Mar 17, 2020, 3:40 PM
Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) was most encouraged to hear of your recent visit to The Gambia. We write to emphasise our concern at the human rights situation there, and urge you to maintain constructive engagement with President Yahya Jammeh.
The Gambia’s human rights record has repeatedly come under international scrutiny because of repeated reports of threats, intimidation, harassment and violence against government critics, journalists and human rights defenders. This is exacerbated by the charges of related unaccountable actions of agents of the state. We reiterate the concerns raised at Gambia’s Universal Periodic Review in 2010, and expressed repeatedly by the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights, as well as by other prominent actors.
CHRI is gravely concerned about the draconian legislation in place that impedes the realisation of human rights. Laws such as the Criminal Code (Amendment) Act 2005, and the Newspapers Registration (Amendment) Act 2004, have created offences such as sedition, criminal defamation and false publication. These offences are levelled against journalists, human rights defenders and government critics and subsequently most self-censor to avoid reprisals. We urge action to get the government to repeal laws that curb the rights to free expression.
In addition to repressive legislation, there is a clamp-down on human rights defenders. The recent convictions this February, of four activists peacefully protesting against the regime, for instance, demonstrate the climate of intolerance and intimidation. We stress the need for the government to respect the role of human rights defenders and refrain from restricting their work, and abide by the commitments espoused in the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.
As you may know, there is credible evidence that document allegations of torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention. The Gambian government should thoroughly investigate allegations of abuse and hold perpetrators to account in line with international standards.
We also draw your attention to the recently reported arrests of eighteen men and two women on charges of homosexuality.
Secretary-General, we have followed with appreciation, your recent affirmations that the Commonwealth is an organisation committed to equality. In this spirit we urge you to critically speak out about the arrests and criminalisation of same-sex sexual conduct in The Gambia.
CHRI welcomes the news that the Commonwealth will be working closely with the Gambian government to establish bodies such as a national human rights institution, a human rights division within the judiciary, and an anti-corruption commission. Whilst these are important developments, CHRI would however like to point out that the human rights landscape in the country remains marred by impunity and that public institutions lack credibility.
It therefore remains important for the Commonwealth to press the Gambian government to take effective steps to buttress the integrity and legitimacy of future independent institutions and government bodies.
The Commonwealth is in the process of reforming itself to sharpen its impact. As you mentioned, this includes working with governments to achieve the Commonwealth values enshrined in the Harare Declaration.
CHRI would encourage you to use the Gambian case as a prime opportunity to implement this resolve.
We urge the Commonwealth to press President Jammeh to fulfil the obligations expressed in the human rights instruments Gambia is a party to, and be guided by the standards of the Commonwealth.
Maja Daruwala, Director - Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative