By Amie Sanneh
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, Tuesday, 4 August, invited the members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps in the country to a meeting to express their views on the general amnesty accorded to prisoners by President Yahya Jammeh. The meeting, which brought together representatives of foreign governments and international organisations, senior government officials, members of the National Assembly, the media, among others, was held at the Kairaba Beach Hotel.
The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Neneh Macdouall Gaye, in her welcoming remarks, said although news of the amnesty has been disseminated in different forms, she strongly believed that as their international partners as well as partners in development, they should share views on such a landmark decision.
Mrs. Macdouall Gaye noted that never have they heard of an amnesty that covered over 300 prisoners, hence the need for them to talk about it.
“It has brought a new dispensation in our political landscape,” said the foreign affairs minister.
United Nations Resident Coordinator in the Gambia, Madame Ade Mamonyane Lekoetje, for her part, said they welcomed the decision. She urged the government to seek a prompt resolution in the cases of other detainees.
The UN Rep also took the opportunity to call for the continuation of dialogue on human rights issues between the Gambia and UN. She reiterated their commitment to support The Gambia to enhance its capacity in diagnosis and identifying challenges in the areas of Rule of Law such as the Judicial Service, Prison Service, and the establishment of a national commission on human rights, amongst others.
Madam Lekoetje encouraged the Gambia to continue its cooperation with the United Nations, friends and partners to assist it to build and strengthen its technical capacities for reporting on its compliance with UN Human Rights treaty bodies and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights mechanisms.
The Nigerian High Commissioner to the Gambia, who is also the Dean of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps, Madam Esther Audu, said Nigeria was grateful.
She disclosed that eleven Nigerian nationals were pardoned and ten of whom have since returned to Nigeria. She said the last one remaining in The Gambia would be leaving the next day (today).
The Sierra Leonean High Commissioner in the Gambia, Soulayman Daramy, assured the Gambia Government that they were grateful for the release of their nationals from prison. He appealed to the government to consider their remaining five nationals who are still in prison. He said 99.9 percent of their nationals do obey the law and they are not only comfortable staying in the country but consider it as a home.
The Senegalese High Commissioner, Salieu Ndiaye, also expressed appreciation to the President, noting that what he has done is in line with religion and tradition. He said he has received 27 Senegalese who have been pardoned from prison. He said this is how a leader should be.
The American Ambassador in the Gambia, Joseph Stafford, also commended the Gambia Government for the release of the prisoners, which included a Nigerian- American in the person of Joseph Wowo.
The Minister of Justice, Mama Fatima Singhateh, for her part, said the people being pardoned have committed offences and were convicted by court of law. She said most of these people, including foreign nationals, had committed very serious offences, aggravated offences, drug trafficking, murder. She added that these are serious offences that carry life imprisonment and that the president, who has been bestowed with the power by the Constitution to exercise the prerogative of mercy, has chosen to grant them amnesty. This, she said, is worthy of commendation.
Other speakers at the meeting included the Venezuelan Ambassador, Counsel of Belgium, Mauritanian Charge D’ Affairs and many others, who all expressed appreciation of the decision made by the Gambian leader.