine of 500 dalasi (about 13 US dollars) and a six (6) months to five (5) years in prison and a fine of 50,000 dalasi (1293 US dollars). A new Internet law adopted in July 2013 specifies that both users of Internet journalists and bloggers found guilty of spreading false news is punishable by fifteen (15) years in prison and a fine up to 3 million dalasi (74,690 US dollars).
Due to the violent repression of dissenting voices, a climate of fear settled thus prompting journalists, human rights defenders and citizens to be walled in silence or to flee the country. Given the gravity of this situation of flagrant and repeated violations of human rights in a country that is home to the headquarters of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), yet leading African mechanism for the promotion and protection of human rights, human rights organizations, RADDHO and ARTICLE 19 for West Africa are actively mobilized to the relocation of the ACHPR headquarters until ceases of repression and impunity in The Gambia are dealt with.
Moreover, despite numerous calls from the international and regional community, intergovernmental organizations, international and African NGOs defending human rights to respect the moratorium on the death penalty in Gambia President Yayah Jammeh does not cease speaking with threats of executing those suspected of involvement in the “coup attempt” of December 2014. It will be recalled that in August 2012, President Yahya Jammeh had ordered the execution of nine (9) people sentenced to death and it was carried, involving a woman of Senegalese nationality. Since then, the families are unable to access the body for funeral services according to their religion and as recommended by regional and international human rights treaties to which the Gambia is a party.
Three (3) years after these sad events, President Yahya Jammeh announced during his speech on the occasion of the feast of Eid el Fitr which marks the end of Ramadan, the decision to shoot all prisoners sentenced to capital punishment who were arrested following the “attempting to overthrow his government by force”. This spate of executions of death row corroborates the recurrence of serious violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Gambia. It also attests to the seriousness of the situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms in Gambia that ended abruptly with a long-term moratorium with the execution of nine (9) people in August 2012.
However, it was noted by many surveys and studies that the application of the death penalty has not reduced the crime rate in many countries around the world. Those who argue in favor of expanding the number of offenses carrying the death penalty often forget that this proposal, if adopted, would be the opposite of the trend away from capital punishment and elsewhere on the African continent . It is for these reasons that the General Assembly of the United Nations (UN) passed a resolution calling for a worldwide moratorium in accordance with the second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to the abolition of the death penalty.
According to the Special Rapporteurs, three quarters of the states of the world have abolished the death penalty in law or in practice, including in Africa. In 2014, only four African countries were known to have carried out executions of people sentenced to death. Furthermore, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), whose seat is in Banjul, Gambia has always advocated the abolition of the death penalty over the past two decades. The Commission has developed an additional protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the abolition of the death penalty. These are all very important steps taken by the Commission, and if the protocol on the death penalty adopted by the African Union and opened for ratification by African States, this will undoubtedly be a decisive step in the implementation process at the end of the era of the death penalty.
Given all the above, RADDHO and ARTICLE 19 for West Africa issued a joint statement on the situation of human rights in Gambia at the 54th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human Rights and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR). The two organizations have strongly condemned these violations which are usually committed by agents of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), but also by other law enforcement officials in total impunity. They also organized a side event on the theme “Protection of the civic space in West Africa: the case of the Gambia, host of the African Commission.” The strategic objective of these actions was to break the omerta on violations of human rights in Gambia, including those on freedom of expression and information.
Following these events, Gambia has been designated as one of the most repressive African countries where human rights violations are regularly committed at all levels of society without any effective legal remedy is granted to victims. The torturers enjoy impunity. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and police often carry out arbitrary arrests and often substitute for justice by illegally keeping prisoners beyond the period prescribed by the Constitution and the laws of The Gambia.
The two (2) Organizations recalled that in recent years, freedom of expression was violated systematically by the Gambian government. Several journalists, defenders of human rights and political opponents are victims of killings, disappearances, impugning motives, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and forced exile. Worse, the judiciary is subject to executive and does not hesitate to impose heavy sentences, including the death penalty and life imprisonment as evidenced by the execution of nine (9) sentenced to death August 23, 2012 .
Meanwhile, RADDHO and ARTICLE 19 for West Africa expressed deep concern about the closure of newspapers, the arrest of journalists whose only crime is to have done their job. The last major act by the Gambian government in its policy of muzzling the press and censorship of freedom of opinion and expression is a law (Amendment) which was passed July 5, 2013 on Information and Communication. It criminalizes expression online is now punishable by 15 years in prison and 3 million Dalasi fine (63 250 euros). For example, journalist Fatou Camara from Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) was detained incommunicado for more than three weeks before being formally accused of spreading false news on the Internet and have wanted to tarnish the image of the Gambian President.
Moreover, during the 52nd and 54th Ordinary Sessions of the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), the Secretary General of RADDHO returned in its statements on the general situation of human rights in Gambia to say journalists and intellectuals are subject to threats, intimidation, harassment, blackmail, arrest, trial of intent, enforced disappearances and killings. He came back again on cases still unresolved such as journalists Deyda Aïdara and Ebrima Manneh, but also on executions of 23 August 2012 Mambury Njie, the Imam Baba Leigh and the Buba Jawo case. He also regretted that the NIA often replaces the Gambian justice by engaging in an illegal and arbitrary arrests that target particular human rights defenders and journalists. Yet despite all these violations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) has remained almost silent on the situation of the Gambia during its various sessions.
However, efforts may be made, as countries like Nigeria, Guinea Bissau and the Republic of Guinea were in the same situation as the Gambia. But today, significant advances in human rights and consolidation of the rule of law and democracy have been noted through the work of human rights defenders.