Gambian authorities have been warned to heed to the United Nations warning on improving their country’s deteriorating human rights situation.
The warning is contained in a press statement issued by Amnesty International (AI) in Geneva, Switzerland on Tuesday. It followed the country’s human rights scrutiny the same day.
“This morning, 62 countries took the floor at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva to urge Gambia to promote and protect human rights,” AI wrote. “Concerns voiced by UN member states included Gambia’s unjustified restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and its renewed use of the death penalty.
“UN member states have sent a clear message to Gambia that the government must end its rule of fear and repression,” said Steve Cockburn, the right body’s Regional Deputy Director for West and Central Africa.
“Gambia’s muzzling of dissent has had a devastating and chilling effect on human rights defenders, journalists and political activists, who have been persistently brutally targeted solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Today UN member states have said to Gambia: enough is enough.”
Journalists in Gambia have been subjected to enforced disappearance, while activists have faced torture – including having their legs burnt with boiling oil and their backs slashed with metal rods – for speaking out against human rights violations by the state.
Member states also criticized the Gambian government’s disregard for regional court judgments and the resolutions of international and regional human rights bodies.
“It is disappointing that the Gambian delegation in Geneva repeatedly sought to play down the grave and increasingly deteriorating human rights situation in the country,” said Stephen Cockburn.
“Gambian human rights defenders experience a very different reality than that portrayed by the delegation to the UPR Working Group.”
In blatant contradiction to Gambia’s obligations under international human rights law, Gambia’s Minister of Justice said restrictions on the right to freedom of expression were necessary to avoid the publication of false news, sedition and libel.
Gambia justified its use of the death penalty and argued that the temporary lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty had been necessary to deal with a rise in crime. The Gambia’s constitution in fact calls for a review – now seven years overdue – on the “desirability” of the death penalty.
“The climate of fear and intimidation in Gambia has affected the ability of civil society to participate in this UPR and there is a real risk of reprisals against Gambians who sought to engage with the review,” said Steve Cockburn.
“UN member states have today echoed what civil society has been campaigning on for years. Gambia must accept the recommendations made during this session and genuinely commit to fully and effectively implementing them without delay.”