By Lamin Touray
Human rights defenders and activists have called on British and European policy makers to impose travel bans and asset freeze on Gambian president Yahya Jammeh and close associates.
Speaking at a meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights in the House of Commons on Wednesday, many speakers believe there is little glimmer of hope for democratic changes in the Gambia under the given status quo. The coordinator of Coalition for Change Gambia Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh said the mantra for many activists is: “end dictatorship now or die trying.” The full report of Dr Janneh’s speech had earlier been published on Kairo News.
Representing Amnesty International, Paul Dillane said the world’s largest human rights organisation continuously documents gross rights violations and seek to campaign to hold onto account those perpetrators to ensure that there is no impunity for the abuses. He pointed to the poignancy of the meeting taking place in London knowing that the UK is a key destination for Gambians who are forced to flee their country in search of international protection. The Gambia, he said doesn’t attract a great deal of UK media attention. Even where it does in the British press, it is often portrayed as a beautiful holiday destination for British and European tourists in sharp contrast to the human rights situation in the country. Mr Dillane recounted the release of a major report in 2008 documenting swaths of serious human rights abuses against political activists, journalists, human rights defenders and members of president Jammeh’s own government and administration. Mr Dillane continued to say that “we expressed grave concerns about the practices of enforced disappearance and extra judicial executions. The report was simply entitled: Fear Rules”. Since 2008, he said if anything, objectively, human rights situation in the country has deteriorated markedly and Dr Janneh’s case and experience is emblematic of the experiences of many in the country.
In his experience as a refugee lawyer, Mr Dillane said while a portion of Gambia’s increasing number of asylum seekers are granted at the first time of applying, many genuine and credible applicants are wrongly refused. He said British decision makers and occasionally judges fail to appreciate the reality of the situation in the country. He thanked retired high commissioner David Morley and the high commission in the Gambia but also called on the British government to be consistent in their denunciations or expressions of concern about the Gambia. For the EU, Mr Dillane called for a robust approach and urged regional power houses such as Senegal, Nigeria and Ghana to prevail on president Jammeh. In the view of Amnesty International, 2014 does present unique opportunities which should be seized with both hands to focus the attention of the media and of regional and international governments in marking 20 years of the coup d’etat that brought Jammeh to power.
The president of the International Federation of Journalists thanked the organisers of the event for keeping the issue of human rights and freedom on the international agenda. Jim Boumelha asaid for 20 years the IFJ has supported the Gambia Press Union in challenging unconstitutional measures aimed at stifling freedom of expression, media and other constitutionally guaranteed freedoms and rights. For 20 years, he said the IFJ is among the few organisations that speak out against impunity, constitutional and human rights violations to ensure accountability transparency, good governance and respect for human rights. The head of journalists unions chronicled the murder of Deyda Hydara, disappearance of Ebrima Chief Manneh and the spectacular arrest of seven journalists in 2009 on flimsy charges of sedition and the ongoing cases of journalists Musa Sheriff, Sainey Marena and Sanna Camara.
Ms Mama Linguere Sarr put the spotlight on Gambian refugees in neighbouring Senegal and urged the international community to improve their plight.
Former Gambian vice president and minister of finance, Bakary B. Darboe, director of programmes at Article 19, David Diaz-Jogeix, councillor Phoday Jarjussey, the secretary general of CORDEG, Abdoulie Jobe, Alieu Badara Ceesay of UK Campaign for Human Rights and Mark Jones among other contributors called for greater cooperation among diverse Gambian groupings and stringent benchmarks for EU funding for the Gambia government among others.
The meeting, chaired by UK lawmaker Katy Clark, was attended by deputies: Jeremy Corbyn , John McDonnell and Mark Dunkan, and a section of British and Gambian public.