Warns of escalation in tension with international partners
By Sanna Camara
“It is a matter of disappointment for me personally that, for the first time ever, The Gambia earns a specific mention in the pages [of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy] by way of a specific case study,” said the British High Commissioner to The Gambia on Monday.
David Morley warned that if the human rights situation in the Gambia continues to deteriorate and The Gambia… the country risks a further escalation in tension with international partners.
Disturbing deterioration in human rights, rule of law
“Cases of unlawful detentions, illegal closures of newspapers and radio stations, discrimination towards minority groups and the lack of transparency and due process surrounding the executions of death row prisoners mark a disturbing deterioration in human rights and rule of law in this country over the past 12 months. That is what has led to the specific inclusion of The Gambia in this report,” the envoy said in a statement accompanying the report.
He further added that, “If the human rights situation in the country continues to deteriorate and The Gambia fails to engage constructively with the international community on these issues then The Gambia risks not only being upgraded to a country of concern in next year’s Report, but also risks a further escalation in tension with international partners.”
Disappearance of Imam Baba Leigh
One specific case which the Report mentions, and which the envoy said he wanted to highlight, is that of Imam Baba Leigh. “It is four months since this Muslim cleric disappeared. It is even more disturbing that Imam Baba Leigh has allegedly been taken into custody by The Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency. How must his family feel at this cruel and continued absence of their loved one? Why can there be no news of his welfare?”
Speaking on behalf of the UK, I urge the Government of the Republic of The Gambia to investigate the disappearance of Imam Baba Leigh and to do their utmost to return him, fit and well, to his family, friends and wider community.
FULL TEXT OF THE CASE STUDY ON THE GAMBIA INCLUDED IN THE UK GOVERNMENT REPORT
Case study: The Gambia
Nine death row prisoners executed in secret
In August, The Gambia broke a 27-year moratorium on the death penalty when nine prisoners on death row were executed in secret. The executions were condemned by the international community, including the UK and The Gambia’s neighbours in West Africa.
As a result the moratorium was restored several weeks later and there have been no executions since. There is a risk that it might be suspended again depending upon a rise or fall in the rate of violent crime. The episode served to highlight the deterioration in human rights in The Gambia, which is attracting increasing international concern. During the immediate aftermath, several journalists were arrested for trying to apply for a permit to protest against the executions.
Crackdown on homosexuals
President Jammeh makes frequent calls for a crackdown on crime. His zero tolerance on homosexuality led to the arrest of 20 individuals for “attempting to commit an unnatural act”.
Crackdown on journalists, media houses
Other sections of society are also targeted. For example, attacks against the media increased in 2012. Newspapers and radio stations regularly face harassment and are sometimes closed without warning or explanation.
Journalists and broadcasters can be detained on loose interpretations of the criminal law. In one case, two journalists were arrested for sedition when they applied for a permit to hold a peaceful demonstration. The UN investigation into the disappearance of another journalist, Chief Ebrima Manneh, is still ongoing.
Unlawful detentions are also a concern. In June, a critic of the President, Imam Ba-Kawsu Fofana, was detained and allegedly tortured. In December, Imam Baba Leigh, who criticised the August executions, has also been detained. His whereabouts are currently unknown.
Government and the EU hullabaloo
Under the EU Cotonou Agreement, the provision of development assistance to The Gambia is dependent on the country’s human rights record, democratic principles and the rule of law. Progress is reviewed twice a year. But following the executions the relationship between the EU and The Gambia has been strained. In the run-up to the planned review in January 2013 the Gambian government withdrew from the talks.
International human rights obligations
The Gambia consistently disregards its international human rights obligations, whether in rulings from the Economic Community Of West African States (ECOWAS) community court or in UN and Commonwealth protocols which they have signed up to. In 2009, it was censured by the UN Human Rights Committee for such behaviour. There is little evidence that the situation in The Gambia is improving. We will continue to press them to re-engage on human rights issues, bilaterally and through the EU.