By Saikou Suwareh Jabai and Ousman Sillah
Mr. David Martin, head of a four person delegation from the European Union Parliament Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), said it is very sad that the Gambia’s human rights situation is not getting better but that they will recommend for targeted sanctions on government officials responsible for serious human rights abuses if it does not improve.
He said this in a press debriefing, attended by the public and private media as well as civil society representatives, held yesterday, 22 September 2016, at the EU delegation office on Atlantic Road, Fajara.
The head of the EU parliamentary delegation, in presenting a statement on their five day mission to The Gambia from 19-23 September, said the European Parliament had expressed its concerns about the human rights situation in the Gambia in its Urgency Resolution of May 2016.
Mr. Martin said the resolution was triggered by the Gambian government’s violent repression of peaceful protests in April 2016 which led to the arrest and torture of protesters and the death of Solo Sandeng of the UDP as well as the serious concern about the likelihood of conducting free and fair election in December 2016.
“The Gambia is facing 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,” disclosed the EU Parliamentarian.
Mr. Martin said the arrests and unlawful detentions should stop and that the Gambia Government should adhere to the rule of law.
He said the delegation met with the representatives of the National Assembly, including the Minority Leader, members of the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC), Ombudsman, women’s associations and representatives of opposition political parties.
The EU Parliamentarian, however, noted that the delegation could not meet with any government official as they were told that the president is on holidays and the senior ministers are all attending a meeting at the United Nations in New York.
“In order to respect international democratic norms, the delegation calls on the Gambian Government to release all protesters arrested in connection with the April protest, 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 country and to conduct an independent investigation into Solo Sandeng’s death,” said the head of the EU Parliament delegation.
The EU Parliamentarian noted that it has been said by some that the Gambia has “perfect provisions in its Constitution but imperfect application”, especially on freedom of speech and prisoners’ rights.
He added that the delegation encourages the Gambia Government to continue with its plans to establish a National Human Rights Commission.
He also noted that there is self-censorship among some media practitioners which affects freedom of expression.
He also concurred that there is impunity with the flouting of court orders by state official who are supposed to respect and execute the decisions of the judiciary.
Mr. Martin said when the issue of restriction to media freedoms was raised with the Ombudman, her response was she has never received any complaint from anyone.
The head of the delegation also admitted that the EU has not been giving the Gambia the necessary attention due its small size.
He revealed that the Gambia per capita has more people entering Europe through the irregular migration route (back way) than any other African country.
He added that the investors are not investing in The Gambia due to the absence of rule of law.
On their meeting with the opposition party representatives, he said this was confidential but some of the concerns raised are the lack of access to the public media and the financially prohibitive nature of elections for opposition parties and contestants in The Gambia.
“The delegation appreciated the hospitality and openness of its Gambian counterparts. Regretably, though, government representatives were not available. The delegation also acknowledged the significant progress made in ceratin areas like the ban on FGM and the envisaged ban on child marriage and were briefed on technical preparations for the elections,” said the EU delegation head.
Mr. Martin said his delegation also visited two EU funded projects on empowerment of women and children’s rights.
The delegation comprised Mr. David Martin, as head, and includes Mr. Richard Howitt, Mr. Karol Karski and Ms. Judith Sargentini.
They were accompanied by four members of EU Parliament staff namely Ms. Tsiguereda Walelign, Ms. Martina Wenske, Ms. Brigitte Bataille and Mr. Slawomir Miozga.
The EU Gambia Delegation office staff were also present.