A damning report by ARTICLE 19 West Africa has named the city of Banjul as the “capital of human rights violations in Africa.”
“Today, Banjul has become the capital of human rights violations in Africa, thus undermining the credibility of the African mechanism for human rights,” according to the report, Freedom of Expression and Human Rights Situation in The Gambia.
The report was presented on Wednesday April 29 to the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR) at its 56th Ordinary Session being held in Banjul.
It noted that freedom of expression is an important pillar in the protection of human rights, and without it other human rights will be meaningless.
ARTICLE 19 drew the attention of the Commission on the deteriorating situation of human rights and freedom of expression in The Gambia, which is host of to the African Commission.
It said despite the resolutions and recommendations of the Commission, The Gambia government continues to systematically violate the most basic human rights of her citizens.
Total impunity entrenched by judiciary
The report states that these violations are often legitimized by draconian laws that have been adopted to stifle the already closed and repressive environment.
Fatou Jagne Senghor, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19 West Africa, said there have been extensive unlawful arrests and detention of Gambians by the country’s notorious intelligence agency.
In the presence of ACHPR Commissioners, Gambia government representatives and NGOs attending the 56th ordinary session, Jagne said:
“Beyond these laws, 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 violations are entrenched by the judiciary under the orders of the executive.
“The Gambia as host of this Commission has presented guarantees of a country that respect human rights when this august body was established in 1987. 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, it has not received a single Commission’s promotional mission.”
Deteriorating Prison Conditions
According to the report, the last and only report of this Commission [about The Gambia] was on prisons and date back in 1999.
It indicated that since then, prison conditions particularly where political prisoners are detained and the secret detention centres continue to deteriorate with notable cases of abuse, enforced disappearance and torture of detainees documented and confirmed by the Rapporteurs on Extrajudicial Executions and on Torture during their November 2014 visit.
“The systematic repression of dissident voices and the attacks on civic space have heightened since the failed coup of 30 December 2014,” the Dakar-based ARTICCLE 19 reports.
It added: “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.”
Fatou Jagne noted that that persons suspected of having participated in the December 2014 coup have been tired 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.
“The bodies of people killed during the coup are still confiscated and kept by the authorities in inhuman and degrading conditions for the families,” she said.
ARTICLE19’s damning report, Freedom of Expression and Human Rights Situation in The Gambia, contains a set of recommendations that include calling 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’état receive a fair trial in accordance with standards recognized by the Commission.
- To ask The Gambia government to return to families the bodies of those killed in December 2014 attempted coup and provide information to families on the graves of those executed in 2012.
- To urge the Gambian government to release people arbitrarily detained since January 2015 and stops the persecution and intimidation of citizens, journalists and political dissidents, and to respect and implement the decisions of the ECOWAS Court on the cases of the three Gambian Journalists.
- To urge the government 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 situation of human rights in The Gambia.