Friday, 22 July 2011 02:55

Gambia Day of Action

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    I am here today on behalf of the Human Rights Advocacy Centre.  The Human Rights Advocacy Centre (or HRAC) is an independent, not-for-profit organisation which was set up to advance and protect human rights in Ghana.  Our three main activities are human rights research, human rights advocacy, and providing free legal assistance to individuals and groups whose human rights have been violated.

    While the HRAC’s focus is on Ghana, we both participate in and monitor initiatives to promote and defend human rights beyond Ghana’s borders.  Since before the establishment of the HRAC itself, our Executive Director and staff have been very actively involved in the campaign to investigate the murders of the group of at least 50 foreign migrants, including 44 Ghanaians, in The Republic of The Gambia in 2005 and to obtain justice for the victims and their families.  We have also been monitoring the overall human rights situation in The Gambia, with the utmost concern.

    The HRAC stands here today in support of Amnesty International’s Gambia Day of Action, in order to raise awareness about the many abuses of human rights that have occurred, and continue to occur, in The Gambia;  to appeal to all parties with an interest and influence in this matter to intensify their efforts to right this wrong;  and, of course, to entreat the Government of The Gambia itself to meet the obligations it has to all of its people under both national and international law.

                Currently, the Government of The Gambia is failing its citizens by not respecting rights and freedoms guaranteed to them in the 1997 Gambian Constitution, as well as several international conventions to which The Gambia is a party.  The HRAC wishes to call attention today to certain specific breaches of Gambian and international law in the field of civil and political rights.  We recognise that many people present here today may be familiar with the laws and the incidents we will mention; however, given that a purpose of today’s conference is to bring this information to a wider audience, as well as the fact that many of these breaches are ongoing, we think it important to recall them here.  We acknowledge Amnesty International’s recent publications on The Gambia as a key source of our information about these breaches.

    Firstly we emphasise that fundamental civil and political rights are explicitly protected by Gambian law, in the form of Chapter 4 of the Gambian Constitution.  Article 18 protects the right to life, prohibiting the intentional deprivation of life except in the lawful execution of a death sentence.  Article 19 protects various personal liberties, prohibiting arbitrary arrest and detention, failing to inform a person of the reason for their arrest, and detaining a person beyond 72 hours without bringing them before a court, amongst other practices.  Article 21 prohibits torture.  Other articles protect freedom of speech, and privacy, and prohibit discrimination on the grounds of political opinion.

    Behind the Constitution itself stand instruments of international law that are binding on The Gambia and that also explicitly protect these fundamental rights.  It must be recalled that The Gambia has ratified both the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.  It has also signed the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.  Under international law, this signals to the world that The Gambia intends to be legally bound by that convention.

    Thus the internationally recognised law of human rights most certainly applies in The Gambia.  Yet that country has seen gross abuses of every right we have mentioned.

    ·         The HRAC notes the numerous cases of unlawful execution in The Gambia which the Gambian Government has failed to investigate properly.  They include the murders of 20 student protestors in 2000 and of journalist Deydra Hydara in 2005, as well as the 2005 murders of 50 foreign migrants to which I referred earlier.

    ·         The HRAC notes the numerous cases of enforced disappearances, such as that of Kanyiba Kanyi, a politician who was arrested by security agents in 2006, and Ebrima Manneh, a journalist arrested by National Intelligence Agency Officers in the same year.  In both instances, the Gambian Government has defied court orders for the person’s release.

    ·         We note reported cases of Gambian security forces torturing detainees in custody.

    ·         And we note that over the past several years, journalists and other members of the media have been subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention, harassment, threats, and unfair trials.  These human rights violations have created an atmosphere in which the media of The Gambia practise self-censorship, for fear of retribution should they publish anything critical of the State.

    It is noticeable that some of the events we refer to occurred several years ago.  Similarly, for several years, some Gambians as well as members of the international community have sought to publicise and remedy these abuses.  But the fact is that in those years, overall the human rights situation in The Gambia has not significantly improved.  The HRAC stresses the need for real, comprehensive action and commitment from both inside The Gambia and out.  We urge the Government of The Gambia to cease immediately its own practices that violate human rights and also address past violations by its representatives and other citizens in a manner fully consistent with domestic and international law.  Furthermore, we urge other countries, particularly African countries, to take more action to pressure The Gambia to respect human rights.  We believe the collective power of The Gambia’s African neighbours, wielded through intergovernmental organisations such as ECOWAS (the Economic Community of West African States) and the African Union, is crucial to the international effort to hold the Gambian Government accountable.

    Daniel Asare Korang

    Programmes Manager,

    Human Rights Advocacy Centre

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