The European Parliament has expressed its concerns about the human rights situation in the Gambia in its urgency resolution of May 2016. The resolution was occasioned by the Gambia government’s violent repression of peaceful protests in April 2016, by the arrest and torture of protestors, including leading figures from the main opposition party UDP, by the sudden death of the Executive Secretary of the UDP Youth Wing Solo Sandeng in custody and last but the east by serious concern about the likelihood of the free and fair presidential elections in December 2016.

YAHYA JAMMEH (3)Four members of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), David Martin (S&D), Richard Howitt (S&D), Judith Sargentini (Greens) and Karol Karski (ECR) have been on a delegation visit to the Gambia since 19 September.

The chair of the delegation, Mr David Martin, speaking at a press debriefing held at the EU delegation office today, Thursday 22 September following the conclusion of its visit to the Gambia said, “ the delegation visited two EU-funded projects on employment of women and children’s rights, and had meetings with representatives of the National Assembly including the minority leader, with the Independent Electoral Commission, the Ombudsman, with women’s associations and with the opposition parties”.

“Gambia is facing a presidential election in December 1 2016. Against this background, the purpose of the visit was to gather information, to influence the government to improve its human rights record and to support human rights campaigners”.

Mr Martin added that, “ the delegation appreciated the hospitality and openness of its Gambian counterparts. Regrettably, though, government representatives were not available. The delegation also acknowledged the significant process made in certain areas like the ban on FGM and the envisaged ban on child marriage and were briefed on technical preparations for the elections.

In order to respect international democratic norms, the delegation calls on the Gambia government to release all protesters arrested in connection with the April protests including the UDP leader Ousainou Darboe, to grant access to state media to opposition parties, to allow the United Nations Special Elections Team access to the county and to conduct an independent investigation into Solo Sandeng’s death”.

“It has become clear that important provisions of the Gambian constitution are still to be fully implemented, especially those on freedom of speech and prisoners’ rights. So the delegation also encourages the Gambian government to continue with its plans to establish a National Human Rights Commission.

We are interested in having good relations with the Gambia. If however the human rights situation does not improve or even deteriorates, the European Parliament has indicated that there would be a need to consider targeted sanctions on officials responsible for the serious human rights abuses.”  

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The full text of the press release is hereby publish below:

“The European Parliament has expressed its concerns about the human rights situation in the Gambia in its urgency resolution of May 2016. The resolution was triggered by the Gambia government’s violent repression of peaceful protests in April 2016, by the arrest and torture of protestors, including leading figures from the main opposition party UDP, by the sudden death of the Executive Secretary of the UDP Youth Wing Solo Sandeng in custody and last but the east by serious concern about the likelihood of the free and fair presidential elections in December 2016.
Four members of the European Parliament’s Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI), David Martin (S&D), Richard Howitt (S&D), Judith Sargentini (Greens) and Karol Karski (ECR) have been on a delegation visit to the Gambia since 19 September.

The chair of the delegation, Mr David Martin, speaking at a press debriefing held at the EU delegation office yesterday, Thursday 22 September following the conclusion of its visit to the Gambia said, the delegation visited two EU-funded projects on employment of women and children’s rights, and had meetings with representatives of the National Assembly including the minority leader, with the Independent Electoral Commission, the Ombudsman, with women’s associations and with the opposition parties.

The Gambia is facing a presidential election in December 2016. Against this background, the purpose of the visit was to gather information, to influence the government to improve its human rights record and to support human rights campaigners.
The delegation appreciated the hospitality and openness of its Gambian counterparts. Regrettably, though, government representatives were not available. The delegation also acknowledged the significant process made in certain areas like the ban on FGM and the envisaged ban on child marriage and were briefed on technical preparations for the elections.

In order to respect international democratic norms, the delegation calls on the Gambia government to release all protesters arrested in connection with the April protests including the UDP leader Ousainou Darboe, to grant access to state media to opposition parties, to allow the United Nations Special Elections Team access to the county and to conduct an independent investigation into Solo Sandeng’s death.

It has become clear that important provisions of the Gambian constitution are still to be fully implemented, especially those on freedom of speech and prisoners’ rights. So the delegation also encourages the Gambian government to continue with its plans to establish a National Human Rights Commission.
We are interested in having good relations with the Gambia. If however the human rights situation does not improve or even deteriorates, the European Parliament has indicated that there would be a need to consider targeted sanctions on officials responsible for the serious human rights abuses.”

Briefing

David Martin

The purpose of the visit was to follow up on a resolution that the European Parliament passed in May 2016 expressing great concerns by the human rights situation in the Gambia following the demonstration in April and the arrest and suspected torture of the protesters. We are also extremely concern about the death in custody of Solo Sandeng. We also put this in contest of the upcoming Presidential elections in December where we have serious doubt about the likelihood of free and fair elections taking place in December.

During our visit meet with public bodies, the Ombudsman, chair and committee of the Independent Electoral Commission, Opposition leaders, National Assemble Members, EU-funded projects particularly focusing on improving women and children’s rights, non-government actors, and other bodies. The delegation appreciated the hospitality and openness of its Gambian and in that contest it made them sad to know that the human rights situation in the Gambia is not getting any better and possible still deteriorating. He therefore encourage government release all protesters from the demonstrations in April and particularly Ousainou Darboe, to ensure that no one arrested without due process, and no one is held in custody without due process.

It is vital that Opposition Parties are given access to state media ahead of the elections. We also hope that the government will allow the United Nations Special Elections Team access to the county to ensure that there is an independent observation of the elections and finally they would also like to see an independent investigation into the death of Solo Sandeng. We have heard from many people that the Gambian constitution is almost a perfect constitution but we also have from many people that it is imperfectly applied and we would like government and all official bodies in future to recognize and respect the constitution. We will also encourage the Gambian government to continue with its plans to establish a National Human Rights Commission. The European Parliament in its resolution in May said if the human rights situation in this country does not improve we will be recommending to the other EU institutions to consider targeted sanctions against officials in Gambia for serious human rights abuse.

Questions and Answers

In terms of elections we have not carried a detail study but we met the electoral commission who said the technical preparation for elections is well organise and well underway but the technical part of elections is just one small part of elections and you have to have freedom to campaign and we are worried that this is a lack of freedom to campaign, you have to have access to the media than your opposition if you want to have an impact. According to our calculation the Gambia is the most expensive place in the world to stand in an election and that does not make it easy for people to take part. So we don’t think at the moment the situation of the country is right for opposition to have a fair chance in the coming elections.

The Army, Police Officers, NIA and other security officers should not be excluded from the rule of law, and are expected to follow the constitution. No one should be held against the constitutional period before being charged, be imprison for a likely time without being taken to court for trial. We see all these as unacceptable and therefore ask the government to ensure that public authorities, judicial authorities follow the rule of law. There seems to be two problems with the media, which are that you are likely to face arrest if you express your right to freedom of expression and also self-censorship is applied – as such people do not write what they wish to write.

The state media should not be seen as the property of the ruling party, and giving equal access to all political parties for 14 weeks and the rest of the 50 weeks and other 4 years opposition are not given access is not right. Gambia does not get the attention it deserves from the EU partly because it’s a small country.

Migration has also become a significant issue in the European Union and vulnerable people are arriving in Europe and the Gambia is losing some of its young people who are very important to the country’s development. In relation to migration per-capital Gambia has more people coming to Europe than any African country which indicates that more should be done in the Gambia by investors.

 

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