By Kebba Jeffang
The National Council for Civic Education (NCCE) as mandated by the 1997 constitution of the Republic of the Gambia is currently embarking on a country-wide sensitization programme for security officers.
The programme is specifically targeting the police on matters pertaining to the constitutional provisions as well as human rights issues.
The event that was held at Kairaba police station in Fajara attracted police as well as immigration officers.
In his introduction, Mr. Yusupha Bojang, the programme officer, NCCE, said his institution was established in 1998 by an Act of Parliament primarily to educate citizens and other stakeholders on provisions of the constitution of the Gambia and other conventions that were ratified by the Gambia.
He said they are embarking on a nation-wide sensitization of the police officers on the provisions stated by the constitution since the police are crucial members of the society.
Presenting on civil rights issues, Mr. Bojang said human rights are rights that are fundamental and cannot be taken away from the individual by the state because they are natural entitlements. He added that rights also have limitations and go with responsibilities that are needed to be observed by any person. He said civil rights for example are right to live; adding that no person has the right to deprive or kill any person without following due process of the law. He said freedom of liberty is also a civil right that guarantees every person to live where he or she wants to live without any deprivation. He said freedom of movement is also guaranteed by the constitution.
He intimated that according to constitution, any person who is arrested, he or she must be informed within three hours as to why he or she is arrested in a language that he or she understands; adding that the person also should be taken to court not beyond 72 hours no matter how long the investigation takes.
Mr. Bojang reminded the police that right to property is also part of the civil rights and as such no person according to the constitution should lose his property to the state without compensation. He said the law also provides that any person arrested should have access to legal service, to a lawyer who he or she prefers and should be presumed innocent until proven guilty by the court or by his own voluntary confession. He said it is also stated in the law that any person who is unlawfully arrested should be compensated by a person who arrests him or her or who ordered for his arrest. He said every criminal (offender) shall be informed of the crime he or she committed and shall be given adequate time to prepare for his or her defence. He added that the detainees also have right to express themselves freely without any fear of intimidation.
The NCCE Programme officer also revealed that no person according to the constitution should be re-tried after being pardoned on the same charge in any court. He advised that nobody should also be forced to say something against his or her will. He said no person also has the right to infringe on people’s privacy by conducting a search in any person’s room without search warrant unless in exceptional cases. He said freedom of speech and freedom of the media is in line with the constitutional provisions and that every person has the right to express opinions in speech or writing on any issue so long it is not meant to destabilize the peace of the country. Mr. Bojang added that freedom to form and be part of any association or religion, assembly and demonstration is also guaranteed by the constitution after seeking for police consultation.
He concluded that there are certain provisions in the constitution that can only be amended after referendum and cannot be amended by the national assembly such as secularism and the multi party system.
Mr. Ansumana Yabo, a senior civic officer at NCCE in his deliberation pointed out that reminding the police on certain subject matters in relation to human rights is crucial. He said no law enforcement officer should use his or her power to torture any person under any justification and all detainees should be treated fairly and with justice. He said all the detainees should be accorded well with social and health care during their detention. He said law enforcement officers should apply a reasonable force where necessary when arresting suspects. He advised that all the detainees with injuries should be quickly reported to the superiors for investigation; adding that even during serious demonstration, live fire arms should not easily used by the security officers.
Mr. Yabo added that arrest of persons should be done by competent officers and must be assigned to do so and must also be informed why he or she is arrested. He said all the detainees must be kept in a recognized place and frequent visit by the family members as well as the concerned institutions must be allowed with no torture or other cruel act. He also intimated that the date and time of detention, the identity of the interrogator must be revealed without threatening the person for confession. He said the detainees should be kept in a single apartment and should be kept away from the detention apartment of the convicted persons.
Yabo concluded that the detainees are given the constitutional right to information.
Mr. Emmanuel Gomez from NCCE informed the security officers on the matter relating to the way citizenship is acquired in the Gambia as stated by the 1997 constitution. He said there are four ways one can acquire citizenship in the Gambia such as by birth, decent, marriage and naturalization. He said citizenship by birth and descent cannot be revoked and that makes them different from that of marriage or naturalization if the person is found wanting.
In reacting to the deliberation made by civic officials, Inspector Bubacarr Singhateh of Kairaba station showed appreciation to what he called a ‘reminder.’ He said section 17 deals with fundamental rights and freedom, section 21 and 22 deal with protection from inhuman treatment and protection from deprivation of property respectively are very relevant areas.
“We will observe them to make sure we don’t encroach on people’s rights unnecessarily,” assured Inspector Singhateh.