Gambia has effectively thumbed its nose to the international community after it failed to accept a raft of recommendations to address its deteriorating human rights situation, Amnesty International said today.
The government of Gambia only accepted 93 of the 171 recommendations at the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva.
“The significant number of rejections on key human rights issues demonstrates the government’s weak commitment to addressing its deplorable human rights situation - including unjustified restrictions on the right to freedom of expression, enforced disappearances and the use of torture to stifle dissent,” said Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International’s West Africa Researcher.
“Human rights defenders, journalists and lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, transgender and intersex people have all been targeted, and Gambia’s human rights situation will continue to deteriorate unless the international community takes action to engage Gambia to strongly adopt the recommendations it rejected.”
Gambia provided responses to 171 questions, comments and recommendations made by more than 60 countries during the UPR, urging the country to take greater steps to promote and protect human rights.
Despite adjourning the UPR adoption last week at the last minute, the government disappointingly did not send a delegation to Geneva, instead opting to submit its responses in writing.
Gambia did not accept recommendations concerning the ratification of the UN Convention against Torture, recommended by 13 states, as well as the abolition of the death penalty. The government also rejected non-criminalisation of sexual orientation or gender identity and co-operation with Special Procedures of the UN Human Rights Council. Likewise, it rejected recommendations to amend legislation to remove restrictions on freedom of expression.
The human rights situation in the country has severely worsened since Gambia’s UPR review in October 2014. The UN Special Rapporteur on Torture released a report in March 2014 highlighting the high risk of torture, arbitrary arrest and enforced disappearances in the country.
The Special Rapporteur on Torture and the Special Rapporteur on Extra-Judicial Executions visited Gambia in November 2014. During their mission they were refused access to the Security Wing of Mile 2 Central Prison in the capital Banjul, where death row prisoners are held. These restrictions are unprecedented since the establishment of the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on Torture 30 years ago.
President Yahya Jammeh signed an amendment to the Criminal Code in October 2014 which introduces even harsher sentences for LGBTI people who face a life sentence for “aggravated homosexuality”. This was despite strong recommendations against this during the UPR review. At least 14 people were arrested in November and December 2014 because of their presumed sexual orientation.
Gambian law enforcement agencies have arrested at least 30 people since the beginning of January 2015; relatives of those suspected of being involved in the failed coup on 30 December 2014. Some people have been released but other family members have not been heard from in almost three months and it is unclear how many remain in incommunicado detention.
On 14 January 2015, President Jammeh announced his government’s willingness to work closely with the UN to investigate the events of 30 December. On 28 February 2015, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a resolution to invite the Commission to conduct a fact-finding mission. However, no independent investigation has taken place. A court martial has been set up to try six soldiers supposedly involved in the coup. The trial is being held in camera without access to the media. They face the death penalty if convicted.
“Gambia must ensure that due process is guaranteed for those on trial. It should co-operate with the international community and carry out prompt, impartial and independent investigations into the events that led to the coup and subsequent government response that led to arrests and detentions,” said Sabrina Mahtani.
“UN Member states need to ensure more sustained involvement regarding Gambia’s deteriorating human rights situation and its disrespect for international human rights mechanisms. Gambia must implement those recommendations it has accepted without delay and accept those it rejected on fundamental human rights issues, such as the death penalty, torture, freedom of expression and rights of LGBTI people. The international community cannot continue to watch how Gambia’s human rights situation is deteriorating without taking action.”
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council under which it reviews the fulfilment of the human rights obligations and commitments of all 193 UN Member States, with each State being reviewed every four and a half years. It is a cooperative mechanism, based on objective and reliable information, and equal treatment of all States.
Gambia is one of 14 States reviewed during last October’s session of the UPR Working Group. 62 countries expressed concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression, regret about the breach of the moratorium on executions, and called on Gambia to implement judgments against it by the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice and to abide by its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Countries recommended measures to protect journalists, human rights defenders and political activists and allow them to carry out their work as well as recommendations to repeal legislation criminalizing same-sex relations. They also recommended that Gambia ratifies the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
On 26 March 2015 the UN Human Rights Council adopted the Gambia UPR outcome. The report contains the summary of the interactive dialogue and lists the recommendations made by other States.