Human Rights Watch, a human rights NGO based in the USA on 17 September released an 81 page report on the human rights situation in The Gambia in which it calls on the government to disband paramilitary groups and investigate abuses.
The report says the government commits serious human rights violations against perceived critics and political opponents, perpetuating a climate of fear and repression.
The report further alleges that “state security forces and shadowy paramilitary groups carry out unlawful killings and arbitrarily arrest, detain, and forcibly disappear people, causing hundreds to flee the tiny country, best known internationally as a tourist destination.” Most of the abuses documented in the report are from 2013 to 2015
“Looking beyond Gambia’s beautiful beaches, the population lives in a climate of fear in which injustice prevails and accountability for abuses is beyond reach,” said Felicity Thompson, West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The government needs to urgently turn things around by respecting basic rights and prosecuting those who violate them.”
The report is based on in-depth interviews with over 35 victims and witnesses of human rights violations, including journalists, human rights defenders, student leaders, political opposition members, religious leaders, and members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) communities. The report also says Human Rights Watch interviewed numerous former members of the security forces and paramilitary groups. “Many believed they were under surveillance by the intelligence services, and spoke to Human Rights Watch with palpable fear and at great personal risk.”
The report adds that, Government oppression of the media has been particularly severe, apparently to silence criticism and suppress negative information about the country to the outside world; that dozens of journalists have fled Gambia in the last two decades. It makes reference to the most recent case, that of the managing director of Taranga FM, Alagie Abdoulie Ceesay, who was detained in July and held incommunicado for 11 days without charge at NIA headquarters. A few days after his release, Ceesay was again detained, charged with six counts of sedition and one count of false news.
According to the report, despite the rampant human rights abuses in Gambia, authorities have conducted few investigations into allegations of torture or ill-treatment by state officials, and no government officials, security services personnel, or paramilitary groups have been held to account for serious violations.
The report makes reference to the pardoning of over 200 prisoners and release of family members of those accused in the 2014 coup attempt and other detainees. It added that the release of unlawfully or arbitrarily detained prisoners is an important humanitarian gesture, but that many more Gambians wrongfully remain behind bars.