Lawmakers Demand Respect for Rights, Welfare of Detainees

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By: Kebba AF Touray

Gambian lawmakers, have called for respect for detainees rights and the improvement of their welfare at the National Assembly on Thursday 15th December 2022, during a debate on the Human Right Committee’s report on their visit to major detention Centres across the country.

The Member for Old Yundum Constituency, Abdoulie Ceesay, hailed the committee for a job well done, adding that the step taken demonstrates the concerns the committee and the entire legislative body have for the inmates. He added that it also demonstrates their readiness to ensure that the welfare of the inmates and detainees are improved.

“Entirely, the report is very explicit and has covered the aspects of what we wanted to know regarding the detention Centres. We have seen challenges that are featured in the recommendations as per the Centres and I think the authorities responsible will take those challenges up with a view to proffer remedies,” he said.

“Human rights are universal rights that we all own as rights that we are born with as human beings regardless of status and background. These rights need to be protected but most often we see them abused at our detention Centres. Sometimes how some of the people are taken to the Centres is based on human abuse,” said Member for Baddibu Central, Sulayman Saho.

He said the report highlighted that the prisoners are not given adequate food and water stating that food is essential and is part of life as it is universal for people to have access to food.

“If prisoners are given five dalasi for a meal, I want the mover for the motion to elaborate on whether the issuing of 5 dalasi to prisoners is a colonial law, and whether it is still there, if it is there now, then there is need for action, because I know nobody can live on 5 dalasi,” he said.

He said that most of the detainees are languishing in prisons without trial and are without having access to justice.

“Access to justice is key. Some people are in prisons for 10 years and they don’t have access to justice. I think it is high time the people in the judiciary look into that so that those cases could be brought before the court because justice delayed is justice denied,” he added.

Member for Niamina East, Biromm Sowe said that the report cites the lack of mobility challenge confronting the police stations, which will negatively impact on the work of the police in the effective and efficient execution of their job.

“Some of the cells are in the worst conditions. I want to thank Hon. Suwaibou Touray, and the Chairman of the Committee, because in some places they spent their own resources to ensure that the conditions are improved. The allocation of D5 per meal for a prisoner is horrible because it is not only grossly inadequate but cannot afford quality food,” he said. 

He said that these are things that should be trashed out citing in some of the Centres there is no library whereas those with libraries, the libraries are not qualified to be called libraries.

Member for Sami Constituency, Alfusainey Ceesay, also challenged the committee to expand their oversight visit to other police stations, especially those in the hinterlands of the country.

“When you go to the Remand Wing segment of the report, you tend to wonder about the kind of judicial system that we are having. You cannot detain somebody for 8 years and the person doesn’t know his or her fate. I think the Human Rights committee should share this report with the Judiciary so that they know what is happening at the remand wing,” he said.

He added that the cells are overcrowded and that detainees cannot sleep well especially during the rainy season, adding that the Centres are full with rain water, and expressed his view for the judiciary to urgently look into the issues of those at the remand wing so that they know their fate instead of them languishing in the detention Centres.

Member for Kiang West Constituency, Lamin Ceesay reminded the government that the concept of human right reforms is not limited to freedom of expression, but by extension it is a package that cannot be partially or selectively given consideration and ignore the rest.

“Major human right violations in this country are done in detention Centres and our prisons. The committee talked about tampering with evidence in some of the Centres they visited. The reason for keeping that evidence is that in getting rid of those violations in the past, such evidence is needed so that proper actions are taken,” he said.

“Our legal system is very slow and unless we have a holistic look into the Constitution. It is better for the assembly to advocate for a new Constitution to ensure that Gambians are free because we are looking at issues at a very peripheral level,” he said.

He said that the lack of separate cell for men and women in remand wings is a major human right violation adding that rape cases can happen any day and at any time.

 Bakary Badgie Member for Foni Bintang Karanai, urged that the country practice a system that suits its citizens that will improve the lives of the people.

“The detainees at Mile 2 prisons are suffering daily because of the burning of the Banjul dumpsite. This is a constant complaint that they are lodging. The smoke from the burning of the dumpsite affects the detainees. I think immediate actions are needed to address the issue,” he added.

The D5 allocation for the detainees he reiterated belongs to the colonial era and challenged that as members they need to do something to revise the allocation.

Member for Jeshwang, Sheriff Sarr, raised issues on the young people kept at the juvenile wing waiting for trial with a particular reference to a 13-year-old boy whom he said has been kept there and the crime of the young boy is that he has stolen a car key and has spent 3 months at the juvenile wing.

“That period is too much. These are some of the issues we need to look into and reduce the load of the prisons,” he said.