Aug 3, 2009, 8:05 AM
The European Parliament has expressed its concerns about the human rights situation in The Gambia in a resolution of May 2016.
The resolution was triggered by the Gambia government’s violent repression of peaceful protests in April 2016, by the arrest and torture of protestors, including leading figures from the main opposition party UDP, by the sudden death of the Executive Secretary of the UDP Youth Wing Solo Sandeng in custody and, last but the least, by serious concern about the likelihood of a free and fair presidential election in December 2016.
Four members of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), David Martin (British member from the Social & Democratic group), Richard Howitt (Federal British member from the Social & Democratic group), Judith Sargentini (Greens member of parliament from The Netherlands) and Karol Karski (a Polish member from the European Conservative and Reformers group) are part of the delegation that visited The Gambia since 19 September.
The chair of the delegation, David Martin, speaking at a press debriefing held at the EU delegation office yesterday,
Thursday 22 September, following the conclusion of their visit to The Gambia, said the delegation visited two EU-funded projects on employment of women and children’s rights, and had meetings with representatives of the National Assembly, including the minority leader, with the Independent Electoral Commission, the Ombudsman, with women’s associations and with the opposition parties.
The Gambia is facing a presidential election in December 2016. Against this background, the purpose of the visit was to gather information, to influence the government to improve its human rights record and to support human rights campaigners.
The delegation appreciated the hospitality and openness of its Gambian counterparts.
“Regrettably, though, government representatives were not available”, reporters were told.
The delegation also acknowledged the significant progress made in certain areas like the ban on FGM and the ban on child marriage. They were also briefed on technical preparations for the elections.
“In order to respect international democratic norms,” the delegation has called on the Gambia government “to release all protesters arrested in connection with the April protests including the UDP leader Ousainou Darboe, to grant access to state media to opposition parties, to allow the United Nations Special Elections Team access to the county, and to conduct an independent investigation into Solo Sandeng’s death.”
“It has become clear that important provisions of the Gambian constitution are still to be fully implemented, especially those on freedom of speech and prisoners’ rights.
“The delegation also encourages the Gambian government to continue with its plans to establish a National Human Rights Commission.
“We are interested in having good relations with The Gambia,” they said, adding: “If, however, the human rights situation does not improve or even deteriorates, the European Parliament has indicated that there will be a need to consider targeted sanctions on officials responsible for the serious human rights abuses.”
The chairperson of delegation, David Martin, said the purpose of the visit was to follow up on a resolution that the European Parliament passed in May 2016, expressing great concerns about the human rights situation in The Gambia, following the demonstration in April and the arrest and suspected torture of the protesters.
“We are also extremely concerned about the death in custody of Solo Sandeng. We also put this in the context of the upcoming Presidential elections in December, where we have serious doubt about the likelihood of free and fair elections taking place in December.”
During their visit, they met with public bodies such as the Ombudsman, chair and committee of the Independent Electoral Commission, opposition leaders, and National Assembly members
Martin said they also visited EU-funded projects, particularly focusing on improving women and children’s rights, as well as non-government actors, and other bodies.
The delegation appreciated the hospitality and openness of The Gambia, he said, but were sad to know that “the human rights situation in The Gambia is not getting any better, and possibly still deteriorating”.
He, therefore, encouraged government to release all protesters of the demonstrations in April, particularly Ousainou Darboe, and to ensure no one is held in custody without due process.
He also said it is vital that opposition parties are given access to state media ahead of the elections.
“We also hope that the government will allow the United Nations Special Elections Team access to the county to ensure that there is an independent observation of the elections.”
Mr Martin further stated that they would also like to see an independent investigation into the death of Solo Sandeng.
“We have heard from many people that the Gambian constitution is almost a perfect constitution, but we also have from many people that it is imperfectly applied, and we would like government and all official bodies in future to recognize and respect the constitution.
“We will also encourage the Gambian government to continue with its plans to establish a National Human Rights Commission.
“The European Parliament in its resolution in May said, if the human rights situation in this country does not improve, we will be recommending to the other EU institutions to consider targeted sanctions against officials in The Gambia for serious human rights abuse.”