ONE STEP FORWARD AND TWO STEPS BACKWARDS

When the Gambia Government under the leadership of President Jammeh invited the UN Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, and on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Méndez, to visit the country in August this year many observers were caught by surprise. And when the government subsequently decided to call off the visit some could not understand why, while others felt that President Jammeh was playing a political game. When the government finally decided to extend another invitation for 3-7 November 2014, some were skeptical of the outcome especially after viewing the interactive session of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on Gambia on 28 October 2014.

Irrespective of what observers may think of the reasons for the move it is a fact that The Gambia as member of the United Nations is obliged to subject itself to universal periodic review every four years during which it will be held accountable on its human rights records. At these sessions, NGOs and member states can fault The Gambia and make recommendations. This is what The Gambia did in February 2010 and October 2014.

It is also a fact that the working group of the UPR in 2010 recommended that The Gambia invites the UN Special Rapporteurs on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment to visit The Gambia. In fact during the 2014 interactive session, a member state did enquire why these rapporteurs are yet to be invited. The Minister of Justice who led the Gambian delegation to the UPR in his response indicated that the special rapporteurs were to visit The Gambia from 3-7 November 2014. And before the arrival of the rapporteurs, the terms of reference for their visit were signed by the Government.

By inviting the rapporteurs twice and finally reneging on their promise not to deny them unrestricted and unsupervised access at the eleventh hour, the Government under the leadership of President Jammeh is no longer sure of how to handle this situation.

Needless to say, if there is nothing to hide and the Government is committed to the pursuits of human rights then one would act transparently and allow the rapporteurs to do their work.