Six Thousand People Displaced by Casamance Conflict 

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By: Kebba AF Touray

The Gambia’s Minority Leader, Hon. Alhagie S. Darboe, while addressing the ECOWAS Parliament in Abuja, disclosed that an estimated 6000 Senegalese and Gambians are displaced from their homes and forced to take refuge in other parts of the Gambia.

He said this during the First Ordinary Session of the Pan African Parliament while presenting the situational report of the Gambia. 

The bulky report covers areas of politics, security, youth and sports, freedom of the press, human rights, economy and electoral situations of the Gambia.

“It may be recalled that around March, 2022 an estimated 6,000 Senegalese and Gambian citizens that reside in villages along the border of the two countries have been forced to flee their homes and took refuge in other parts of The Gambia due to intensified fighting between the Senegalese army and MFDC rebels in the Casamance region of Senegal, in an area less than two miles from the border,” he told ECOWAS Parliament on the security situation of the Gambia.

He said that since calm has returned to the area, the government of The Gambia has promoted the safe, voluntary, and dignified resettlement or integration of the displaced persons in various locations along the border in both countries.

On the Security Sector Reform (SSR) initiative, he told PAP that the government is committed to establishing civilian and democratic oversight mechanisms that will guarantee the non-recurrence of serious human rights violations perpetrated by security forces.

“The Standing Committee on Defence and Security of the National Assembly continues to engage the relevant sectors to ensure that the reforms that are envisaged by the SSR are truly reflective of the security needs and aspirations of security institutions in particular and the country at large,” he said.

He said the government is aware and would like to recognise the tremendous efforts made by ECOWAS and GIZ by organising a national stakeholder workshop sometime last year for all Gambian security institutions as part of the SSR implementation process, with a view to enhancing cross-institutional dialogue among the various security installations in the country.

On Human Rights, he reported that in March, 2023, the National Assembly passed two Acts fundamental to promoting human rights and upholding the rule of law in the country.

“The first is the Prevention of Torture Act 2023, which provides the legal framework for the prohibition, prevention and punishment of any form of torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in The Gambia and provides penalties aimed at ensuring accountability for acts of torture,” he said.

According to Darboe, the Act further imposes a duty on all persons to report all forms of torture and inhumane treatment to relevant authorities and also provides for the protection of witnesses, victims and persons reporting torture.

He explained that the second is the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Act of 2023, which is equally a significant milestone in the transitional justice process of The Gambia, particularly with regards to accountability for human rights violations committed during the Jammeh regime.

“The law provides a framework for mutual legal assistance in criminal matters between The Gambia and other countries, enabling the country to cooperate with foreign law enforcement agencies in investigating and prosecuting cross-border crimes,” he told ECOWAS Parliament.

He stressed that enforced disappearance is one such crime that often occurs across national borders, making it challenging to investigate and prosecute.

He thus said that the coming into force of this law will be crucial in investigating and prosecuting enforced disappearances that were revealed to have occurred during the Jammeh era. 

“The law enables The Gambia to request assistance from other countries in obtaining evidence, witnesses, and other forms of assistance needed to investigate and prosecute these crimes,” he added.

While saluting the great improvement in the human rights situation in the Gambia, he pointed to a zero-incident of arbitrary deprivation of life and other unlawful or politically motivated killings and disappearances as was rampant under President Barrow’s predecessor.

He, however, highlighted some human rights issues such as harsh and life-threatening prison conditions caused by food shortages, overcrowding in some prison facilities, physical abuse, lack of adequate medical care, and poor sanitary conditions.

The Brikama North lawmaker further told the ECOWAS Parliament that “the National Assembly Standing Committee on Human Rights and Constitutional Matters has already started engaging the government and relevant stakeholders on some of these claims made in the report of the National Human Rights Commission, and this process is ongoing.”

On Press Freedom, he said, “This year, The Gambia is ranked 5th in Africa and 46th in the world among 180-member countries by the international watchdog the Reporters Without Borders as a country where press freedom is highly valued.”

According to him, this is an important milestone achievement for the government of President Adama Barrow as it can boast of the fact that since it came to power in 2016, no journalist had ever been tortured or imprisoned, or a media house closed or burnt down.

On the defunct Truth Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC), Darboe explained that The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) has launched a project in The Gambia dubbed “Implementation of TRRC Recommendations,” expected to run from 2022 to 2024.

He said the Project aims to support the government in creating awareness and improving capacities to implement the recommendations made by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).

He said that the strategy developed in attaining the aims of the TRRC, involved using a consultative and participatory approach involving key national institutions such as the Police, Judiciary, National Human Rights Commission, and civil society organisations, with a special focus on victims and women’s organisations.

“The government is currently working and collaborating with partners to draft legislation for the establishment of Reparation for Victims Fund and a Peace Commission, which will be a successor body to the Reparations Committee of the TRRC, independent and vested with the power to manage and make payments out of the reparations fund,” he said.

For a start, he reported that the government has committed GMD50,000,000 which was utilised to provide health care, material, financial and other support to the victims. However, the government recognises that these initial interventions are neither comprehensive nor intended to be final.

On elections, he told the ECOWAS Parliament that Gambians had gone to the polls on the 15th April, 2023 to elect their councillors for the Local Government as election for the Mayors and Chairpersons of Councils are expected to be held on May, 20 2023.

He said the April 15 Councilors’ elections has been described by domestic and international observers as very peaceful, as the voting process was reported to have been conducted smoothly with virtually few technical hitches or interruptions.

“A total of 367 candidates contested for the 120 Wards in the eight Local Government Administrative Areas of the country, out of which 58 were women, representing 16 percent. Also, of the 19 registered political parties, 299 candidates were nominated by 11 parties, 68 candidates ran as Independents and 4 candidates were Persons with Disabilities (PWD),” he said.