Gambia must heed UN warning to improve its human rights record
The Gambian authorities must heed a warning from the international community about the deteriorating human rights situation in the country, Amnesty International said today.
This morning, 62 countries took the floor at the United Nations Universal Periodic Review (UPR) in Geneva to urge Gambia to promote and protect human rights. Concerns voiced by UN member states included Gambia’s unjustified restrictions on the right to freedom of expression and its renewed use of the death penalty.
“UN member states have sent a clear message to Gambia that the government must end its rule of fear and repression,” said Steve Cockburn, Amnesty International’s regional deputy director for West and Central Africa.
“Gambia’s muzzling of dissent has had a devastating and chilling effect on human rights defenders, journalists and political activists, who have been persistently brutally targeted solely for exercising their right to freedom of expression. Today UN member states have said to Gambia: enough is enough.”
Journalists in Gambia have been subjected to enforced disappearance, while activists have faced torture – including having their legs burnt with boiling oil and their backs slashed with metal rods – for speaking out against human rights violations by the state.
Member states also criticized the Gambian government’s disregard for regional court judgments and the resolutions of international and regional human rights bodies.
“It is disappointing that the Gambian delegation in Geneva repeatedly sought to play down the grave and increasingly deteriorating human rights situation in the country,” said Stephen Cockburn.
“Gambian human rights defenders experience a very different reality than that portrayed by the delegation to the UPR Working Group.”
In blatant contradiction to Gambia’s obligations under international human rights law, Gambia’s Minister of Justice said restrictions on the right to freedom of expression were necessary to avoid the publication of false news, sedition and libel.
Gambia justified its use of the death penalty and argued that the temporary lifting of the moratorium on the death penalty had been necessary to deal with a rise in crime.
Gambia’s constitution in fact calls for a review – now seven years overdue – on the “desirability” of the death penalty.
“The climate of fear and intimidation in Gambia has affected the ability of civil society to participate in this UPR and there is a real risk of reprisals against Gambians who sought to engage with the review,” said Steve Cockburn.
“UN member states have today echoed what civil society has been campaigning on for years. Gambia must accept the recommendations made during this session and genuinely commit to fully and effectively implementing them without delay.”
Eighteen countries, including Costa Rica, Mexico, Tunisia and Sierra Leone, expressed concerns about restrictions on freedom of expression in Gambia and recommended measures to protect journalists, human rights defenders and political activists and allow them to carry out their work.
Sixteen states urged the government to move towards abolition of capital punishment, with several states expressing regret about the resumption of executions in 2012.
Four other states called on Gambia to implement judgments against it by the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice and to abide by its obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
Thirteen states recommended that Gambia ratify the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) is a mechanism of the Human Rights Council under which it reviews the fulfilment of the human rights obligations and commitments of all 193 UN Member States, with each State being reviewed every four and a half years. It is a cooperative mechanism, based on objective and reliable information, and equal treatment of all States. It is complementary to the work of the UN treaty bodies.
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