UN Human Rights Experts Visit Postponed

The proposed visit to the Gambia of the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on torture, Juan E. Méndez, and summary, extrajudicial and arbitrary executions, Mr. Christof Heyns, has been postponed at the last minute, according to a news release from the UN Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner issued yesterday, 12 August 2014.

The visit was scheduled to start on the 12 -18 August 2014.

According to the news release, the Government of The Gambia, in a letter dated 6 August 2014, informed the UN independent experts that the visit is no longer suitable due to an “unexpected commitment.”

It added that the Special Rapporteurs have reached out to the Government for an explanation, but have received none to date.

“We find it extremely worrying that a major undertaking dealing with issues such as unlawful killings and torture can be cancelled without explanation, just as it is about to start,” the experts said.

The Government, stated the release, proposed a delay until early 2015, but the lack of information about the reasons gives rise to legitimate concerns about whether this visit will actually take place.

“The Government’s decision to postpone our visit casts doubt on The Gambia’s willingness to engage with the United Nations’ special procedures and to respond to the legitimate expectations of the human rights constituency in Gambian civil society,” the independent experts noted.

The release further stated that the Special Rapporteurs urged the Gambian authorities to honour its commitments made to the UN Universal Periodic Review process in 2010, which included the acceptance of a recommendation to welcome a visit by the mandate on torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and other special procedures.

“While we are still in the dark about the Government’s motives, we do know that many interlocutors at the local, national and international level were anticipating our visit,” the experts said. “Civil society organizations, victims of summary executions, torture and ill-treatment and their families viewed our visit as an opportunity for dialogue.”

The release concluded, “We continue to make ourselves available to the Government with the expectation that we will receive an explanation and set new dates for our visit as soon as possible.  We continue to closely monitor the human rights situation in The Gambia.”