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.]]>