Torture, Arbitrary Arrests, Other Violations Still Here; Gambia Gov’t Says Security Reform Works
Senior officials of The Gambia government, including Ministers of Defence, Interior and Information have insisted, at a Friday press conference, that the impact of the Security Sector Reform is reflecting on all the State’s security institutions. The SSR is one of the campaign promises of President Adama Barrow prior to his election in 2016, to ensure the creation of a responsive and law-abiding security that will protect the citizens and properties.
But the recurrent failures that justified the need for security transformation, especially the police, have continued to happen. A human rights activist Madi Jobarteh was arrested a few months ago for speaking about police brutality which resulted in the deaths of one Kebba Secka and a Sierra Leonean national, Ousman Darboe. The then Anti-Crime Unit chief Gorgi Mboob was also accused of hitting his suspect recently on his private part which led to his removal from the position following the National Human Rights Commission’s investigations which concluded his brutality.
The Security Sector Reform was launched in 2017 soon after President Barrow took office, primarily to sanitize and humanize the activities of security personnel in dealing with civilians. But its major funder, the European Union, has recently questioned the SSR state of progress after EU’s representative Attila Lajos said the refor is “seriously lagging behind”. He then urged the government of The Gambia to come up with a new strategy on how to expedite the process.
“We expected tangible results to make sure that by the time the ECOMIG troops leave, the sector would have been reformed. But as we speak, for the average Gambian, there is no tangible result,” he told a local news outlet.
However, the National Security Advisor Momodou Badjie said Friday that the process is ongoing but faces challenges. “We have to understand at this level that security sector reform is a process. It is time bound obviously and there is a bench-mark which is accepted internationally. But notwithstanding that does not mean that we are dragging our feet. We are doing everything possible but as a process there are challenges.
The Interior Minister, Yankuba Sanko, however, denied any notion that there’s no reflected impact of the SSR on the security apparatuses in the country. “SIS [NIA] now is not investigating criminal matters anymore so that means there are security sector reforms in the NIA. The Army is not taking complaints from the members of the public and that’s also a security sector reform in the right drive. The police also, their attitude against certain individuals has also changed…For somebody to say there’s no reform I’d say no to that.”
Reacting to the question of the government’s commitment and seriousness towards the Security Sector Reform, the Defence Minister, Sheikh Omar Faye says the government is serious and committed. “What we are doing is we are serious. This government is serious. That’s why we’ve put up the national security policy, the national security strategy which is ready, the security sector reform strategy, down-sizing, right-sizing etc. a lot is going on”, Sheikh Omar Faye said.
The Information and Communications Minister, Ebrima Sillah says the government is passionate about the Security Sector Reform, saying it’s their pet-baby. According to him, regardless of what’s happening, the Security Sector Reform process is ongoing and it will continue to evolve.
“This is something the government is passionate about. It’s our pet and we will continue to give it the necessary attention it deserves including committing resources to it.”
Sillah informs that the draft bill will clearly define the role of the National Security Office within the overall government bureaucracies. “For the first time also, we are going to have a defence policy that will define the character of the national security reform process.
Meanwhile, he hinted at the revival of the draft constitution which was knocked out by some deputies in the National Assembly in September, following a cabinet decision Thursday.
“I can tell you that just last night, the president and the cabinet has mandated the Attorney General and Minister of Justice to constitute a working group to start the engagement process to have a consensus on the draft constitution. That shows the commitment of the Gambia and the Gambia government to this important process.”