The Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA) has disclosed on Wednesday that it has sued The Gambia government over rights violations of citizens before both African Court of Human and Peoples’ Rights and the ECOWAS court.
The human rights institute states it has partnered with two Gambian lawyers on 22 January 2020 to file a lawsuit against The Gambia before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, on behalf of seven Gambians, concerning the violation of citizens’ right to freedom of assembly and expression.
In a separate case, IHRDA with a Gambian lawyer has also sued the government before the ECOWAS court on 30 November 2019 on behalf of three Gambians and the Ker Mot Hali Community, concerning the violation of their right to property.
Read the full statements here of both lawsuits.
IHRDA sues Gambia before African Court on violation of citizens’ freedom of assembly, expression
Banjul, 12 February 2020: The “Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa” (IHRDA) and two Gambian lawyers on 22 January 2020 filed a lawsuit against The Gambia before the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, on behalf of seven Gambians, concerning the violation of citizens’ right to freedom of assembly and expression.
The seven Gambians include journalists, human rights activists and business people, who are basing on the actio popularis principle allowing individuals and organisations to bring communications on behalf of the general public.
The plaintiffs allege that The Gambia’s Public Order Act, enacted to prohibit association of private persons with military aims and for the maintenance of public order as regards public processions, upholds standards that are in violation of citizens’ right to freedom of expression (Article 9 (2)), freedom of association (Article 10), and freedom of assembly (Article 11). The plaintiffs argue that section 5 (2) of the Act, which compels citizens apply for a licence from the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) or the Governor of the region concerned before organising any public procession, gives a lot of unilateral and discretionary powers to the said authorities, who can grant or reject the application as they deem fit, whereas there is no mechanism in place to allow for a review of their decisions. More-so, section 5 (4) of the Act grants that a magistrate or police officer above the rank of sub-Inspector can stop any public procession where a license has not been issued or where the procession violates any of the conditions under which licence was given. Such assembly is considered as unlawful and all persons taking part can be charged with an offence liable to imprisonment and/or fine. Consequently, several recent attempts of peaceful protests, which apparently did not meet the provisions of the said Act, have been brutally repressed by forces of law and order, leading to public violence, destruction of property, injuries, arrests, detention and even death.
In May 2018, members of a political party, including one of the plaintiffs in this present suit, filed a petition at the Supreme Court of The Gambia challenging the constitutionality of section 5 of the Act, which they said was in contravention of the right to freedom of speech and expression, freedom to assemble and demonstrate peacefully without arms, and freedom to move freely within The Gambia, guaranteed under section 25 of the Gambian 1997 Constitution. The Court held that the said restrictions on the exercise of these rights were reasonable, constitutionally legitimate, permissible and justifiable in any democratic society.
The plaintiff argue that the rights alleged to be violated are equally enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which The Gambia is party.
The plaintiff requested the Court to declare that Section 5 of the Public Order Act of The Gambia violates the right to freedom of assembly and expression; and that The Gambia violated the plaintiffs’ rights to freedom of assembly and expression in its disbandment and repression of some recent peaceful demonstrations. The plaintiff also requested the Court to order The Gambia to immediately repeal or amend Section 5 of the Act to align with international standards applicable to The Gambia.
IHRDA sues Gambia before ECOWAS Court for violating citizens’ right to property
Banjul, 12 February 2020: The “Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa” (IHRDA) and Gambian lawyer on 30 November 2019 filed a lawsuit against The Gambia before the ECOWAS Court of Justice, on behalf of three Gambians and the Ker Mot Hali Community, concerning the violation of their right to property.
The three Gambians and their people are inhabitants of Kerr Mot Hali Village, where they were chased out of their homes and property by State security forces in 2009 on account of their religion, cultural and traditional practices. They settled in neighboring Senegal and made several efforts to return to their homes and properties in the Village, but were intercepted by Gambia Police. Thus, their homes and properties were wrongfully taken over by people unknown to them. Due to the hostile political environment that prevailed at the time and the fact that the Applicants and their people were forced to emigrate from their village by State’s security agents, they could not seek redress before judicial mechanisms in The Gambia. However, with the ousting of former President Yahya Jammeh, the Applicants and their people returned to The Gambia and instituted a civil suit in March 2017 at the High Court against Government, claiming their ownership of the community land. Though the High Court decided in favour of the Applicants in October 2017, The Gambia has taken no measure to enforce the judgment. Thus, the Applicants are still unable to return to their homes and properties in the said village, as the unlawful occupants are still there.
The plaintiff allege that The Gambia is in violation of their right to property, their right for their cause to be heard, as well the duty of the State to guarantee the independence of the judiciary. These are rights and obligations enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to which The Gambia is party.
The plaintiff requested the Court to declare The Gambia guilty of the above violations, and to order The Gambia to take immediate measures to restore the Applicants’ possession and total control of their properties at Ker Mot Hali village, as well as pay them general damages.