Fear Overwhelms Gambia

JammehBy Yaya Dampha

The Gambia has become a place where citizens and those living in the country are not guaranteed the rights to security of persons and properties. Although these are guaranteed by both the Gambian constitution and international laws. Human rights reports illustrate how rights violations are perpetrated by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), army and the police against real and perceived opponents of the government on routine basis. It demonstrates that once people are in custody of the government, they are susceptible to a whole range of human rights violations, including unlawful detention, torture while in detention, unfair trials, enforced disappearance and extrajudicial executions.

The Gambian constitution provides for a participatory democracy, the separation of powers and national Assembly. Chapter IV of the constitution provides for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms including the right to life, privacy and personal liberty; protection from slavery and forced labour; protection from torture and inhuman treatment; freedom of speech, conscience, assembly association and movement; and protection from discrimination.

In March and April 2006, Gambian security officers rounded up dozens of people from their homes, at their work and in the streets, accusing them of being involved or had knowledge of the March 21st purported coup. Many were held incommunicado or solitary confinement for weeks and months despite the requirements under the Gambian constitution that they should be brought before a court within 72 hours of their arrest. None of them had access to a lawyer or their family members. 21 out of the 66 confirmed arrested civilians and military officers were later prosecuted. Five out of the 66 were extra judicially executed. Those executed were former NIA director General Daba Marenah, Lieutenant Ebou Lowe, 2nd Lieutenant Alieu Ceesay, Regimental Sergent Major Alpha Bah, and Staff Sergent Malafi Corr.

This tells us that what has been happening since the December 30 debacle is nothing new under the dictatorial rule of President Yahya Jammeh. In March 2006, the pregnant wife of former Colonel Ndure Cham was arrested along with two of his nephews Mustapha and Alieu Lowe. Awa Darboe lost her pregnancy under detention due to torture while Mustapha Lowe was later released because he was student at Gambia College and his detention received a high media exposure and both local and international human rights groups called for his released. Though he was continuously harassed and threatened to a point that he was forced to go into exile. His brother Alieu Lowe is still in prison.

The arrests of Meta Njie, the mother of late Lamin Sanneh who was allegedly killed during the alleged state house attack on December 30, 2014, and parents and relatives of suspects in the attack is a total violation of their rights to security; liberty, freedom and justice.

The arbitrary nature with which unlawful arrests and detention are carried out leave very few Gambians free from the risk of becoming victims of human rights violations. The deterioration of human rights situation in the Gambia demonstrates that all Gambians are at risk and may be subjected to unlawful arrests and detention. This includes all from those close allies of the government, employees, military people, police, the opposition, human rights defenders and journalists.

Family members and relatives are reluctant to talk to the press and human rights defenders when someone disappears, they rarely seek legal services or challenge the government in courts. Human rights organizations within the country are silent and judges’ efforts to exercise their independence are met with sackings. The judiciary has lost its independence and its ability to serve the Gambian people for fear of reprisals against them and their families. Lawyers are increasingly reluctant to take sensitive cases leaving few or no option for those wishing to exercise their rights. All out of fear. So the Gambia today is overwhelmed and ruled by fear.


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