Calls for Relocation of African Commission secretariat away from Banjul Amid Gambia’s Continued Poor Human Rights Record

By Kebba Jeffang
The Director of the Center for Human Rights, University of Pretoria,Mr Frans Centre for Human Rights
has called upon the African Commission to re-request from the African Union (AU) for the relocation of the Secretariat of the African Commission in the event that the human rights situation in the Gambia fails to improve.Mr. Frans Viljoen also dilated on the xenophobia attack in South
Africa at the ongoing 56th Ordinary Session of Human and Peoples’
Rights in Banjul on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.
He stated that the Gambia government in 2009 openly and explicitly
threatened the safety and security of civil society representatives
intending to attend the Commission’s session in Banjul. He said the
Commission reacted by a resolution, calling on the President to
withdraw the threats and to guarantee the security of the participants
in the upcoming session scheduled to take place in The Gambia.
He said a Resolution on the Deteriorating Human Rights Situation in
The Gambia was adopted at the Commission’s 7th extraordinary session
held in Dakar, Senegal on the 11 October, 2009. He said in what
amounts to an ultimatum, the Commission requested the AU to consider
relocating the Commission’s seat if the human rights situation in the
Gambia did not improve. He added that after the President gave some
guarantees to ensure the safety and security for NGOs, the session
eventually took place in Banjul. He said however, the situation has
not improved.
“This fact is exemplified by a visit to the country in November 2014
by the UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and on extrajudicial, summary
or arbitrary executions. Although the government agreed to the visit,
it was met with the government’s unwillingness to grant freedom of
movement and inquiry to all areas of detention facilities. The Special
Rapporteur on Torture found a constant fear of reporting any human
rights abuses due to reprisals, lack of a substantive redress, and a
mistrust of the police force as well as Indemnity Act of 2001 which
provides the President with nearly unfettered powers that perpetuates
a culture of impunity and deters victims from seeking redress for
violations including torture,” said Viljoen.
The Center for Human Rights Director noted that the presidential
attack on the 30th December, 2014 was a clear example in
which four insurgents were killed. According to him, between the
December 30 incident and January, 25 individuals were being detained
incommunicado, with their whereabouts unknown.
He said most of the persons detained were relatives of those suspected
of being involved in the failed coup. Although some have been
released, other family members have not been heard from in almost
three months. He said another example that was found by the Special
Rapporteur was the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) which is
responsible for conducting covert investigations, collecting
intelligence and protecting state security. He indicated that it was
narrated in testimonies during trials that the NIA would hold persons
for many days and weeks under inhumane conditions with severe and
routine torture regimes, before being handed over to the police and
brought before a judge.
It was noted that there is an absence of routine medical examination
by qualified forensic medical doctors at the police investigation
stage.
On the issues of death penalty, he said it is of grave concern in the
Gambia citing the execution of nine inmates in 2012 (8 men and 1
woman) by firing squad.
He said following the attempted coup late December, military tribunal
had passed a judgment on the 30thMarch, 2015 sentencing three accused
persons to death after being secretly tried on treason “without
effective representation.”
Mr. Frans  Viljoen, Director of Center for Human Rights submitted
that, “against this background, the Center of Human Rights urges the
African Commission to follow up with the AU its 2009 request to
consider relocating the Secretariat of the African Commission in the
event that the human rights situation in the Republic of the Gambia
does not improve. The commission should also clearly and strongly
highlight this issue in its next activity report, and through its
Chairperson, seriously engage on this issue with the Executive Council
of African Union (AU).”
On the issue of xenophobic violence in South Africa, he said his
organization is concerned about lack of a comprehensive and systematic
approach to the issue by the South African government to effectively
deal with the burning issue.  He noted that this is a serious event
citing the 2008 incident after which the Commission at its 43rd
session in Swaziland adopted a resolution condemning the attacks.
He urged the Commission to express its renewed concern about the
recurrence of xenophobic violence and the pattern of failed
accountability for xenophobic crimes and calls on Commission to
undertake a high level mission to South Africa to engage with the
government on the development of a comprehensive, sustainable and
effective strategy to prevent the recurrence of such violence.