Gambia Gov’t Taken To Task In Geneva

Part 1
On 18th and 19th June 2015, Mr. Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, participate in the 29th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council. He address the Council to present his latest activities and country-specific and thematic reports and conduct an interactive dialogue with State Delegations and NGOs.

The Special Rapporteur conducted an official visit to the Gambia from 3 to 7 November 2014. Below you will find his experts from the report on The Gambia, as well as comments on his report that have been provided by the Government of The Gambia.

The report presents his main findings, including with regard to the imposition of the death penalty, the resumption of executions, the use of force by law enforcement agencies, impunity for extrajudicial executions, the use of force during demonstrations, lack of accountability for human rights violations, groups at risk and fear of reprisals. It proposes recommendations to the Government, the international community and civil society to prevent unlawful killings and ensure better protection of the right to life

Kairo News is in possession of a copy of the report. The legal and political opinion of one human rights expert was sought we hope to communicate her opinion to the UN office in Geneva.

We are here reproducing excerpts from the report, italicized, and comments by the Karonews Rights Activists in bold: The Report, “High Degree Of Personalization Of Gov’t

And Our Comments

“At the invitation of the Government of the Gambia, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, conducted a joint official visit to the country with the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan E. Mendez. The visit took place from 3 to 7 November 2014. It was originally scheduled for August 2014, but was postponed by the Government at the last minute for reasons still unknown. The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions thanks the Government of the Gambia for extending the invitation to visit the country, as well as all officials with whom he met. Additionally, he wishes to thank the United Nations country team and, in particular, the Resident Coordinator, for their logistical support. The Special Rapporteur is also especially grateful to the staff of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) West Africa Regional Office for their invaluable support in preparing for and carrying out the visit.

“During the visit, the Special Rapporteur met with the Vice-President of the Gambia, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Minister of Interior, the Minister of Justice, officials of the Office of the Attorney General, the Office of the Solicitor General and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Director General of the National Intelligence Agency, the Director General of the National Drug Enforcement Agency, the Director General of Prisons, the Inspector General of Police, the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and High Court Justices, the Prison Visiting Committee and the Office of the Ombudsman. Additional meetings were held with the United Nations country team, the diplomatic community and civil society. In preparation for the visit, the Special Rapporteur met in Senegal with staff of the OHCHR West Africa Regional Office, and with representatives of the international community and of the Gambian community in exile. The Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions expresses regret that the President of the Gambia was not available for a meeting with the two Special Rapporteurs during their stay in Banjul.

“As is the case for all country missions, the Special Rapporteurs had requested authorization, in advance, in accordance with the terms of reference for fact-finding missions by Special Rapporteurs, which apply to all country visits in all parts of the world and which, among other things, include guarantees concerning “access to all prisons, detention centres and places of interrogation”, “confidential and unsupervised contact with witnesses and other private persons, including persons deprived of their liberty”, and protection from reprisals.3 Such authorization was granted by the Government in a letter dated 27 October 2014 and was reiterated in a meeting with the Government at the outset of the visit.”

“Notwithstanding, when they commenced their visits to prisons, the Government denied the Special Rapporteurs in-situ access to the security wing in Mile 2 Prison and insisted on having prison personnel accompany them during the inspection. The Vice-President and other Government representatives, in a meeting held with the Special Rapporteurs where the latter protested against this exclusion, made it clear that they did not have the power to rule otherwise, and that the Special Rapporteurs would not be allowed into the security sections of the prisons in the country. This breach of the terms of reference forced the Special Rapporteurs to suspend visits to prisons altogether. The notion of departing from the principle of unrestricted access in one country but not in others would have displayed double standards, created a dangerous precedent for the future and undermined the mandate entrusted to the Special Rapporteurs by the Human Rights Council. At the same time, it was too late to abandon the visit altogether. Although it was concluded, the visit cannot be viewed as full-fledged. The Special Rapporteur notes that, owing to the Government’s refusal to allow unrestricted access to detention centres, an inference must be drawn that there is something there to hide.”

The present report focuses on the situation as it was during the visit, although some references are made to subsequent developments, including the attempted coup d’état of 30 December 2014 and its reverberations. The report was sent to the Government for comments on 19 March 2015 and was completed on 5 May 2015.”

The above citation illustrates the maturity and objectivity of the two Rapporteurs, Heyns and Mendez even if it might have been a little tinted by emotions coming out of unfamiliar humiliations suffered in the hands of Gambian state agents. What shows that the two gentlemen may be both perceptive and insightful is this excerpt from the report:

“The Special Rapporteur perceived a high degree of personalization of State practice and of decision-making power in the figure of the President.” And it goes on further: The Cabinet is appointed by the Head of State and appears to undergo continuous shuffling. Legislative power is vested in the unicameral National Assembly; opposition groups are insufficiently represented to be able to exert influence on the Assembly’s decisions. The judicial system includes the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, the High Court, the Special Criminal Court and several lower courts. Judges are appointed by the President after consultation with the Judicial Service Commission and are granted life tenure. In practice, however, judges have frequently been removed without explanation, and their appointments have been heavily criticized for lack of independence and transparency.”

The report failed mentioning some startling cases having to do with the plight and working conditions of judges and officials of the judiciary. Recent cases of the hounded Ghanaian-born ex-Chief Justice Agyeman who had to flee secretly out of the country out of fear for her life in June 2014 and the abrupt expulsion of her successor six weeks ago, as illustrations of the autocratic grip on the judiciary. Before that were several cases like those of, Justice Moses Richards, Chief Public Prosecutor Richard Chenge or Magistrates Emanuel Joof and Borry Touray. There are many more, the reference to whose examples would have added more flesh to the report. The case of alias Rambo, Ezzedine or something of the sort, a Lebanese businessman, who was sentenced to death for treason along with former Chief of Defense Staff. Lang Tombong Tamba in June 2010. In the midst of heir appeal against the sentences, s visiting Kuwaiti royal delegation was able to pay the Gambian dictator the ransom money to free and smuggle him secretly out of the country, sill now, June 2015, without much ado.

Let us return to the report:

“Economic development remains a challenge in the Gambia, with high poverty and unemployment rates and heavy reliance on foreign aid. The European Union is the country’s biggest development assistance partner. However in December 2014, it cut off €13 million of funding, and threatened to block another €150 million in response to the country’s poor human rights record. In turn, the Gambia has recently turned to donor countries in the Gulf.”

An excerpt from the background analysis, touching on the economy, states:

“Economic development remains a challenge in the Gambia, with high poverty and unemployment rates and heavy reliance on foreign aid. The European Union is the country’s biggest development assistance partner. However in December 2014, it cut off €13 million of funding, and threatened to block another €150 million in response to the country’s poor human rights record.6 In turn, the Gambia has recently turned to donor countries in the Gulf.”

Then the report’s background analysis concludes with a look at a post-bungled-visit development that occurred about five weeks later:

”On 30 December 2014, military and ex-military officers in the Gambia attempted to stage a coup d’état, but were repelled by forces loyal to the President. Three alleged plotters were killed during the attacks and one was injured and captured. Up to 30 persons, including family members of insurgents, have been arrested and been held in incommunicado detention, with some being subjected to torture. Only 10 were reportedly released. The President proceeded to replace key members of the Cabinet following these events, including the Minister of Justice and the Minister of Foreign Affairs. At a court martial held on 30 March 2015, three persons were sentenced to death and three to life imprisonment for their alleged involvement in the failed coup. “

On its Human rights overview, Hyns and Mendez wrote:

“The country is characterized by disregard for the rule of law, infringements of civil liberties and the existence of a repressive State apparatus. State institutions are weak and under the influence and control of the executive power, namely the President. Transparency and accountability in public affairs are scarce and there are no independent institutions or processes to channel alternative voices or social demands. The activities of civil society organizations are closely monitored by the executive.”

“The Special Rapporteur encountered many manifestations of fear and frustration in civil society, with reports of rampant State-led violence, persecution of the media and critical voices, and impunity for human rights violations. Human rights concerns also include interference with the independence of the judiciary, denial of due process, prolonged pretrial and incommunicado detention, poor prison conditions, persecution of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons, and tolerance of the practice of female genital mutilation. It appears that, at best, the State, for strategic reasons, occasionally pays lip service to human rights, but otherwise pursues the narrow interests of power and political survival. Human rights protection is largely an illusion”.

Though we agree with the basic assertions of the rapporteurs on need to defend the rights of all, particularly the much hounded LBTs, we think there is a need for friends of The Gambia and rights of citizens everywhere to strive to separate homophobia and the practice of female genital mutilation from crimes against citizens, when dealing with Gambia, Both hemophilia and homophobia are far-fetched and not priority issues as far as most Gambians are concerned.

Only one of about seven native Gambian tongues have corresponding words anywhere near the terms LGBT. These are issues that are even more alien and unheard of than, for example tsunamis, hurricanes or even earthquakes. Perhaps something in the country’s sociology or socio-psychology makes the practice or incidence of LBTs in the country among the lowest anywhere.

Whatever, to many Gambians, categorizing homophobia in the same class as the many various violations and atrocities of the Jammeh regime seems like a sort of trivialization of those violations.
The contention and polemics between and Western governments and the Jammeh autocracy, many Gambians take to be irrelevant and besides the point. Some feel the issues of fighting FGM and other gender issues can be better and easier dispensed with in a post-Jammeh dispensation when it can be openly and honestly debated.

The practice of FGM in The Gambia is culturally conditioned and massively adhered to, with more than half of Gambians belonging to cultures and traditions where the practice is not only tolerated but encouraged. It can therefore not be legislated against; laws against it, like in neighboring Senegal are yet to be seen effective enough to worth legislating in copy. FGM is rooted among the masses, and everywhere traditionally shrouded in secrecy and can therefore best be fought against with persuasion. But persuasion presupposes free choice and is best facilitated by debates that get citizens properly informed of the nature of the choices available. Unfortunately, under the totalitarian dispensation now prevailing in The Gambia, such debate is not feasible. So because of the formidability of the fight and because of the traditions of secrecy surrounding them, fighting for legislating against FGM is currently a non-starter that can best achieve unenforceable pieces of legislations. We think anti-FGM and gender activists can best help their fight by joining the struggle for the Third Republic, where debates and mass persuasion would certainly be more feasible.
Just like local activists are being hereby advised, we call on the officials of the UN body and their rapporteurs on this matter to do a rethink of the order of their priorities in their work to improve the climate of repression and rights violations in The Gambia.

To be continued


Comments are closed.