Submission of an alternative report on the country situation in The Gambia 64th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

1053

Submission of an alternative report on the country situation in The Gambia 64th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights

Coalition for Change -The Gambia (CCG), a civil, human and political rights organization, was launched in April 2011.  The group is a non-partisan organization established to challenge the dictatorship and restore basic freedoms in The Gambia through nonviolent action.

The Coalition’s formation was necessitated by the repressive political environment in which Gambians found themselves. Virtually all avenues of orderly political change were shut by a despot determined to cling on to power by all means necessary.

CCG consistently called upon the Gambian regime to immediately:

  • Repeal laws that unduly restricted freedom of expression
  • Ensure equal access to public media by all political parties
  • Organize a referendum to institute Presidential term limits
  • Free all political prisoners
  • End arbitrary arrests, detentions, torture and murders
  • Investigate all reported cases of mysterious deaths and disappearances; and,
  • Respect freedoms of assembly and religion.

Human Rights and respect for the Rule of Law continue to be of paramount importance in The Gambia of post Yahya Jammeh era. With the changed political landscape in The Gambia, CCG’s focus has shifted to campaigning for the twin issues of transitional justice and protection of the environment.

OCEAN RESOURCES AND POLLUTION

  • Golden Lead, a Chinese-owned factory operating in the Gambia Coast, along Gunjur village was forced to pay a bond of 25,000 US dollars in June 2017 in an out-of-court settlement with the Gambia’s National Environment Agency for directly pumping its waste into the sea.[i] In March 2018, local environment campaigners removed those pipes in an attempt to curb the coastal pollution by Golden Lead Fishmeal processing plant. As a result, six activists were arrested by the Gambian Police and charged with “criminal trespass”, “destruction of private property” and “malicious injury”. The courts ruled a ‘no case’ in favour of the activists in December 2018.[ii]
  • Golden Lead Fishmeal Company not only failed to treat its wastewater but rather has strengthened its exploits by reinstalling its pipes and pumping more waste into the sea.
  • In May 2018, Kartong communities engaged Gambia’s Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources to complain of threats to Eco-Tourism in the village because of the pungent smell in the environment, caused by the discharge of toxic waste in the Ocean from Chinese owned JXYG Fishmeal plant. In August 2018 the factory was closed following evidence that JXYG is discharging toxic waste into the Ocean. But since October 2018, JXYG Fishmeal plant has resumed operations after an out-of-court settlement which terms are unknown to the Kartong Communities[iii]
  • In Sanyang, Nassim Fishmeal Factory has reopened in December 2018 barely six months after it was officially closed. Owned by a Mauritanian business tycoon, Nassim was officially shut down on June 30th 2018 by Gambia Government, after the community expressed concern that the company is disposing toxic chemical waste on their agricultural lands as well as releasing uncontrolled industrial smoke filled with bad odour.

Recommendations:

  • Implement inclusive, transparent and sustainable management policies for the protection of ocean resources that integrate citizens’ concerns.
  • Effectively enforce proper management of solid, gaseous and liquid relate waste

SAND MINING

  • In 2018 in Faraba Banta village, communities accused Julakay Company to conduct sand mining operations in a contract awarded by the Gambia government without consulting the local village council and stakeholders in the project. On 18 June 2018, a detachment of the Gambia’s Police Intervention Unit (PIU) clashed with a number of angry Faraba Banta local residents who took to the streets of the village to protest the Julakay Company. Some PIU officers fired live ammunition at the protesters amongst whom Bakary Kujabi and Ismaila Bah who were killed instantly. Nyang-Jawo another protester died in hospital on 20 June, having previously been seriously injured at the shooting.[iv]
  • Similar concerns about sand mining have been raised by communities in Gunjur, Kartong, Sanyang, Kitti and in several other areas.

Recommendations:

  • Enforce official regulations and articulate new standard ecological guidelines in the issuing of licence to sand miners.
  • Formulate additional provisions to the Local government Act that ensure local communities benefit from the proceeds of mining activities in their areas

ILLEGAL TIMBER LOGGING

  • The Gambia has a little forest cover and has banned illegal logging for some time now. Yet timber export from The Gambia is next to Nigeria in size. All of the timber exported out of The Gambia, primarily to China, is from the Casamance region of Senegal and Guinea Bissau; making all of the timber exported from The Gambia illegal.[v] In 2015, Haidar El Ali, an ecologist and former Senegalese Environment Minister revealed that export of wood from The Gambia amasses more than USD $238 million. Illegal logging has over the years strengthened the rebellion in Casamance that logs and exports in The Gambia as a major source of the revenue for the insurgents.

Recommendation:

  • Comply with international Conventions and treaties to protect the forests and sanction officials that enable the trade of illegal timber logs
  • Develop concrete joint policies to protect the forest cover (particularly from the Casamance forest in southern Senegal), and in The Gambia.

DEGRADATION OF RESERVE FORESTS AND POLLUTION

  • Infinity New Energy Enterprise, a Chinese owned plant, illegally operates in the Nyambai Buffer Forest, where this factory burns old tyres to produce fuel. Since February 2019, residents living around the factory have lodged complaints to Gambia’s National Environment Agency (NEA) that they are inhaling “abnormal smell” coming from the said factory. While Gambia’s NEA still allows this plant to operate and admits to not having enough knowledge about the technology utilised by Infinity New Energy Enterprise, this Chinese factory continues to release its toxic fumes all over the Nyambai Forest and its surroundings.[vi]
  • Known as Monkey Park, the Bijilo Forest Park and Nature Trail was established in 1951 along the Senegambia Beach. It shelters the Green Vervet Monkeys, and the shyer Western Red Colobus Monkey, all endangered species. The small pool of water in the park as well as fruit trees that provided an important food source for the monkeys, were all destroyed in order to construct a conference centre in 2017. Earlier in 2018, the whole park came under threat when the entire area lost its status as a reserve. After strong protests by many well-wishers and environmentalists, as well as the thousands of people who signed a petition, the decision to declassify the park was overturned. Yet there is no guarantee the status quo will continue.

Recommendations

  • Redefine a legal status that minimizes the dependence of the National environmental agency from political interests
  • Enact a new law that effectively protect all reserve forests in The Gambia from any form of hazard
  • Provide NEA with capacities and technology adapted to the new environment challenges

RIGHT TO LIVE IN GOOD HEALTH

  • The deteriorating health system in the country, particularly primary health care, seriously impacts on infant and maternal mortality. Gambians in the diaspora have sometimes volunteered to provide equipment and support to the poor national health delivery system. Yet, local corruption and heavy bureaucracy have on several occasions tampered with efforts by Gambians and friends of The Gambia abroad to instil a new breath to the sick health system.[vii]
  • The Bakoteh, Kotu and Manjai dump sites continue to remain neighbouring to houses and expose the populace in those areas to serious health hazard as these dump sites release toxic smokes and heavily polluted gas in the air.

Recommendations:

  • Provide accessible, affordable and quality health and welfare care for all

RESTORING THE RULE OF LAW

  • CCG recognizes and values the important role of the Truth, reconciliation and reparations Commission (TRRC). In as much as TRRC pursues its mission, the government of The Gambia must address established past human rights violations of the former president, his security personnel and his intelligence officers. The burden of actions to address these issues must not be only on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.[viii]
  • Since April 2017, a number of survivors of Aril 10th 2000 shootings and victims of human rights violation were promised overseas treatment by the Turkish Embassy in Banjul and given free visas, but since then, the government particularly the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare have done little to come to their aid.[ix]

Recommendations:

  • Major reforms must take place immediately to ensure reparations for victims of enforced disappearances and their families and bring their perpetrators to justice
  • The State of The Gambia must provide support and assistance to all victims of human rights abuses in need of urgent medical treatment

PRISON CONDITIONS

  • Harsh and life-threatening prison conditions such as food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, lack of adequate medical care, death in detention and inadequate sanitary conditions continue to survive in the prisons of The Gambia.
  • Long detentions without trial continue to be a major factor in overcrowding the prison populations in The Gambia. In August 2018, 23 inmates being held in Jeshwang Remand Wing escaped from the prison exposing the urgency to rethink the Gambia Prisons system.[x]

Recommendations

  • Improve detention conditions of inmates and speed up the processing of awaiting trial detainees
  • Launch the National Prisons reform Commission to develop a new Gambia Prison bill in line with international standards

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

  • On 14 February 2018, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) ruled that the rights of four Gambian journalists had been violated by Gambian authorities in enforcing laws criminalising speech. The judgment also recognised that the criminal laws on libel, sedition and false news disproportionately interfere with the rights of Gambian journalists and directed that the Gambia “immediately repeal or amend” these laws in line with its obligations under international law. [xi]
  • Two years and half after what is generally admitted as New Gambia, all the laws enacted with the purpose of restricting freedom of expression by the Yahya Jammeh regime continue to remain despite numerous promises by President Adama Barrow and his administration to repeal them.
  • On 9th May 2018, the Gambian Supreme Court declared that the criminal defamation law and the law on false news on the internet are unconstitutional. The law on sedition was also challenged and was found unconstitutional only to the extent that a publication relates to government and other public officials. The law on sedition in relation to the president remains.
  • In july 2018, Gambia President Adama Barrow provoked strong local media reactions when he alleged in a political tour that “some Gambian journalists are backed by people like politicians who will give them money to write something bad about the government or President Adama Barrow, because those people do not want to see the country progress.”
  • On August 5th 2018, Louis Mendy and Modou Ceesay reporters from state broadcaster Gambia Radio-Television Service ‘GRTS’ were assaulted by the security guards and supporters of Ex-President Yahya Jammeh, while in the village of Bujinga to cover the funeral service of Yahya Jammeh’s mother.
  • On September 23rd, 2018, personnel of Gambia Police Intervention Unit assaulted Baboucarr Manga, a cameraman working of Eye Africa Tv who was covering the peaceful demonstartion of some Gambian teachers at the Abuko Upper Basic School in the Kanifing Municipality.

Recommendations:

  • Fully comply with ECOWAS court orders and judgments and Repeal laws on criminal defamation, sedition, and false news.

FREEDOM OF OPINION AND ASSOCIATION

  • President Adama Barrow’s government has denied authorizations for several gatherings of civil society actors such as the as “Occupy Westfield” against water and electricity shortage and, in the aftermath of the Faraba shooting, the “Dafa Doy” protest against security personnel easy use of the trigger and live bullets of unarmed civilians.[xii]
  • Instruct police and security personnel to avoid the systematic use of force to disperse peaceful gatherings and processions without a permit.

Recommendation:

  • Repeal the Public Order Act and enact a law that guarantees the right to peaceful protest

IMPUNITY OF SECURITY FORCES

  • In January 2019, Gambia’s Presidency attempted to withdraw all the charges and discontinue the trial against Police PIU officers and civilians involved in the Faraba Banta fracas where three people were shot dead. The announcement of such a chaotic step by Gambia’s presidency was quickly dismissed by the Attorney general in an attempt to quell the general perception and criticism that President Adama Barrow attempted to promote impunity.[xiii]
  • Gambia is yet to formalize the inclusion of torture as a crime in the legislation of the country as part of the ongoing criminal justice reform process. As it was the case in the Yahya Jammeh’s regime, the absence of adequate laws to prohibit torture continues to inhibit the prosecution of perpetrators of torture in the present dispensation.
  • The Government of The Gambia is yet to materialize plans to repeal the Indemnity Act, which provided immunity for law enforcement officers who committed acts of torture. In July 2018, the government of The Gambia announced the existence of such plans to repeal the Indemnity Act while under examination of the State of civil and political rights in the Gambia by the UN Human Rights Committee.[xiv]

Recommendations:

  • Build the capacity of Security personnel and investigate any allegation on abusive use of force.
  • Enforce due process of law on security officers allegedly involved in human rights violations

SECURITY SECTOR REFORM 

  • President Barrow in May 2017 underscored the need for comprehensive security sector reform, describing security institutions as “polluted” because of their ties to Jammeh-era abuses. However, the national security reform faces entrenched rear-guard efforts to derail the process and regain the privileged position of those close to the former regime of Yahya Jammeh.[xv]
  • The identity disclosure of alleged crime perpetrators at the ongoing hearings at the Truth, reconciliation and reparations Commission (TRRC) is a key indication that the post Jammeh democratic transition experience remains fragile with a risk of backsliding if the national security reform process continues to slow down

Recommendations

  • Enact laws that transform Gambia’s security sector into effective, professional institutions and structures accountable to the state and the people of The Gambia

[i] Chinese Firm takes over Gambian Coast: https://face2faceafrica.com/article/chinese-firm-takes-over-gambian-coast-in-ongoing-water-pollution-crisis

[ii] Court acquits activists: http://www.kerr-fatou.com/court-acquits-activists-charged-for-removing-golden-lead-pipes/

[iii] JXYG Fishmeal Factory Resume Operations: http://foroyaa.gm/jxyg-fishmeal-factory-resume-operations/

[iv] Gambia: Two Shot Dead In Faraba Banta Protest: https://jollofnews.com/2018/06/18/gambia-two-shot-dead-in-faraba-banta-protest/

[v] Gambia joins Senegal in combating illegal timber trade: http://www.kerr-fatou.com/gambia-joins-senegal-in-combating-illegal-timber-trade/

[vi] NEA Officer Says Chinese Factory Operating Illegally In Nyambai Forest: http://foroyaa.gm/nea-officer-says-chinese-factory-operating-illegally-in-nyambai-forest/

[vii] Gambia:Service deliveryThe Health System http://www.aho.afro.who.int/profiles_information/index.php/Gambia:Service_delivery_-_The_Health_System?lang=fr

[viii] Gambia’s Road to Democratic Reform: https://africacenter.org/spotlight/gambia-road-to-democratic-reform/

[ix] April 10th survivor demands justice from government: http://thepoint.gm/africa/gambia/article/april-10th-survivor-demands-justice-from-government

[x] Gambia: Jeshwang prison break: 23 escaped  https://www.allgambianews.com/2018/08/06/gambia-jeshwang-prison-break-23-escaped/

[xi] ECOWAS Court delivers landmark decision: https://www.mediadefence.org/news/update-ecowas-court-delivers-landmark-decision-one-our-strategic-cases-challenging-laws-used

[xii] Dissenting Opinion: The Supreme Court and the Public Order Act: https://gainako.com/dissenting-opinion-supreme-court-public-order-act/

[xiii] Attorney General clarifies: http://foroyaa.gm/attorney-general-clarifies-position-on-faraba-banta-case/

[xiv] https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=23343&LangID=E

[xv] Barrow launched Security Sector Reform http://www.gm.undp.org/content/gambia/en/home/presscenter/articles/2017/09/13/president-adama-barrow-yesterday-launched-the-gambian-government-s-security-sector-reform-project.html

Join The Conversation