By Momodou Jarju
The Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), Emmanuel Joof, has made a clarion call for change to the antagonism people perceive exist especially between the Gambia Police Force and the Gambian youth.
Mr. Joof made the remark at the opening ceremony of a 3-day training of 30 police officers on human rights, held at a local hotel in Bijilo.
“There is a lot of antagonism if you look at it right now especially with the youth and the police. They (police) are seen as anti-people, anti-youth. But perhaps we need to change this from your side and the side of the population,” he said.
Recently, many Gambian youths have been accusing the police force of brutality.
Hundreds of people, mainly youth, hit the street on 24th July 2019 protesting against the death of Ousman Darboe, a Sierra Leone vendor and repairer of mobile and laptops at Serekunda Market.
The demonstrators alleged that Darboe’s death was as a result of the torture meted out on him by the Anti-Crime Unit (ACU). ACU denounced that claim.
Mr. Joof said Gambians have become more vocal and there is need for reorientation.
“We need to re-orient ourselves, not only as Gambians but as law enforcement officials. It cannot be business as usual or business as it was before,” Mr. Joof said.
Chairperson Joof further said the role of law enforcement officials in maintaining law and order and keeping the peace is central in the functioning of the state.
He said the police are expected to have a good understanding of domestic, regional and international human rights frameworks and standards in order to fulfil their obligations effectively and efficiently.
“The police play a pivotal role in upholding and maintaining the peace in any country. Having said that, protecting and representing the human rights of every individual is also fundamental in the dispensation of the work of the police,” he said.
Citing the 1997 constitution, Joof said the police’s mandate is to preserve law and order, protect property, arrest offenders and enforce all laws and regulations with which offenders are charged.
Joof remarked: “In exercising their mandate and discharging their duties, the police have come under a lot of criticism. Police offenders over a period of 22 years rule by the AFPRC and APRC respectively have been subjected to a lot of executive pressure to act and discharge their functions without following due process resulting in serious violations of fundamental rights and freedoms of the people.”
He said the police as protectors of the law have both a legal and a moral obligation to uphold human rights standards and act strictly in accordance with the law including their code of conduct, and the spirit of international, regional human right laws, standards, frameworks and obligations and follow due process and adhere to the provisions of Chapter 4 of the 1997 Constitution regarding safeguarding the rights of suspects during arrest, detention, and trial.
He added: “The Gambia Police Force, many a time, while discharging their duties, have been allegedly accused of falling short of adhering to human rights standards.”
Joof said it is against this backdrop that the NHRC is organising two sets of training for police officers; one for junior and mid-level officers while the other is for senior officers, adding the overall motive of the training is to build the capacity of the police and sensitize them on the role of the NHRC as well.
The training is organised by the NHRC in partnership with the Peace Building Support Officers, Office of the High Commission for Human Rights and the UN Transitional Justice Project Management Unit under the umbrella of UNDP.
UNDP Residence Representative, Assata De, said community policing is important because people cannot effectively do their work without partnering with the people they serve.
Ms. De said the training is an integral part of the NHRC’s work and is aimed ultimately at reinforcing the capacities of police officers to protect and promote human rights in compliance with national law and international human right standards.
“As The Gambia continues to embark on the transitional justice process and the Commission continues to dispense its mandate, the UNDP and OHCHR continue to stand firm to support the process of delivering your mandate,” she said.