By Sanna Camara
At the recently concluded 56th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights held in Banjul, The Gambia government has come under intense criticism for its human rights record, which delegates said does not conform to internationally established standards expected of a host country of the continental body.
Various international, regional and national human rights organisations have expressed concerns that despite the resolutions and recommendations of the African Commission, the Gambian government continues to systematically violate the most basic human rights of its citizens.
One such body is the UN free expression agency called article 19, which made a submission on the situation of human rights and freedom of expression in the Gambia through Special Rapporteur, Pansy Tlakula on the 29th of April 2015.
Gambia presented guarantees to respect human rights
Gambia’s Fatou Jagne-Senghore, Arrticle 19’s regional director for West Africa did not waste time to draw the attention of the delegates “on the deteriorating situation of human rights and freedom of expression in The Gambia, as host of this African Commission.”
She said: “… you would recall that the Gambia, host to this Commission has presented guarantees of a country that respect human rights when this august body was established in 1987. Today,” she told delegates, “Banjul has become the capital of human rights violations in Africa, thus undermining the credibility of the African mechanism for human rights.”
Despite the resolutions and recommendations of the Commission, Fatou noted the contradiction that the Gambian government “continues to systematically violate the most basic human rights of its citizens.”
Violations are legitimized by draconian laws
The Article 19 strong lady told delegates that “these violations are often legitimized by draconian laws that have been adopted to stifle the already closed and repressive environment.”
Beyond these laws she pointed out, “widespread arbitrary arrests, persecution of journalists, dissidents and ordinary citizens is still perpetuated by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and other security units with total impunity and in most cases these violations are entrenched by a judiciary under the orders of the executive.”
For 20 years, The Gambia has not submitted its reports
“Madam Chair, as you know, for the past 20 years, The Gambia government has not submitted its reports on the implementation of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights; as of today, 10 reports are overdue.
Furthermore, madam Jagne-Senghore said The Gambia government “has not received a single Commission’s promotional mission.”
“The last and only report of this Commission was on prisons and date back in 1999. Since the then, prisons’ conditions particularly where political prisoners are detained and the secret detention centers continue to deteriorate with notable cases of abuse, enforced disappearance and torture of detainees…,” she said, adding that these were documented and confirmed by the UN Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial Executions and on Torture during their November 2014 visit.
You can read the rest of her statement below:
Madam Chair, the systematic repression of dissident voices and the attacks on civic space have heightened since the failed Coup d’Etat of 30 December 2014. Since this event, more than 30 people: relatives (including women and a child of 13) have been arrested and detained in secret locations without access to their families and lawyers. No charges have been brought against them, and relatives who have requested information about their whereabouts have been threatened. The government continues to illegally tap telephones of family members of those linked to the coup and has conducted house to house searches that forced many into exile for fear of indiscriminate reprisals.
Madam Chair, persons suspected of having participated in the December 2014 coup have been tried by court martial in a trial that was expedited and which did not respect the right to a fair trial of the accused. In March, 3 people were sentenced to death.
Madam Chair, the bodies of people killed during the coup d’Etat are still confiscated and kept by the authorities in inhuman and degrading conditions for the families.
ARTICLE19 calls on the African Commission to urge the Gambia Government:
• To submit its periodic reports and authorize the Commission to conduct a fact finding mission on the situation of human rights in accordance with resolution No.299 of February 2015,
• To follow up on the Resolution No. 299 and ensure that those accused for the December 2014 coup d’Etat receive a fair trial in accordance with standards recognized by your Commission,
• To return to families the bodies of those killed in December 2014 and to provide information to families on the graves of those executed in 2012,
• To release people arbitrarily detained since January 2015 and stop the persecution and intimidation of citizens, journalists and political dissidents,
• To respect and implement the decisions of the ECOWAS Court on the cases of journalists,
• To put an end to the practice of enforced disappearances and to provide information on individuals who disappeared since 20 years.
• To draw the attention of the AU Conference of Heads of State and Government and the Executive Council on the status of the headquarters of the Commission given the lack of progress on the situation of human rights situation in the Gambia.