«Amnesty International Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review, OctoberNovember 2014 CONTENTS Introduction Follow up to the previous review ...»
Submission to the UN Universal
Periodic Review, OctoberNovember 2014
Follow up to the previous review
International human rights instruments
UN Treaty Bodies and Special Procedures
Arbitrary executions and death penalty
Freedom of expression and human rights defenders
The national human rights framework
Promotion and protection of human rights on the ground
Freedom of expression
Human rights defenders
Arbitrary arrest and detention
Independence of the judiciary
Torture and other ill-treatment
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Intersex (LGBTI) Rights
Recommendations for action by the State under review
The Gambia: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 20th Session of the UPR Working Group, October-November 2014
Amnesty International is seriously concerned about the deteriorating human rights context since the previous UPR. With respect to the national human rights framework, Amnesty International regrets the recent adoption of domestic legislation which further restricts the right to freedom of expression.
The rights to freedom of expression and assembly are seriously curtailed as the government keeps a tight control of the media, and journalists and human rights defenders continue to be arbitrarily arrested, detained and subject to enforced disappearance. The government unlawfully interferes with the independence of the judiciary, and the culture of impunity, in particular among law enforcement officials, is widespread. Amnesty International continues to receive reports of torture and ill-treatment in detention centres, and clampdown on LGBTI rights.
Gambia has failed to abolish the death penalty, and continued to use it in violation of international and regional human rights standards.
22 July 2014 will mark the 20th anniversary President Jammeh’s rise to power in Gambia. On this occasion, Amnesty International urges the Gambian authorities to take concrete steps to reverse the shrinking space allowed for political opposition and freedom of expression.
FOLLOW UP TO THE PREVIOUS REVIEWSince Gambia’s first UPR in 2010, the human rights situation in the country has deteriorated. The government continues to stifle freedom of expression and to commit a range of human rights violations with impunity.
INTERNATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS INSTRUMENTSOf the recommendations that were accepted in 2010, the government has ratified the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2013,1 and the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.2 However, the government has not yet ratified other equally important international human rights treaties,3 including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which it committed to ratify in 2010.
COOPERATION WITH UN TREATY BODIES AND SPECIAL PROCEDURESThe government has submitted overdue reports to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2012, the Committee on the Elimination of
Discrimination against Women in 2012, and the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2011. However, it has failed to submit other overdue reports, including to the Human Rights Committee, despite the commitments made at the review in 2010.4 Invitations to the Special Procedure mandate holders have not been extended nor have their requests for visits been accepted, including the request going back to 2006 from the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and the request in 2012 from the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.5
ARBITRARY EXECUTIONS AND DEATH PENALTYDespite its acceptance of the recommendation to “fight resolutely against the practice of arbitrary or summary executions” 6 and to consider moving towards the abolition of the death penalty,7 the government executed nine death row inmates in
2012. These were the first executions in the country in nearly 30 years. 8 Following these executions, the President declared a “conditional” moratorium dependant on the rise or fall of the crime rate. 9 A review of the desirability of the death penalty in the Gambia by the National Assembly, mandated in the 1997 Constitution, is now seven years overdue.10 The government passed the Drugs Control (amendment) Act 2011, which replaced the death penalty with life imprisonment for possession of more than 250g of cocaine or heroin. However, the death penalty remains a punishment for crimes of murder, terrorism and treason. 11 In October 2012, the Supreme Court interpreted Article 18(2) of the 1997 Constitution to mean that “the administration of toxic substance that must result in death” and not the offence involving violence. 12 It further held that violence “does not have to be actualised; it is sufficient if violence is intended.” 13 This interpretation seems to broaden the scope of the application of the death penalty.
Death sentences may be imposed only for the “most serious crimes”, according to Article 6(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which in 2012 was confirmed by the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to mean “capital punishment may be imposed only for intentional killing, but it may not be mandatory in such cases.” 14
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION AND HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERSDuring its first UPR, the government rejected key recommendations to promote and protect the rights to freedom of expression and to take concrete measures to protect human rights defenders and journalists.15 In 2013, the National Assembly passed the Criminal Code (amendment) Act and the Information and Communication (amendment) Act, both of which further restrict the right to freedom of expression.
The government has also failed to abide by its commitment to avoid unlawful arrests and detention.16 Over the last four years, Amnesty International has documented many cases of arbitrary arrest and detention of scores of human rights defenders and journalists solely for peacefully exercising their right to freedom of expression.
Amnesty International, June 2014 3 Index: AFR 27/006/2014 The Gambia: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 20th Session of the UPR Working Group, October-November 2014
THE NATIONAL HUMAN RIGHTS
FRAMEWORKHuman rights are guaranteed under the Gambian Constitution and the various international and regional human rights treaties ratified by the Gambia. In practice, however, human rights are often violated with impunity and President Jammeh has on several occasions denounced human rights as a “Western notion”.17 A draft law was developed in the period since the last review to establish a national human rights institution. However, several international observers have expressed concerns about its lack of independence and little progress has been made in bringing the draft law in line with the Paris Principles.
The National Assembly has also passed domestic legislation which restricts the right
to freedom of expression, including:
The Criminal Code (amendment) Act 2013 which broadens definitions of offences and places harsher punishments on acts of public disorder, such as “hurling abusive insults” or “singing abusive songs” and giving false information to a public servant. It also criminalizes expression through the choice of clothing, particularly men who dress as women.
The Information and Communication (amendment) Act 2013 which allows the imposition of penalties of up to 15 years’ imprisonment and hefty fines for criticizing government officials online. It also targets people who spread “false news” about the government or public officials, caricature or make derogatory statements against public officials, or incite dissatisfaction or violence against the government.
PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF HUMAN
RIGHTS ON THE GROUNDIn November 2011, President Jammeh was declared the winner of the presidential elections, continuing his 19-year rule. His government tolerates no dissent.
Human rights defenders, journalists, and political opponents face intimidation, harassment, death threats, arbitrary arrest, detention, torture and ill-treatment, and enforced disappearance.
Most civil society or media bodies practice self-censorship in a pervading climate of fear.
Human rights defenders told Amnesty International they would not take part in the UPR process of Gambia for fear of reprisals.
FREEDOM OF EXPRESSIONThe government regularly closes down media outlets deemed critical of government policies.18 In 2011 and 2012, the independent radio station, Teranga FM, was
shut down three times. In 2012, two newspapers, The Standard and Daily News, were ordered to suspend their activities. No court order or document was issued and the editors were given no explanation.19 Several journalists have been arrested and detained without charge. Even after their release, the security forces continue to withhold their passports, documents or equipment pending investigations without specifying the details or duration of those investigations. Efforts by journalists to retrieve their documents have failed, and several have had their freedom of movement restricted because the lack of identity documents prevents them from leaving the country.
Journalists Musa Sheriff and Sainey M.K. Marenah were arrested on 13 January 2014, following an article in The Voice newspaper on the defection of youth supporters from the ruling party to the opposition. They were released on 16 January, but continue to face charges of “conspiracy to commit misdemeanour” and “false publication”.20 Abdoulie John, a freelance journalist, was arrested by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) on 7 January 2013 on unspecified grounds and released on bail three days later. The NIA confiscated his passport, laptop computer and flash drive and he has to report to them until he grants them access to his emails. The NIA had earlier detained Abdoulie John overnight on 9 December 2012.
HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERSHuman rights defenders face harassment and intimidation, arrest and detention, enforced disappearance or are forced into exile. The government has publically accused human rights defenders of being “foreign agents” spreading “nothing but lies”.21 The President has also repeatedly criticized human rights defenders for promoting and protecting the rights of sexual minorities. 22 On 7 September 2012, human rights defenders and journalists Baboucarr Ceesay and Abubacarr Saidykhan were arbitrarily arrested, detained for several days and charged with sedition after applying to the police for a permit to demonstrate peacefully against the use of the death penalty. The charges were subsequently dropped, but they continued to receive death threats.
On 11 October 2010, women’s rights defenders Dr Isatou Touray and Amie Bojang Sissoho were arrested by security personnel and charged with theft.
Both work for the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children.23 Their organization has been targeted in the past. Both women were released on 20 October 2010 and acquitted in November 2012.
ARBITRARY ARREST AND DETENTIONThe NIA and the police routinely carry out arbitrary arrests. Individuals are often held without charge and beyond the 72-hour time limit within which a suspect must be brought before a court, as stipulated in the Constitution.
On 7 June 2011, Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh was arrested for being in possession of T-shirts which featured the slogan “End Dictatorship Now”.
Dr Janneh was convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment Amnesty International, June 2014 5 Index: AFR 27/006/2014 The Gambia: Submission to the UN Universal Periodic Review 20th Session of the UPR Working Group, October-November 2014 with hard labour. He was released and expelled from the country in 2012.
On 19 September 2011, Moses Richards, a lawyer and former High Court judge, was convicted of “giving false information to a public servant” and “sedition” and sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment with hard labour. He was released in October 2011 under a presidential pardon.