On Tuesday 28 October 2014 The Gambia presented its report on its human rights record in the past four years to the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group in Geneva. The Gambia also defended its human rights record in response to a barrage of criticisms and questions by state parties during the session.
After the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mr Basirou Mahoney, with the Minister of the Interior, Mr Ousman Sonko seated beside him, presented his report on behalf of the Government of The Gambia, a long list of state parties each made their observations and recommendations. The Attorney General and Minster of Justice was then called upon to respond to the issues raised by the state parties. The following is what he said regarding the issues raised:
Regarding the killing of Deyda Hydara and the disappearance of Chief Ebrima Manneh, Mr Mahoney said that the Gambia has invited the United Nations to open investigation on these matters.
On Detention without trial beyond 72 hours, Mr Mahoney acknowledged that the Constitution of The Gambia requires that any person detained must be released or taken before a court of competent jurisdiction. He further said that the Executive is totally in support of this constitutional provision. However, he added that if a person has been detained for more than 72 hours, he can seek for an application for bail or a habeas corpus.
In response to the disappearance of two American citizens, Alhagie Mamut Ceesay and Ebou Jobe, Mr Mahoney said that the Gambia government is fully committed to investigating the matter; that in fact a task force has been established to conduct the investigation; that they have been to all the border posts and going as far as Guinea Bissau in search of them but without progress. He noted that the matter is still under investigation. He emphasized that the two are also Gambians and that government is equally concerned.
As for freedom of the media, he indicated that the government is committed to freedom of media. He added that there is a law forbidding false publication. He stressed that The Gambia is a small country and false publication can have devastating effect which can destabilize the country or threaten national security. He further said that while government respects a free media, the nation must be safeguarded and the excesses of false publication must not be allowed.
Replying to calls for the ratification of the convention against torture and the protocol to the convention on torture, Mr Mahoney asserted that the National Assembly has approved both the convention and the protocol; and that the process of completing the ratification is on.
Many delegations, while welcoming the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act and the Sexual Offences Act and the national action plan for FGM, went further to call for the legislation and criminalization of FGM. On this score, Mr Mahoney explained that Gambia is a very small country with six ethno linguistic groups with strong cultural backgrounds and traditional practices. He indicated that there is no intention to legislate sooner, but later.
There was a lot of criticism on the lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty and calls for the abolition of the death penalty by state parties by invoking the provision of the constitution that provides for a referendum on the matter. In response, Mr Mahoney pointed out that there has always been moratorium but this was lifted due to the heinous crimes that had been committed, but that the moratorium has since been restored. He also added that our constitution makes provision for the imposition of the death penalty for some offences.
The government has declared its intention to establish a national human rights institution and has started preparing for legislation a year ago. Many delegations have called for the government to intensify its effort in legislating for the establishment of a national human rights institution that will receive complaints on human rights violation. Mr Mahoney in his intervention told delegates that the government is working with the UN office of the high commissioner of human rights to legislate for a national human rights institution that is financially independent which would guarantee its independence.
In response to calls for improvement of prison condition, he said that the government has just completed the renovation of a section of the prison; that there is a prison visiting committee which protects the rights of prisoners; that a 24 hour medical doctor is available; that the National Nutrition Agency has recommended a balanced diet for prisoners; that there is an educational facility available to prisoners. With regard to diplomatic missions having access to prisoners of their nationals he asserted that not only do they allow this, they even encourage it.
On the issue of refugees and asylum seekers, Mr Mahoney emphasized the commitment of The Gambia Government, noting the ratification of the two conventions on refugees. He also talked about medical facilities being provided for refugees and asylum seekers.
Many state parties urged The Gambia Government to do more on matters concerning trafficking in persons. But Mr Mahoney said that they are doing a lot in educating the people and conducting investigations. He however pointed out that their problem is the culprits are abroad, outside the jurisdiction of The Gambia and cannot be prosecuted.
Regarding child mortality, Mr Mahoney said that great strides have been made by Gambia, citing the provision of clean drinking water which he said now covers 85 percent of the population.
On the right to health, Mr Mahoney emphasized that access to health is a priority, adding that every district has a health centre. He further said that maternal health care is free.
On the right to education, he said that enrolment has increased. He also said that primary education is free and this will soon extend to secondary and even university education, where most students are being sponsored.
Some state parties urged the government to invite the special rapporteurs on torture and on summary, extra judicial and arbitrary executions. Mr Mahoney said that the two rapporteurs are expected in The Gambia next week.
On access to justice Mr Mahoney listed a host of courts and other adjudicating bodies that litigants can access. He mentioned the magistrates’ court, the high court, the cadi court (for Muslims on divorce, marriage, inheritance and custody), the children’s court, the industrial tribunal, ADR, legal aid, lands commission, among others.
The interventions of state parties will be published in subsequent editions.
The UPR is a unique process which involves a periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN Member States.
The three country representatives serving as rapporteurs (“troika”) for the review of The Gambia are: France, Kenya and Maldives
The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of The Gambia at 16.00 on 31 October.