U.S Gov’t Screens Gambia Human Rights Record – Impunity Survives Under Barrow
One aspect of the United States government’s 2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices in all countries receiving assistance from the U.S and all United Nations member states covers The Gambia. The State Department’s recently published report points out significant human rights issues The Gambia could address, including harsh and life-threatening prison conditions, trafficking in persons, criminalizing same-sex consensual acts between adults, and impunity.
Impunity survives post-Jammeh rule.
The State Department report on The Gambia says President Adama Barrow’s government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold accountable some officials who committed abuses in 2020. Nevertheless, the U.S government believes that “impunity and a lack of consistent enforcement continued to occur” in The Gambia. However, there were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
Equally, the U.S State Department’s document states that there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities during 2020 in The Gambia.
However, the “families of individuals detained during the Jammeh regime continued to demand information on their missing relatives and that those responsible for killings, disappearances, and other serious crimes be held accountable,” the report says. One such demand seeks to see the remains of U.S.-Gambian dual nationals Alhagie Ceesay and Ebrima Jobe, kidnapped by Gambia government agents in 2013.
The Barrow government officially requested and received international forensics assistance to locate and identify their remains. As of year’s end, the aid has continued to be provided.
Rogue law agent Gorgi Mboob, Prison Conditions
On “Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,” there new stains in The Gambia’s known poor record. The U.S government mentioned the case of Commander Gorgi Mboob of the Gambia Police Anti-Crime Unit when he struck the genitals of detainee Ebrima Sanneh with a hoe at the unit’s prison farm in Bijilo. Sanneh stayed hospitalized due to genital bleeding.
The Police initially refuted media reports of the incident as “false, and intended to mislead the public“. But on July 25, 2020, the Ministry of Interior ordered an investigation by the National Human Rights Commission and placed Mboob on administrative leave. On October 8, 2020, the Commission determined that Gorgi Mboob assaulted and wounded Ebrima Sanneh and recommended disciplinary measures against Mboob, his removal from the Anti-Crime Unit, and monetary compensation for Sanneh.
Another case involving a Gambian law enforcement agent is the open allegation (submitted in 2018) of sexual exploitation and abuse by a Gambian peacekeeper deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission. The United Nations completed its investigation and is awaiting additional information from the Gambian government.
On “Prison and Detention Center Conditions,” it’s generally about harsh and life-threatening conditions due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions.
Overcrowding is a problem, particularly in the state central prison’s remand wing, Mile 2 Prison in Banjul, where the state keeps detainees pending trial. The Gambia also detains teenagers as young as age 15 with adults in pretrial detention facilities.
Barrow’s government quashing of radio stations and “3 Years Jotna.“
The U.S government noted that independent media exists and expresses a wide variety of views in The Gambia. Nevertheless, the Police shut down local radio stations “King” and “Home Digital FM” on January 26, 2020. The Police also arrested and charged the stations’ owners and managers with broadcasting incendiary messages and inciting Violence and held them for more than 48 hours before their bail release. The Gambia government suspended the stations’ broadcasting licenses for one month.
On January 26, Police arrested 137 demonstrators during a “Three Years Jotna Movement” protest that began peacefully but turned violent. Protesters suffered respiratory injuries due to tear gas; some protesters and Police sustained severe lacerations from thrown rocks and debris.
Protest organizers Abdou Njie, Ebrima Kitim Jarju, Sheriff Sonko, Hagi Suwaneh, Fanta Mballow, Karim Touray, Yankuba Darboe, and Muctarr Ceesay were charged with unlawful assembly and rioting. On February 24, the government released the protest organizers on bail. At year’s end, they had yet to be tried.
Police and immigration personnel frequently set up security checkpoints. Individuals found to be without proper identification documentation are subject to detention or forced to pay bribes.
Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials. The law requires income and asset disclosure statements from both appointed and elected public officials. However, it does not stipulate sanctions for noncompliance. No government agency is mandated to monitor and verify financial disclosures. Declarations are not released to the public.
Rape, silence on gender-based and domestic discrimination, Violence
The U.S State Department’s report recalls that the Gambia law criminalizes the rape of individuals -without reference to gender- and Domestic Violence. Yet, spousal and intimate-partner rape was widespread and not illegal; police officers generally considered it a domestic issue outside of their jurisdiction.
“Rape and Domestic Violence were widespread problems that often went unreported due to victims’ fear of reprisal, unequal power relationships, stigma, discrimination, and family and friends’ pressure not to report abuses. Conviction of Domestic Violence carries two years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both“, the report states.
Omerta often covers Female Genital Mutilation, sexual harassment, child, early and forced marriage, and sexual exploitation of children. The law does not provide women with the same legal status and rights regarding adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and property inheritance.
On Labour and Worker Rights, The Gambia is yet to improve on freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining, prohibition of forced or compulsory labour, prohibition of child labour and the minimum age for employment, discrimination concerning jobs and occupation, and acceptable conditions of work.
Later this year, the Department of State will release an appendix to each 2020 country report, including The Gambia, that expands women’s subsection. Entitled “Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons,” the appendix will include a broader range of issues related to reproductive rights.
It will cover maternal health issues such as maternal mortality, government policy adversely affecting access to contraception, access to skilled healthcare during pregnancy and childbirth, access to emergency healthcare, and discrimination against women in accessing sexual and reproductive health care, including for sexually transmitted infections.
The Department of State has submitted this report to Congress according to the American Foreign Assistance Act of 1961. The U.S law requires that American foreign and trade policy consider countries’ human rights and worker rights performance annually.