NHRC Expresses Concern over Recent Statements of President Barrow, Current Political Intolerance

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As the State institution mandated to promote and ensure respect for human rights, democratic principles, and the strengthening of the rule of law, the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has expressed concern on the recent statement of President Adama Barrow and political intolerance within the country, in a press release issued recently. 

In its statement, the NHRC said it continually monitors the national landscape to stay informed of prevailing issues in the country, expressing grave concern with the recent statements of President Adama Barrow made on different occasions. NHRC adds that following recent developments, it said it is deeply concerned with the widening political divide in the nation. 

“Particularly disturbing were remarks made during a political rally in Bansang on September 29th, and subsequent statements at the opening of the NPP Regional Bureau in Jarra Soma on October 3rd. In these addresses, H.E. the President described the United Democratic Party (UDP) as the ‘biggest threat to national security’ and sternly rebuked the Kerr Fatou online media platform and Mengbekering Radio Station, and threatened to rearrest individuals alleged to have committed an offence even on bail granted to them by Gambian Courts of competent jurisdiction,” the NHRC said in its statement. 

The rights body reveals that these statements by the President have the potential to undermine the democratic progress made by “our” country since 2017, saying it encourages open defiance and disobedience to court orders which undermines the authority of the Judiciary and places the lives of media professionals at heightened risk.

According to the NHRC, the reports reaching them indicate that the President’s comments were in response to a barrage of criticism against the Government by the Leader of the UDP and some of his supporters. However, it said his responses to these barrages of criticisms against his Government by the leader of the UDP and some of his supporters, have generated widespread concern from various quarters owing to their severity and implications. 

NHRC statement indicated: “We acknowledge the positive strides made by the Government since coming into Office, including efforts to restore respect for human rights and the rule of law in The Gambia. Nevertheless, we remind the Government of its responsibility to uphold its human rights obligations, as guaranteed by the 1997 Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia and other regional and international human rights instruments that The Gambia has ratified. We urge the Government to commit to upholding and safeguarding the human rights and freedoms of every individual in the country.”

“While we call on the media to be responsible and ethical in its reporting, we emphasize that the right to freedom of speech and expression including that of the media, is fundamental to holding power accountable. Threats against the media stifle criticism of Government action or inaction on matters of public concern. They echo the censorship and hostile environment that the media endured in the former regime,” it noted.

Upholding good governance, respect for the rule of law, and honouring decisions, judgments, and rulings of the Judiciary and recommendations by the NHRC, the statement added, are fundamental to a functioning democracy.

“Thus, safeguarding and strengthening the independence of the Judiciary should be of paramount importance to everyone in the country. 

“We urge all political stakeholders, especially our leaders, to redirect their focus and energy towards pressing economic, social, environmental, legal, and political issues facing the country. Collaboration is necessary to find lasting solutions that improve the lives and livelihoods of the people and contribute to the development and progress of the nation. The TRRC Report emphasizes the need for collective action to realize the ‘Never Again’ mantra.”

“We remind the Government, especially the Executive, of its primary obligation to guarantee the freedom of the media within the bounds of the law, ensure the security of journalists, create an environment for a robust opposition, and maintain the independence of the Judiciary. Building a New Gambia demands respect for and protection of fundamental human rights and freedoms, adherence to the rule of law, obedience to Court orders, allowance of diverse opinions in the ‘marketplace of ideas’, and promotion of meaningful citizen participation in national dialogues and development initiatives,” the Commission said in their statement,” the rights commission said.

The release continued: “Similarly, the Commission is gravely concerned about the deafening silence from authorities, political, and opinion leaders regarding attempts to reverse laws against Female Genital Mutilation / Cutting, the rise in hate speech and bigotry of all sorts and kinds, and statements made by certain religious and opinion leaders against human and women’s rights defenders that have the potential to further polarise our communities, undermine national unity and peace and put lives of individuals in the country at serious risk.

“The Commission remains committed to fostering a democratic society where human rights are respected and protected, the rule of law prevails, independence of the Judiciary is guaranteed and all individuals are able to contribute to the progress of the nation without discrimination.”

“In the fulfillment of its mandate, the Commission would not hesitate to hold every institution, organization, and individual accountable for their acts of omission or commission,” the Commission statement ended.