Saturday, 26th January, 2019
Amie Sillah Reporting
Parliamentarians and civil society members were engaged in a round table discussion on Saturday, 26th January, 2019 with the aim of to promoting Freedom of Assembly in The Gambia. The Roundtable was facilitated by The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) in collaboration with the Human Rights Committee of the National Assembly and sponsored by ICNL.
The Executive Director ACDHRS Mrs. Hannah Forster made the opening remarks. She congratulated the newly formed National Assembly Select Committee on Human Rights which was inaugurated at the Roundtable and promised to engage and give them support in their endeavours.
Mrs. Forster said the Centre is 30 years since its inception in The Gambia, it is a registered International NGO and one of its main objectives is to protect and promote Human Rights in Africa and also to support the work of the Commission, advocacy, sensitization, training, documentation and research to name but a few.
Mrs. Mariam Denton Speaker of the National Assembly in her opening statement stressed the importance of freedom of assembly in a Democracy. She said we have to share good ideas and best practices, knowing that the Right to Freedom of Assembly is the cornerstone of any Democracy. She emphasised connectivity with the people. She said she will enhance and support the National Assembly Select Committee on Human Rights.
Mr. Aloys Habimana Legal Adviser Africa for ICNL, who led the discussion, stated that Freedom of Association and Freedom of Assembly are the fabric of any Democracy. He expressed the hope that the New Gambia would follow such path to fulfill the dreams and aspirations of its people. He said it is fruitful to engage with National Institutions.
He first enunciated on the tenets of the Right to Freedom of Assembly as provided for by international and regional instruments, citing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. He asserted that freedom of assembly laws have to be made better and not worse. “We have to learn from better practices,” he added, stressing that freedom of assembly is a Fundamental Right and not a privilege.
He made it clear that what is advocated for is peaceful assembly without the use of arms for which people in action should be protected. He noted that any restriction in the exercise of this right should be “only those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. He emphasised that the restriction should be precise and clear.”
Mr Habimana went on to say that since freedom of assembly is a right, one does not require a permit to exercise that right. All that is needed is a few days’ notice informing the authorities of the exercise of the right.
The lead discussant also examined the Public Order Act of The Gambia and described it as being at odds with best practices of Freedom of Assembly. He pointed out that it is designed to limit freedom of Assembly. He went to say that its language is very ambiguous, criminal sanctions are placed on offenders and liabilities are imposed on all participants even where they may not have committed any offence. He found it very strange that in The Gambia one has to obtain permission from the authorities in order to use a speaker in a public place.
The consensus at the roundtable discussion is that the Public Order does not meet international standards and needs to be revamped so that it can facilitate freedom of assembly in The Gambia.
In summing up the minds of the participants, Mrs. Forster advised we have to repeal or amend the Public Order Act in the shortest time possible. “As a Nation we have to align our laws that govern Freedom of Assembly with Regional and International Laws. We have to outline our constraints and work on them, mapping out a roadmap that will make it workable to enhance partnership with the National Assembly Select Committee. We can also work on a Second Roundtable in the near future.
The Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly has indicated that the Select Committee on Human Rights would review the Public Order Act and engage the Executive arm of Government in the review of the concerns of partners and if such engagements yield no outcome they would consider tabling a Private Member’s Bill for the resolution of such concerns.