Monday, 29 March 2010
Ever since the unexplained arrest and detention of Lang Tombong and co and the subsequent floating of a coup theory, many have remained anxious over what might eventually happen. And now each time one takes a dose of this treason trial, and the cock and bull story of that delinquent of a witness, one tends to be more and more confused about the motive behind the insinuations.
I was in The Gambia throughout the period of all the past alleged coup plots and I only left weeks before the Ndure Cham one. In all these alleged or real plots, the arrests were immediately followed by announcements of the discovery of a coup plot, whether true or false. Even when Daba Maren and co were bumped off, an explanation, no matter how unconvincing it certainly was to many, was given on GRTS. So just how and why did it take four good months, and long and numerous desperate legal fishing expeditions to come up with these almighty charges against Lang Tombong and co?
The reason might as well be that there simply was no coup. Many have tried to argue on the line that soon after taking the decision to sack Lang, who was getting too popular for his liking, Jammeh’s well known paranoia got hold of him and his initial boldness in the whole affair gave way to fear, insecurity and ill comfort as he began to wonder just how influential Lang Tombong might be and how wide spread his loyalty stands in the Army.
By literally exposing the dirty linen of soldiers in public, one would naturally expect public opinion to turn against Tamba’s popularity, but it soon became clear, through the huge flow of traffic of sympathizers to the General’s house, that Lang Tombong is one man whose fan base is deeply rooted and difficult to wipe out instantly or through intimidation.
As the General stood his ground and remained mute, refusing to crawl or beg for the return of the grace he fell from, Oga probably began to wonder what is going on around the General's mind, ironically the soldier whom he himself has made the most decorated service man in Gambian history.
Apparently, as he continue to monitor Tamba, Jammeh cancelled two foreign trips in the most bizarre manner, wasting decent common people and diplomats' time with handshakes only for him to return home.
Today, many are convinced that the only way for Jammeh to sleep in his bed is when General Tamba and his close security friends are locked up, hence the present near circus going on at the courts.
Friday, 19 March 2010
As they push for inquiry into Chief Manneh’s case
If you have any hand in the disappearance of Journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh or for some other reason you are against the widely sought after resolution of the continued detention of the journalist by the Gambian authorities, you have every reason to worry, because calls for justice for his horrific ordeal remain unabated.
Five (5) United States senators, headed by Dick Durbin, have joined calls by the international community for the case of the disappeared journalist to be resolved. They specifically called on the Commonwealth to mount an investigation on the continued disappearance of the journalist.
Assistant Senate Majority Leader, Richard J. Durbin (D-IL), who has had long term interest in the Chief Manneh case, last Thursday, addressed the letter to the Commonwealth of Nations Secretary General, Kamalesh Sharma, urging him to launch an investigation into the case of the Gambian journalist, who has been held incommunicado and without charge for almost four years. In the letter, senators did not only condemn the unconstitutionality of the treatment of the disappeared journalist, but they also deplored in strong terms the ‘‘poor’’ and ‘deteriorating’ political and human rights situation in the country.
“Mr Manneh’s disappearance and the Gambian Government’s ongoing refusal to account for his whereabouts are in direct contradiction of the strong human rights standards embraced by the Commonwealth,” Durbin wrote. And he added, “Undoubtedly many members of the Commonwealth also share our concern about the deteriorating political and human rights situation in the Gambia, an issue you raised at the recent Commonwealth Heads of Government meeting in Trinidad and Tobago. Accordingly, we respectfully ask that you investigate Mr. Manneh’s disappearance and press Gambian President Jammeh not only for his immediate release, but also to reverse the Gambia’s poor human rights record.”
Chief Ebrima Manneh was reportedly detained in July 2006, after he was reported to have been engaging in anti-Yahya Jammeh activities. His colleagues were present when he was picked up by plainclothes officers from the feared Gambian National Intelligence Agency (NIA). As a way of keeping him away from public view, to back up the authorities’ claim of lack of knowledge about his whereabouts, Chief is believed to have been transported to various detention facilities across the country since his arrest.
However, several eye witnesses have in the past claimed to have sighted him at various places, including Fatoto Police Station, at the extreme end of the Gambia. He has also been spotted at Mile Two Prison.
In July 2007, Manneh was also reportedly escorted by members of the Gambian Police Intervention Unit to the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital in Banjul for high blood pressure treatment. He has not been seen since then.
There have been numerous calls at both local and international level, including both the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice and the UN Human Rights Council’s Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, for his release. But all that appears to have fallen on deaf ears.
While the government denies ever arresting him, fear of his possible murder increases by the day.
US Senator Durbin, Chairman on the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and Law, is among prominent individuals who have been pressing for Chief Manneh’s release for over two years. His Thursday’s letter to the Commonwealth Secretary General was co-signed by four other prominent US senators - Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), Senator Robert P. Casey Jr. (D-PA), Senator Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) and Senator Joe Lieberman (I-CT).
Thursday, 18 March 2010
Reports from Banjul indicate that the authorities have finally charged a number of security officers rounded up since last October, in a wave of arrests that still appears unabated, on allegations of attempting to overthrow President Yahya Jammeh’s government.
Sources say that among the accused are General Lang Tombong Tamba, former Chief of Defense Staff of the Gambian Armed Forces, who was sacked alongside a number of other high profile security personnel in the army, police and the country’s National Intelligence Agency. Interestingly, renegade former army chief, Colonel Ndure Cham, mastermind of the alleged March 2006 abortive coup, is reported to be among the list of people charged, although he still remains at large. It is not clear whether his charge has to do with the latest coup plot allegation or the March 2006 foiled one.
It would take the authorities about five months to come up with enough evidence to prefer charges against the General and nine other former security officers and three civilians.
Ironically, Colonel Cham’s almost successful coup was aborted thanks to General Tamba, who eventually took over as head of the army in what was clearly a payoff move.
We reported earlier about investigations on the so-called ‘Tobaski Coup plot’ taking Gambian investigators as far as Guinea Bissau, where a ship load of weapons, destined for the country, allegedly as part of the coup operation, was reportedly intercepted late last year. According to information regarding the investigations, the accused held a meeting in General Lang Tombong Tamba’s house, sometime in January 2009, where they allegedly agreed to acquire weapons from abroad and shipped to the Gambia.
A press release said to be from the Gambian Attorney General’s office, aired on the Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS), described Omar Bun Mbye, also at large, as the ‘‘ringleader’’ of the foiled coup.
The statement reads that “the indicted army and intelligence officials smuggled guns and foreign mercenaries into the country last year as part of a plot to overthrow President Yahya Jammeh and the democratically elected Government of the Republic of The Gambia”.
All ten men named in the charge sheet are accused of conspiracy to commit treason, contrary to section 35, 1g of the Criminal Code procedure, according to the details of the charge sheet.
The other accused are Lamin Bo Badjie, former Acting NIA Director; Ngorr Secka, formerly NIA agent and then deputy Gambian ambassador to Guinea Bissau; Colonel Kawsu Camara, aka Bombardier, former Kanilai Camp Commander and close ally of President Jammeh; Modou Gaye, former Deputy IGP; General Omar Bun Mbaye; Abdoulie Secka (Lie Joof); Yousuf Ezziden aka Rambo; and Omar Camara. The last three are all civilian and business men. Source: Jollofnews.com
Sunday, 14 March 2010
Delegates at a regional human rights confab have called on African leaders to move towards domesticating and implementing the numerous adopted instruments.
This call was made in Banjul, where participants from various African Union organs were gathered with a view to developing modalities for enhancing the Human Rights Strategy for the continent. The Banjul meeting was also aimed at establishing ‘‘the practice and focus action on moving forward the collective Human Rights Strategy; and make recommendations for building synergies between the strategy and other governance initiatives in Africa,’’ according to a press release published by the African Union Commission, Thursday 11 March, 2010.
“We must not lose sight of the shift towards a shared values approach in the protection and promotion of human rights in Articles 3 and 4 of the AU Constitutive Act, which emphasizes the significance of good governance, the rule of law and human rights”, Dr Mamadou Dia - Head of the African Union Division of Governance, Human Rights and Elections, was quoted as telling delegates at the opening ceremony of the Banjul meeting. ‘‘The meeting must therefore take the human rights agenda from being a mosaic of good intentions to a shared value or a common denominator that binds our common destiny”, he added.
Dr Dia, who disclosed that the theme of the January 2011 AU Summit is “Shared Values”, went on to emphasis the need for other institutions to work together with the African Union in order to usher in a new order of global shared values.
Participants at the meeting, which concluded last Saturday, were drawn from AU organs with a human rights mandate and Regional Economic Communities such as the AU Commission, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, the African Court on Human and People’s Rights and ECOWAS. The United Nations and other development partners, international institutions, civil society and other stakeholders were also represented.
‘‘Africa has developed many human rights institutions, charters and protocols, and there has been notable progress in observance of human rights on the continent,’’ the release noted. It added that human rights are universal and indivisible, and that they are at the heart of good governance, democracy and sustainable development.
‘‘There is no doubt that the African human rights agenda provides a robust basis for the continent’s renewal,’’ the release went on to state.
It however added that 60 years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and three decades after the adoption of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, the continent is still grappling with the gap that exists between the human rights vision that it seeks to establish and the reality that confronts it.
‘‘In this regard, there is need for coordination, collaboration and coherence among the different actors in the human rights sphere and to develop a human rights strategy for Africa,’’ the release concluded.
Friday, 12 March 2010
Amnesty International has expressed serious concern over the faith of Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme, the human rights activist in the custody of the Gambian authorities. The watchdog, in a statement released today, Friday March 12, describing Nwakaeme as a prisoner of conscience, said it was worried that the founder and Director of the Gambia based human rights organization, Africa in Democracy and Good Governance (ADG), is at risk of a six-month prison sentence.
Amnesty cited newspaper reports that the authorities have also seized the activist’s passport and that there were plans to have him deported to his native Nigeria.
Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme, who has reportedly been running ADG since 2006, faces charges of providing false information to a public official. Various reports have linked his case to his organization’s intention to enlist President Yahya Jammeh’s daughter as an ADG ambassador. Apparently, Mr Nwakaeme wrote a letter to the office of the president at State House, presenting his organisation as a Non-governmental organisation, while it was officially registered as charity.
However, while arguing that Charges of "false information" are usually used in cases of fraudulent applications for identity papers, or where people give false identities to government officials, Amnesty pointed out that it considers the charge faced by the activist to have resulted solely from his activities as a Human Rights Defender, and that it considers him to be a ‘‘prisoner of conscience.’’
The UK based human rights organisation is therefore requesting that the Gambian authorities drop the charges and immediately and unconditionally release Nwakaeme. It also reminds the Gambian government that ‘‘action of this kind violates international and regional human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political rights (ICCPR) and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR).’’
The statement from Amnesty referenced the widely condemned September 2009 alleged death threat by President Yahya Jammeh, who reportedly told state-owned GRTS television that he would kill anyone who threatened to destabilize the country.
‘‘President Jammeh specifically threatened human rights defenders, and those working with them, by emphasizing that their security and personal safety would not be guaranteed by the government of Gambia,’’ the statement from Amnesty said.
The Nigerian was first arrested on 22 February by the Gambian Immigration Department, but was released three days later. And on March 1st, he was again detained, and subsequently taken to court March 8th, charged with giving "false information." The activist reportedly refused to plead either guilty or innocent on that day, ‘‘because he did not have a lawyer with him.’’
He was later taken to court again on 10 March and charged with giving "false information to the office of the president that Africa in Democracy and Good Governance (ADG) is a Non Governmental Organization." That was when Nwakaeme pleaded not guilty. His lawyer subsequently submitted a bail application, which was denied by the seating judge who remanded him in prison. The case has since been adjourned until 22 March.
Amnesty International officials remain worried that the activist, who is currently in Mile 2 prisons, might be sentenced to six month's imprisonment or a fine of D500 (approximately $20), a situation they deem unfair.
President Yahya Jammeh has finally filled the position of Army Chief of Staff in the Gambian military, with the appointment of Brigadier General Serign Modou Njie, a former State Guard Commander.
Njie takes over from Brigadier General Ousman Badjie who has been holding on to that position since his appointment, earlier this month, as Acting Deputy Chief of Defense Staff, following the removal of Major General Yankuba Drammeh.
A presidential statement, aired on the Gambia Radio and Television Services, also confirmed Brigadier General Badjie as the country’s number two topmost senior person in the military, after about two weeks acting in that position.
As usual, the Commander-in-chief, Rt. Col. Yahya Jammeh, is acting on powers conferred on him by the Gambian Constitution.
Brigadier General Serign Modou Njie’s appointment takes effect from Thursday 11th March, 2010.
Barely 45 hours after the US government released it incriminating report on the human rights situation in Gambia, Amnesty International has issued a statement, urging the Gambian authorities to either charge or release sacked government officials in its custody.
The statement of the UK based human right organization is contained in a press release issued today, Friday 12 March 2010.
The full text of the statement is reproduced below.
Amnesty International today calls on the Gambian government to immediately charge or release all former government officials detained during a wave of arrests over the past week.
The detained officials, who reportedly include former Inspector General of Police Ensa Badjie and Commander of the Navy Sarjo Fofona, are also being denied visits from lawyers and family. The Gambian Constitution stipulates that people should be charged within 72 hours of arrest.
“Through this latest spate of arbitrary arrests and detentions, Gambian authorities have once again shown their blatant disregard for human rights” said Erwin van der Borght, Amnesty International’s Africa Programme Director.
Amnesty International has documented many cases where people have been arrested and held without charge, often with no access to their families or lawyers.
The organization has repeatedly called on Gambian authorities to end the arbitrary arrests and detention of perceived and real opponents of the government that have intensified since the alleged failed coup attempt in March 2006.
In a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council, February this year, the Gambian government itself pointed out that the country’s Constitution protects citizens from arbitrary arrests and detention, also stating that the provision in the Constitution which prohibits torture and inhuman or degrading treatment is non-derogable.
“The many people that remain detained without charge and that in some cases face torture send a very different message,” said Erwin van der Borght. “It is high time for the government to follow its own Constitution and fulfill its human rights obligations. Those arrested should either be charged with a recognizable criminal offence or released.”
Amnesty International highlighted how people continue to be held in secret detention centers in the country, including in military barracks and secret quarters in remote police stations, in a report submitted to the UN Human Rights Council ahead of this year’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of Gambia, which took place on 10 February.
The UPR is an opportunity for UN Human Rights Council to examine the human rights record of all member states. Each country is reviewed every four years with the aim of ensuring states meet all of their human rights obligations and commitments.
Reports from Banjul indicate that the beleaguered former head of Gambia’s National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDEA), Ebrima Bun Sanneh, has been re-arrested, barely 24 hours after he was released from custody.
Sources say Bun was picked up from his house by unidentified security personnel who whisked him away to an unknown destination.
However, according to a report by AFP, Bun was taken to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
AFP quoted military sources in Banjul as saying that Bun was rearrested last night and escorted to the offices of the NIA, where he is said to be facing ‘‘a panel of investigators set up to investigate allegations of drug trafficking involving senior members of the country's security units."
Bun Sanneh was dismissed and arrested on March 5th, just two days after the dismissal and subsequent detention of former IGP Ensa Badjie. Both men are highly rumored to be involved in alleged drug dealing activities. But the government is yet to make any official announcement regarding either their dismissal or subsequent arrest.
Thursday, 11 March 2010
Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor
2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices
March 11, 2010
The Gambia is a multiparty, democratic republic with an estimated population of 1.86 million. In 2006 President Alhaji Yahya Jammeh was reelected for a third five-year term in an election considered partially free and fair. President Jammeh's party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC), continued to dominate the National Assembly after elections held in 2007, which were also considered partially free and fair. While civilian authorities generally maintained effective control of the security forces, there were some instances in which elements of the security forces acted independently.
Human rights problems included government complicity in the abduction of citizens; torture and abuse of detainees and prisoners, including political prisoners; poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention of citizens, including incommunicado detention; denial of due process and prolonged pretrial detention; restrictions on freedom of speech and press; violence against women and girls, including female genital mutilation (FGM); forced child marriage; trafficking in persons; child prostitution; discrimination against homosexual activity; and child labor.
RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom From:
a. Arbitrary or Unlawful Deprivation of Life
There were no reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.
In March Dodou Janneh, a police volunteer attached to the national drug enforcement agency, appealed the 2008 death sentence he received for the 2007 killing of Sheriff Minteh during a police raid in Serrekunda; the appeal was before the courts at year's end.
On April 3, the joint fact-finding team created by the UN and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) to investigate the 2005 deaths of more than 50 Ghanaians and other West African nationals in the country submitted a report of its findings. The report stated that "rogue elements" in the security services were responsible for the deaths and disappearance of the Ghanaians and recommended that the government pay compensation to the government of Ghana for the killings and exhume and return the bodies of six Ghanaians found buried in the Tanji forest. On October 18, the six bodies were returned to Ghana, according to Ghanaian media reports. While the government did not provide compensation, it paid for exhumation of the bodies and provided some funds to families of the victims.
There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances; however, the government was complicit in the abduction of citizens suspected of witchcraft.
Between January and June, the BBC carried a series of reports on so-called "witchdoctors" from Guinea, who abducted up to 1,000 villagers in the Gambia during the same period, held them for several days, and forced them to drink an herbal concoction that resulted in illness and two deaths. There were unconfirmed reports that some villagers were subsequently forced to confess to being witches. Officials in the police, army, and the president's personal protection guard reportedly accompanied the Guineans, who were invited into the country after the death of the president's aunt, which was attributed to witchcraft, according to Amnesty International (AI). The Guineans, who were driven around in government vehicles, also conducted "cleansing rituals" in several government offices in Banjul, as well as in several other towns and villages. On May 19, in Brefet, President Jammeh said he had to "bring in witchdoctors to identify and eradicate witches," who he said were responsible for underdevelopment in the districts of Foni, according to the governmental newspaper The Gambia Daily.
During an April 6 address to the National Assembly, the attorney general and justice minister denied that journalist "Chief" Ebrima Manneh, who was arrested by security forces in 2006 and subsequently disappeared, was in state custody. This was the government's first statement regarding the June 2008 ruling by the ECOWAS community court of justice that Manneh's detention had been illegal and that the government should release him and pay compensation of 2.7 million dalasi ($100,000) to Manneh's family. The ruling followed a lawsuit filed in 2007 by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), based in Ghana. In 2007 Manneh was reportedly sighted seeking medical treatment under police supervision at a hospital in Banjul, but his whereabouts remained unknown at year's end.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and law prohibit such practices; however, there were reports that security forces tortured, beat, and mistreated persons in custody.
There were no developments in the following 2008 cases of security force torture and abuse: the March stabbing by members of the police intervention unit of Amadou Sanyang; the June torture and beating of five residents of Lamin Daranka during their arrest and transfer to Yundum Police Station; and the torture over an 18-day period in September by members of the police criminal investigation division of Abdoulie Faye.
During his April trial for giving false information to a public officer, former National Assembly member Musa Suso alleged that while serving an earlier sentence (from 2000 to 2007), he was denied food and was tied and beaten for three days after a telephone calling card was discovered in his cell. On December 11, Suso was acquitted of some of the charges against him, but he was convicted of others and sentenced to 18 months in prison.
On June 30, the ECOWAS community court heard the case filed by the MFWA against the government for the 2006 illegal detention and torture of Musa Saidykhan, the editor in chief of the Independent newspaper. Saidykhan, who lived abroad in self-imposed exile, claimed that security forces applied electric shocks to his naked body during his 22-day detention; Saidykhan subsequently was released without charge. During the trial, which was ongoing at year's end, the court's three-member panel rejected the government's claim that plaintiffs first had to exhaust legal remedies at the national level before appealing to ECOWAS. The trial was adjourned until February 2010.
The indemnity act continued to prevent victims from seeking redress in torture cases related to official actions taken by military personnel during military rule from 1994-96. The army requires victims to file formal complaints with the courts regarding alleged torture that occurred at other times. However, there were no known prosecutions in civil or military courts of security force members accused of mistreating individuals during the year. At the closing ceremony of a civil-military relations seminar in 2007, the chief of defense staff publicly announced a zero-tolerance policy for military abuse of civilians, and some reports indicated such abuse may have declined.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were poor, and cells were overcrowded, damp, and poorly ventilated. Inmates complained of poor sanitation and food. Unlike in previous years, there were no reports that guards were reluctant to intervene in fights between prisoners. Local prisons were overcrowded, and inmates occasionally slept on the floor; however, prior to conviction, detainees were allowed to receive outside sources of food.
Prisoners at the Mile 2 Prison died during the year as a result of poor food and inadequate medical care.
On March 6, Benedict Jammeh, the former police inspector general, testified at Musa Suso's trial that inmates at Mile 2 Central Prison were fed with meat that resulted in the deaths of several prisoners; a committee of senior police officers subsequently confirmed the report. On May 8, David Colley, the director general of prison services, testified in the same trial that 23 inmates in 2006 and 40 in 2007 died in prison, primarily as a result of chronic anemia, abdominal pain, and food poisoning.
Pretrial detainees were occasionally held together with convicted prisoners. At year's end, there were 780 inmates in the country's prisons.
The government permitted limited independent monitoring of prison conditions by some local and international human rights groups and diplomatic missions; however, neither the media nor the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) was granted access to detainees or prisoners during the year.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention; however, there were numerous instances of police and security forces arbitrarily arresting and detaining citizens.
Role of the Police and Security Apparatus
The armed forces are responsible for external defense and report to the minister of defense, a position held by the president. The police, under the interior minister, are responsible for public security. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA) is responsible for protecting state security, collecting intelligence, and conducting covert investigations; it reports directly to the president. The NIA is not authorized to investigate police abuses, but during the year the NIA often assumed police functions such as detaining and questioning criminal suspects. Security forces frequently were corrupt and ineffective. On occasion security forces acted with impunity and defied court orders.
The police human rights and complaints unit receives and addresses complaints of human rights abuses committed by police officers from both civilians and other police officers. During the year the unit received several complaints, and some police officers faced disciplinary actions as a result.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment While in Detention
The law requires that authorities obtain a warrant before arresting a person; however, in practice individuals were often arrested without a warrant. Periods of detention generally ranged from a few to 72 hours, the legal limit after which detainees must be charged or released; however, there were numerous instances of detention surpassing the 72-hour limit. Detainees generally were not promptly informed of charges against them. There was a functioning bail system; however, the courts occasionally released accused offenders on bail only to have police or other law enforcement personnel rearrest them as they were leaving the court. Detainees were not allowed prompt access to a lawyer or family members; convicted prisoners were generally permitted to meet privately with their attorneys. Indigent persons accused of murder or manslaughter were provided a lawyer at public expense.
Military decrees enacted prior to the adoption of the constitution give the NIA and the interior minister broad powers to detain individuals indefinitely without charge "in the interest of national security." These detention decrees were inconsistent with the constitution, but have not been subject to judicial challenge. The government claimed that it no longer enforced the decrees; however, there were several detentions during the year that exceeded the 72-hour limit.
Security forces arbitrarily arrested journalists during the year (see section 2.a.).
Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained civilians and members of the military during the year.
On November 21, security forces arrested former chief of defense Lieutenant General Lang Tombong Tamba and six of his close associates and friends. Those arrested were Brigadier General Omar Bun Mbye, former military director of training and operations; Lieutenant Colonel Kawsu Camara, commander of the military camp in the president's home village of Kanilai; Captain Modou Lamin Bo Badjie, former NIA director general; Commissioner Momodou Gaye, deputy inspector general of police; private businessman and customs clearing agent Alhaji Kebba Touray; and real estate developer Abdoulie Joof. All were held without charge beyond the 72-hour limit. Kebba Touray, who was held at NIA headquarters, was released on December 15; however, the other six detainees remained in Mile 2 Prison without charge at year's end.
On December 30, NIA director Ousman Sowe was fired, arrested, and held incommunicado for several days. There were reports that he was accused of "delaying a document of national security interest." Sowe was being held without access to his family or lawyers at year's end.
On January 4, authorities released brothers Lamin Marong and Ebrima Marong, who were arrested in 2008 and held for three months without charge.
Bakary Gassama, the former financial director of the NIA, remained in detention at year's end. In December 2008 Gassama was released after three months in detention for alleged abuse of office, but was immediately rearrested.
During the year Gideon Adeoye, who was arrested in December 2008 for allegedly "spreading false information" about the country's military, was released.
Information surfaced on the incommunicado detention of four citizens. On June 10, Kemo Conteh, army Staff Sergeant Sam Kambai, NIA officer Kebba Seckan, and Samsudeen Jammeh were brought before a magistrate in Brikama, along with 12 Senegalese nationals from the southern Casamance region; the four citizens had been held for two to three years incommunicado on terrorism charges in an unknown location. Their trial, which began on August 27, continued at year's end.
Two of the detainees held after the disclosure of the 2006 abortive coup plot--Alieu Lowe, nephew of the fugitive coup leader and Abdoulie Njie--were still being held at Mile 2 Prison without charge, but their families were allowed access to them during the year. The trial of a third detainee, Hamadi Sowe, who was charged with concealment of treason, was ongoing at year's end.
Backlogs and inefficiency in the justice system resulted in lengthy pretrial detentions. Approximately 30 inmates in the prison system were in pretrial detention, and some had been incarcerated for several years awaiting trial. Several long-term detainees were released without charge or pardoned during the year.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution and law provide for an independent judiciary; however, the courts, particularly at the lower levels, were corrupt and subject to executive pressure. AI noted that the presidential power to remove a judge, nominally in consultation with the Judicial Service Commission (JSC), impeded judicial independence. During the year the president removed two high court judges without consulting the JSC.
Judges presiding over "sensitive" cases who made decisions not considered favorable to the government risked being fired. For example, on June 8, the president dismissed Chief Justice Abdoukarim Savage without explanation. On June 23, the president also terminated the appointment of Justice Haddy Roche, regarded as an independent thinker in legal circles; Roche had been dismissed from the bench twice previously. Several judges were dismissed under similar circumstances in 2008.
Government and security forces often disregarded court orders to release suspects and rearrested them to provide the prosecution more time to prepare its case.
The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, the Court of Appeal, high courts, and eight magistrate courts. Islamic, or Cadi courts, have jurisdiction over Islamic matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance when Muslim parties are involved. District chiefs preside over local tribunals that administer customary law at the district level. Cadi courts and district tribunals do not offer standard legal representation to the parties involved, since lawyers are not trained in Islamic or customary law. Military tribunals cannot try civilians.
A judicial complaints board, chaired by the chief justice, heard several complaints during the year; the board deals with administrative, personnel, and case issues. Board members included the attorney general, the interior minister, the inspector general of police, the director general of the NIA, the master of the high court, and the judicial secretary.
The constitution and law provide for a fair and public trial, and the judiciary generally enforced this right, although frequent delays and missing or unavailable witnesses, judges, and lawyers often impeded the process. Many cases were also delayed because of adjournments designed to allow the police or NIA time to continue their investigations.
Defendants are presumed innocent. Both civilian trials and courts-martial are held in public, but occasionally closed-court sessions are held to protect the identity of a witness. No juries are used in the civilian courts, but courts-martial proceedings are presided over by a judge advocate assisted by a panel of senior military officers. Defendants can consult with an attorney and have the right to confront witnesses and evidence against them, present witnesses on their own behalf, and appeal judgment to a higher court. Indigent defendants charged with murder or manslaughter have the right to attorneys provided at public expense. The law extends the above rights to all citizens, and no groups were denied these rights during the year; however, detainees were rarely informed of their rights or the reasons for their arrest or detention, according to AI.
The judicial system suffered from inefficiency at all levels. Cases continued to be delayed because the court system was overburdened. To alleviate the backlog, the government continued to recruit judges and magistrates from other commonwealth countries that have similar legal systems. The attorney general oversees the hiring of foreign judges on contract. The government reserves the right not to renew a judge's contract.
The judicial system recognizes customary, Shari'a, and general law. Customary law covers marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, inheritance, land tenure, tribal and clan leadership, and other traditional and social relations. Shari'a was employed primarily in Muslim marriage and divorce matters; it favored men in its provisions. General Law, following the British model, applied to felonies and misdemeanors and to the formal business sector.
Political Prisoners and Detainees
During the year there were credible reports that the government held civilians based on their political views or associations, and some were held incommunicado for prolonged periods.
United Democratic Party (UDP) supporter Kanyiba Kanyi, who was arrested by men believed to be state security agents and held without charge shortly before the 2006 presidential elections, remained in prison at year's end. The government has not permitted access to Kanyi by international humanitarian organizations or his lawyer. In May 2008 Kanyi's lawyer, who maintained Kanyi was being held by the NIA, filed an application to force the state to comply with the 2006 high court rulings to free him. On July 29, the judge presiding over the case returned the case file to the office of the chief justice in an apparent attempt to recuse himself from the trial; the judge provided no explanation for the return of the case file. Kanyi was reportedly sighted by a relative in March 2008 at the Royal Victoria Hospital, where he was being escorted by wardens from Mile 2 Central Prison.
The whereabouts of Chief Ebrima Manneh, who was also arrested without charge in 2006, remained unknown at year's end. The government denied Manneh was in its custody.
Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies
The high court has jurisdiction to hear cases for civil and human rights violations, although it may decline to exercise its powers if it is satisfied that adequate means of redress are available under other laws. The Indemnity Act continued to prevent victims from seeking redress in some cases.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution and law prohibit such actions, but the government did not always respect these prohibitions in practice. The government did generally enforce Decree 45, which applies constitutional safeguards against arbitrary searches and the seizure of property without due process.
Observers believed the government monitored citizens engaged in activities that it deemed objectionable.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of speech and of the press; however, the government limited these rights by intimidation, detention, and restrictive legislation. In a July 22 radio interview, President Jammeh warned that journalists who tarnished the country's image would be "severely dealt with." Although the independent press practiced self-censorship, opposition views regularly appeared in the independent press, and there was frequent criticism of the government in the private media.
The government published one newspaper, the Gambia Daily. The privately owned Daily Observer favored the government in its coverage. There were seven other independent newspapers, including one published by an opposition political party that remained highly critical of the government. There was one independent biweekly magazine.
One government-owned and nine private radio stations broadcast throughout the country. During most of the year, the government-owned Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) gave limited coverage to opposition activities. GRTS television rebroadcast CNN, while local radio stations rebroadcast the BBC, Radio France Internationale, the Voice of America, and other foreign news reports, all of which were also available via shortwave radio. GRTS television, foreign cable, and satellite television channels broadcasting independent news coverage were available in many parts of the country, and the government allowed unrestricted access to such networks.
The deterioration of the country's media environment continued during the year. The government harassed journalists who wrote articles it considered inaccurate and investigated cases it considered sensitive. Several journalists reportedly went into hiding from fear of government retaliation.
Security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained numerous journalists during the year.
For example, on February 2, Pap Saine, co-proprietor and managing editor of the independent newspaper the Point was arrested and subsequently charged with publishing false information; Saine reported on the transfer of diplomat Lamin Sabi Sanyang from NIA headquarters to Mile 2 Prison and on the appointment of former minister Neneh Macdouall-Gaye to an ambassadorship. The high court withdrew the charge on July 29.
On March 8, police arrested Halifa Sallah, a former presidential candidate and the publisher of the newspaper Foroyaa, for allegedly trying to incite people to challenge "a lawful order of the president to screen witches"; Sallah had criticized the government-backed abduction of alleged witches during the year (see section 1.b.). On March 19, the director of public prosecution announced that all charges were being dropped "in the interest of peace and justice."
On June 15, seven journalists were arrested for their role in the publication of a statement by the Gambia Press Union (GPU) responding to remarks by President Jammeh on the 2004 killing of newspaper publisher Deyda Hydara; the GPU characterized the president's remarks as un-Islamic, inappropriate, and provocative. They added that such statements would not exonerate the government from involvement in the killing. On June 18, the court charged the journalists with three counts of sedition and seditious publication. On July 27, the court discharged one of the journalists for lack of evidence. On August 5, the remaining six journalists were convicted on all six counts and sentenced to two years in prison plus a fine of one million dalasi ($37,037); failure to pay the fine would result in an additional two years' imprisonment. On September 3, the six journalists were released following a pardon by President Jammeh, who said the gesture was in honor of the Muslim month of Ramadan.
On June 22, reporter Augustine Kanjia of the Point newspaper was arrested at Kanifing court for allegedly taking pictures of the six journalists charged with sedition and defamation. On June 24, Kanjia was released on bail
On August 6, authorities arrested Abdoulie John, the deputy editor in chief and French language columnist of the progovernment Daily Observer, on charges of refusing to recognize the appointment of a new managing director of the paper; John was released the same day without charge.
The trial of Today proprietor and editor Abdul Hamid Adiamoh, arrested in July 2008 following the publication of a story about school children who skipped classes to salvage scrap metal, was ongoing at year's end; Hamid Adiamoh was charged with publication with seditious intent.
Political activist Fatou Jaw Manneh, a foreign-based Gambian journalist who was convicted in August 2008 on sedition charges, departed the country after her family paid the 250,000 dalasi ($9,260) fine.
Foreign missionaries David and Rachel Fulton, who in December 2008 pled guilty in a magistrate court in Banjul to advocating the violent overthrow of the government, remained in jail at year's end serving a one-year sentence with hard labor. The two also were fined 250,000 dalasi ($9,260) each, or in default to serve a further 18 months in prison. The Fultons had been under surveillance by court order, and were arrested in November 2008 for publishing "negative articles" and sending "negative letters" about the country and its government to individuals and organizations.
Journalist Lamin Fatty of the Independent newspaper, who in 2007 was convicted for publishing "false news" and fined 50,000 dalasi ($1,850), went into self-imposed exile early in the year. He appealed his conviction, and the appeal was pending in the courts at year's end.
In some cases journalists from certain independent newspapers were denied access to state-sponsored events and press conferences due to official disapproval of their editorial stance.
There were no government restrictions on access to the Internet or reports that the government monitored e-mail or Internet chat rooms. Individuals and groups could generally engage in the peaceful expression of views via the Internet, including by e-mail. Although many citizens were illiterate and most did not have computers or Internet connections at home, Internet cafes were popular in urban areas. According to International Telecommunication Union statistics for 2008, approximately 6.8 percent of the country's inhabitants used the Internet.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The constitution and law provide for freedom of assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights in practice. However, police sometimes denied or refused to issue permits to opposition parties wishing to hold political rallies.
The opposition UDP reported that police did not issue permits for a July 26 meeting in Serrekunda or an August 8 meeting in Bakau; the August 8 meeting was conducted without police permission.
On October 24, Femi Peters, the UDP campaign manager, was arrested after his party held a rally in Serrekunda without a police permit. On October 26, Peters appeared in court on charges of "control of procession and control of loudspeakers." Peters refused to make a plea in the absence of his lawyer, and the case was ongoing at year's end.
c. Freedom of Religion
The constitution and law provide for freedom of religion, and the government generally respected this right in practice.
Societal Abuses and Discrimination
There were no reports of societal abuse or discrimination based on religious affiliation, belief, or practice.
There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
For a more detailed discussion, see the 2009 International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf.
d. Freedom of Movement, Internally Displaced Persons, Protection of Refugees, and Stateless Persons
The constitution and law provide for freedom of movement within the country, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, but allow for "reasonable restrictions." Restrictions were imposed on foreign travel for many persons released from detention, often because their travel documents were temporarily confiscated at the time of their arrest or soon afterwards. As a rule, all government employees were required to obtain permission from the office of the president before traveling abroad.
The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other humanitarian organizations in to internally displaced persons, refugees, asylum seekers, stateless persons, and other persons of concern. The UNHCR coordinated government efforts with the International Organization for Migration, the Gambia Red Cross Society, and other agencies to provide this protection and assistance.
The law prohibits forced exile, and the government did not use it.
Protection of Refugees
The country is a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol but maintains reservations on clauses regarding a number of refugee rights, including the right to work. It is also a party to the 1969 African Union Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of the Refugee Problem in Africa. Neither the constitution nor the law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, but the government has established a system for providing such protection to refugees and granted refugee status during the year. In practice the government provided protection against the expulsion or return of refugees to countries where their lives or freedom would be threatened.
In December 2008, consistent with international agreements, the UNHCR terminated the refugee status of Sierra Leoneans who fled during that country's civil war. During the year the government and UNHCR provided local integration opportunities to the approximately 6,500 Sierra Leoneans remaining in the country. The government also facilitated the voluntary repatriation of 27 Liberian refugees.
Approximately 6,200 Senegalese refugees remained in the country during the year, pending conclusion of the Casamance conflict in Senegal. The UNHCR provided assistance with basic needs and services and implemented livelihoods programs.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government
The constitution and law provide citizens the right to change their government peacefully, and citizens exercised this right in practice through periodic elections held on the basis of universal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
In 2006 Alhaji Yahya Jammeh was reelected for a third term as president, winning approximately 67 percent of the vote. The main opposition political party, the UDP, challenged the election results; however, the courts upheld the election results. In the 2007 National Assembly elections, the ruling APRC won 42 of the 48 elected seats, and President Jammeh appointed five nominated members, including the speaker. The presidential and National Assembly elections were declared partially free and fair; irregularities included underage voting, voting by noncitizens, and biased media coverage.
Individuals representing political parties or running as independents could freely declare their candidacy if their nominations were approved according to the rules of the independent electoral commission.
Political parties generally operated without restriction; however, police sometimes refused to issue permits for opposition parties to hold public meetings (see section 2.b.).
There were four women in the 53-seat National Assembly; two were elected and two were nominated by the president. At year's end there were five women in the 18-member cabinet, including the vice president.
No statistics were available on the percentage of minorities included in the legislature or the cabinet. However, President Jammeh and many members of his administration were from the previously marginalized minority Jola ethnic group.
Section 4 Official Corruption and Government Transparency
The law provides criminal penalties for official corruption; however, the government did not implement the law effectively. The World Bank's worldwide governance indicators reflected that corruption was a serious problem.
The president often spoke against corruption, and leading political and administrative figures faced harsh sentences on charges of corruption and wrongdoing. The financial intelligence unit, which was established during the year, is responsible for combating corruption.
During the year the government prosecuted some officials accused of corruption. For example, on November 6, Lieutenant Colonel Gibril Bojang, former commander of the presidential guard, was convicted on charges of theft and sentenced to two years' imprisonment and a fine of 1,110,086 dalasis ($41,100). Bojang, who pled as charged, said the money was not used for personal gain but for the welfare of his unit.
On November 4, six judiciary officials, including judicial secretary Haruna Jaiteh and high court judges Nguie Mboob-Janneh, Amie Saho-Ceesay, and Saffie Njie were suspended without pay on allegations of embezzlement of court fines, forfeitures, and auctions. The officials, who also included junior clerks Pa Modou Njie and Momodou L. Sonko, were charged with embezzlement totaling 4,232,000 dalasis ($157,000). The trial was ongoing at year's end.
Public officials were subject to financial disclosure laws.
The constitution and law do not provide for public access to government information. Under the official secrets act, civil servants are not allowed to divulge information about their departments or to speak to the press without prior clearance from their department heads.
Section 5 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Government officials were somewhat cooperative and responsive to their views. Some members of domestic human rights groups reportedly practiced self-censorship in matters related to the government. Several groups expressed concern over detainees held incommunicado, but the government did not respond.
The government allowed visits during the year by the UN and other international governmental organizations, such as ECOWAS and the commonwealth secretariat; however, the government offered no response to reports issued after the visits. The government denied prison access to the ICRC during the year.
The office of the ombudsman operated a national human rights unit (NHRU) to promote and protect human rights and to support vulnerable groups. The office was established by the government and receives government funding. During the year the unit received complaints regarding unlawful dismissals, termination of employment, unfair treatment, and illegal arrest and detention.
Section 6 Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, religion, gender, disability, language, or social status, and the government generally enforced these prohibitions.
The law prohibits rape, and the government enforced the law effectively, although rape remained a widespread problem. The penalty for rape of an adult is life in prison, and the maximum penalty for attempted rape is seven years' imprisonment. The law against spousal rape was difficult to enforce effectively, as many did not consider spousal rape a crime and failed to report it.
Domestic violence, including spousal abuse, was a widespread problem; however, it was underreported due to the stigma surrounding such violence. There was no law prohibiting domestic violence; however, cases of domestic violence could be prosecuted under laws prohibiting rape, spousal rape, and assault. Police generally considered reports of spousal rape to be domestic issues outside of their jurisdiction.
Prostitution is illegal; however, it was a major problem, particularly in tourist areas. The tourism offenses act prohibits sex tourism, which reportedly increased significantly during the year.
The law prohibits sexual harassment and provides for a one-year mandatory prison sentence for offenders; however, sexual harassment occurred.
The government did not interfere with the basic right of couples and individuals to decide freely and responsibly the number, spacing, and timing of their children, and to have the information and means to do so free from discrimination, coercion, and violence. Couples and individuals had access to contraception and skilled attendance during childbirth, including essential obstetric and postpartum care. Women were equally diagnosed and treated for sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
During the year the national reproductive and child health unit of the department of health and social welfare continued to implement a reproductive health campaign launched in 2007. The campaign, which was funded by the World Health Organization, was designed to encourage men to become involved with sexual and reproductive health issues. All maternal health care services were provided free of charge in government-run hospitals.
Traditional views of women's roles resulted in extensive societal discrimination in education; however, employment in the formal sector was open to women at the same salary rates as men. No statutory discrimination existed in other kinds of employment, access to credit, or owning and managing a business; however, women generally were employed in such pursuits as food vending or subsistence farming.
Shari'a law is applied in marriage, divorce, and inheritance issues for Muslims, who make up more than 90 percent of the population. Women normally received a lower proportion of assets distributed through inheritance than males. The churches concerned and the office of the attorney general settled Christian and civil marriage and divorce issues.
Marriages often were arranged and, depending on the ethnic group, polygyny was practiced. Women in polygynous unions had problems with property and other rights arising from the marriage. They also had the option to divorce, but no legal right to disapprove or be notified in advance of subsequent marriages. The women's bureau, under the office of the vice president, oversees programs to ensure the legal rights of women. Active women's rights groups existed.
Citizenship is derived by birth within the country's territory and from one's parents; however, not all births were registered. To access health care and treatment at public health centers, children were required to have a clinic card, which was available without birth registration.
The constitution and law mandate free, compulsory primary education from age six to 12, but the inadequate infrastructure prevented effective compulsory education, and children paid fees to attend school. During the year the government estimated that 75 percent of children were enrolled in primary schools. Another 15 percent were enrolled in the Islamic schools, called "madrassas." Girls constituted approximately 51 percent of primary school students and an estimated one-third of high school students. The enrollment of girls was low in rural areas, where poverty and cultural factors often led parents to decide against sending their daughters to school. As part of the government's ongoing initiative to increase the numbers of girls in school, the government continued a countrywide program to pay basic school fees for all girls; however, in many regions, both girls and boys were still required to pay for books, lunch, school fund contributions, and exam fees.
Authorities generally enforced laws when cases of child abuse or mistreatment were brought to their attention. Carnal knowledge of a girl under the age of 16 is a felony except in the case of marriage, which can be as early as 12 years of age. Incest also is illegal. Serious cases of abuse and violence against children were subject to criminal penalties.
On March 21, Anthony Michael Dobson, a 61-year-old New Zealand national, was convicted of child pornography and sentenced to one year in prison. Dobson was arrested in August 2008 and charged with child pornography and defilement of a girl under the age of 16; he was acquitted of the defilement charge. His Gambian accomplice, who was standing trial for procurement, was acquitted.
Peter Paul Hornberger, a German national who was arrested in November 2008 for "indecent assault" of an 11-year-old boy, remained in prison awaiting sentencing at year's end.
The law does not prohibit FGM, and the practice remained widespread. Between 60 and 90 percent of women have undergone FGM, and seven of the nine major ethnic groups reportedly practiced it at ages varying from shortly after birth until age 16. FGM was less frequent among the educated and urban groups. Some religious leaders publicly defended the practice. There were unconfirmed reports of health complications, including deaths, associated with FGM; however, no accurate statistics were available. Several NGOs conducted public education programs to discourage the practice and spoke out against FGM in the media.
On September 29, more than 30 National Assembly members attended a seminar organized by the NGO Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) on the harmful effects of FGM. GAMCOTRAP said it was campaigning for a law banning FGM.
In May Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy chaired an international conference calling for an end to FGM.
There are no laws against forced marriage, and in many villages, especially Bajakunda, young girls were forced to marry at a young age.
Children in prostitution worked in some brothels, often to support their families or because they were orphans. Some NGOs also believed that tourists living in remote guesthouses and motels were involved in the sexual exploitation of children. Security forces in the tourism development area were required to turn away all minors who approached the main resort areas without a genuine reason, although they seldom turned away such children.
Trafficking in Persons
The law prohibits trafficking in persons for all purposes; however, persons were trafficked to, from, through, and within the country. The government considered trafficking to be a serious problem.
Due to its porous borders, the country was a destination for victims internationally trafficked from West African countries, mainly Senegal, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Guinea Bissau, Guinea, and Benin. Trafficking victims often were found in the greater Banjul area and were used as street sellers, domestics, and sex workers. The country was also a point of origin and transit for West African trafficking victims destined for Europe.
The penalty for trafficking in children under the age of 18 is life in prison. Enforcement of the children's act is the responsibility of the various security services. The tourism security unit, a unit of the national army created specifically to enhance security in the tourism sector, is responsible for keeping minors out of resort areas. The minimum prison term for trafficking an adult is 15 years; a substantial monetary fine may also be imposed.
While the government had no established victim care and health facilities for trafficked persons, the Department of Health and Social Welfare provided temporary shelter and access to medical and psychological services to reported victims of trafficking.
The government's trafficking taskforce, which included representatives from government agencies, the UN Children's Fund, the National Assembly, and the NGO Child Protection Alliance finalized a national action plan for combating trafficking in persons in December 2008.
The Trafficking in Persons Act provides for a national antitrafficking agency; however, it had not been established by year's end. A dedicated officer for trafficking issues continued to operate at the Department of Justice, and the Department of Health and Social Welfare maintained a trafficking division. NGOs were active in raising awareness about trafficking.
The Department of State's annual Trafficking in Persons Report can be found at www.state.gov/g/tip.
Persons with Disabilities
Although the constitution protects persons with disabilities against exploitation and discrimination, no government agency is directly responsible for protecting persons with disabilities. The Department of Health and Social Welfare dealt mainly with supplying some persons with disabilities with wheelchairs received from international donors. There was some societal discrimination. Persons with severe disabilities subsisted primarily through private charity. Persons with less severe disabilities were accepted fully in society, and they encountered little discrimination in employment for which they were physically capable. There were no laws to ensure access to buildings for persons with disabilities, and very few buildings in the country were accessible to them.
The government continued to remove many persons with disabilities from the streets in an effort to end street begging, which it viewed as a public nuisance. Leaders of the Gambia Federation of the Disabled urged authorities to review their policy regarding persons with disabilities. They were instrumental in obtaining the release of several detained beggars with disabilities.
The media continued to report on the rights of persons with disabilities, and several NGOs sought to improve awareness of these rights, including by encouraging the participation of persons with disabilities in sports and physical activities. The NHRU specifically sought to promote the rights of women with disabilities. Persons with disabilities were given priority access to polling booths on voting day.
Societal Abuses, Discrimination, and Acts of Violence Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
The law establishes prison terms ranging from five to 14 years for any male that commits in public or private any act of gross indecency, procures another male, or has actual sexual contact with another male; however, to date, no one has been prosecuted. Many citizens shunned lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) individuals.
In a March 27 speech before the National Assembly, President Jammeh called homosexual conduct "strange behavior that even God will not tolerate." The president previously described homosexual conduct as a criminal practice and told police to arrest persons practicing homosexual activity and to close motels and hotels that accommodated them. In May 2008 the president ordered all LGBT persons to leave the country within 24 hours and threatened to cut off their heads. There were no LGBT organizations in the country.
Other Societal Violence or Discrimination
Societal discrimination against persons infected with HIV/AIDS hindered disclosure and resulted in rejection by partners and relatives. The government took a multisectoral approach to fighting HIV/AIDS through its national strategic plan, which provides for care, treatment, and support to persons living with, or affected by HIV/AIDS. The plan also protects the rights of those at risk of infection. In 2007 the national AIDS secretariat collaborated with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry to develop a business coalition response to HIV/AIDS, using workplace policies to destigmatize it and allow workers to feel comfortable seeking information. Public discourse about HIV/AIDS was ongoing during the year as President Jammeh continued his controversial herbal treatment program for the virus. Throughout the year the Ministry of Health urged persons to undergo voluntary HIV/AIDS counseling and testing.
Section 7 Worker Rights
a. The Right of Association
The law provides that workers are free to form associations, including trade unions, without previous authorization or excessive requirements, and workers exercised this right in practice. Military personnel and police officers, as well as other civil service employees, were prohibited from forming unions. Unions must register to be recognized, but there were no cases in which registration was denied to a union that applied. Approximately 20 percent of the work force was employed in the modern wage sector, where unions were most active.
The government interfered with unions' right to strike. The law allows for the right to strike, but it places restrictions on the right by requiring unions to give the commissioner of labor 14 days written notice before beginning an industrial action (28 days for essential services). The law specifically prohibits military personnel, police officers, and other civil service employees, from striking. Police and military personnel had access to a complaints unit, and civil servants could take their complaints to the public service commission or the personnel management office.
b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The law permits unions to conduct their activities without interference. Unions were able to negotiate without government interference; however, in practice they lacked experience, organization, and professionalism and often turned to the government for assistance in negotiations. The law allows workers to organize and bargain collectively, and although trade unions were small and fragmented, collective bargaining took place. Union members' wages, which generally exceeded legal minimums, are determined by collective bargaining, arbitration, or agreements reached between unions and management. Most collective agreements are registered with the Department of Labor and remain valid for a period of three years before being renewed. The law also sets minimum contract standards for hiring, training, and terms of employment and provides that contracts may not prohibit union membership.
An employer may apply to a court for an injunction to prohibit industrial action that is deemed to be in pursuit of a political objective. The court also may forbid action judged to be in breach of a collectively agreed procedure for settlement of industrial disputes. The law prohibits retribution against strikers who comply with the law regulating strikes.
Employers may not fire or discriminate against members of registered unions for engaging in legal union activities, and the government intervened to assist workers whose employers fired them or discriminated against them.
There is a government-established export processing zone (EPZ) at the port of Banjul and the adjacent bonded warehouses. There are no special laws or exemptions from regular labor laws in the EPZ.
c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution and law prohibit forced or compulsory labor, including by children; however, there were reports that women and children were trafficked for forced commercial sexual exploitation (see section 6.).
d. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
Child labor was a problem, although the constitution prohibits economic exploitation of children under 16 years of age, and the law prohibits exploitative labor or hazardous employment of children under the age of 18. The act also sets the minimum age for light work at 16 years and for apprenticeship in the informal sector at 12 years. Most children completed their formal education by the age of 14 and then began work. Child labor protection does not extend to the performance of customary chores on family farms or petty trading. Child labor in informal sectors is difficult to regulate, and laws implicitly apply only to the formal sector. Rising school fees prohibited many families from sending their children to school, resulting in an increase in child labor. In urban areas some children worked as street vendors or taxi and bus assistants. There were a few instances of children begging on the street. The tourist industry stimulated a high level of child prostitution. Other sectors where children between the ages of 14 and 17 were known to work include carpentry, sewing, masonry, plumbing, tailoring, and auto repair. Children in rural areas worked on family farms. Unlike in previous years, there were almost no reports of Koranic students, known as "almudus," being forced to beg in the streets; teachers who demanded this type of behavior were usually summoned by police and ordered to stop.
The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and conventions on the worst forms of child labor. Employee labor cards, which include a person's age, were registered with the labor commissioner, who was authorized to enforce child labor laws; however, enforcement inspections rarely took place. The law incorporates International Labor Organization provisions outlawing child prostitution and pornography.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Minimum wages and working hours are established by law through six joint industrial councils, composed of representatives from labor, management, and the government. The lowest minimum wage according to law was 19.55 dalasi($0.72) per day for unskilled labor, but in practice the minimum wage was 50 dalasi ($1.85) per day. The national minimum wage did not provide a decent standard of living for a worker and family. The minimum wage law covered only 20 percent of the labor force, essentially those in the formal economic sector, although most such laborers were paid above the minimum wage. Minimum wage laws also covered foreign and migrant workers. A majority of workers were employed privately or were self-employed, often in agriculture. Most citizens did not live on a single worker's earnings and shared resources within extended families. The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage and it did so when cases of underpayment were brought to its attention.
The basic legal workweek is 48 hours within a period not to exceed six consecutive days. Nationwide, the workweek included four eight-hour workdays and two four-hour workdays (Friday and Saturday). There are no limits on hours worked per week and no prohibition on excessive compulsory overtime. A 30-minute lunch break is mandated. Government employees are entitled to one month of paid annual leave after one year of service. Most government employees were not paid overtime. However, government workers holding temporary positions and private sector workers received overtime calculated per hour. Private sector employees received between 14 and 30 days of paid annual leave, depending on length of service. There was no exception for foreign or migrant workers.
The law specifies safety equipment that an employer must provide to employees working in designated occupations. The law also authorizes the Department of Labor to regulate factory health and safety, accident prevention, and dangerous trades, and to appoint inspectors to ensure compliance with safety standards. Enforcement was inconsistent due to insufficient and inadequately trained staff. Workers may demand protective equipment and clothing for hazardous workplaces and have recourse to the labor department. The law provides that workers may refuse to work in dangerous situations without risking loss of employment; however, in practice authorities did not effectively enforce this right.
The law protects foreign workers employed by the government; however, it only provides protection for privately employed foreigners if they have a currently valid work permit. On April 3, the National Assembly passed an amendment to the payroll tax act, which requires that employers not hire noncitizens in excess of 20 percent of their workforce except in the specialized professional category. The move was designed to encourage employers to train and employ more local citizens.
Wednesday, 10 March 2010
A magistrate in the Gambian capital, Banjul, Wednesday March 10, 2010, denied bail for Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme, the Director of programs at the Africa in Democracy and Good governance (ADG), who faces false information charges.
Magistrate Hilary Ubeke of the Banjul Magistrates Court rejected the bail application filed by defense counsel, Assan Martin, arguing that the offence committed, which is giving false information to the office of the president, was serious. He described the office of the president as a sensitive place, adding that any information that is sent there should be for the public interest. Mr Ubeke therefore ruled that the accused person be remanded pending the outcome of the case.
Defense Counsel Assan Martin argued that the offense is a misdemeanor which carries the penalties of D500 fine or 6 months imprisonment, and that pursuant to section 195 of the 1997 Constitution, it was baillable. Lawyer Martin went on to argue that the accused would comply with all the bail conditions, and was willing to provide surety who will comply with the courts and the bail conditions.
In its reaction, the prosecution said it was not objecting to the bail application since it is an issue for the court to decide.
The prosecution also applied under section 169 of the Criminal Procedure Code (CPC) for amendment of the particulars of offense which reads: "seek nomination of Ms Mariam Jammeh, daughter of the President of the Republic of The Gambia as ADG's General Ambassador for the World Day [SIC] Celebrations 2009."
According to the prosecution, the statement substituting the particulars of offense stands as: "Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme, sometimes in the Month of March 2010 in the City of Banjul, Republic of the Gambia, you gave false information to the office of the President that African Democracy Organization and Good Governance is a non-governmental organization, which you know or have reasons to believe to be false."
Defense Counsel Martin raised no objection on the amendment, but at this juncture he applied again for review of the bail conditions "since the false information in question has no effect of causing any harm, or changing any work pertaining to the public service. It is just a question of what purpose does the organization itself stand for, whether it is a governmental, charitable or non-governmental organization."
However, Magistrate Ubeke overruled Martin, insisting that the matter is not about a question, but about giving false information, and concluded that the bail conditions remains the same, and therefore ordered that the accused be remanded pending the out come of the case or the next adjournment date. He then adjourned the case to 22nd and 24th of March for hearing.
The prosecution told the court that he has three witnesses to call.
Nwakaeme was first arrested on Monday, 22nd February this year and detained until Thursday, 25 February, when he was released, only to be re-arrested the following day and released shortly without any charge. And until his appearance in court, he had been in detention at the serious Crime Unit at the Police Headquarters in Banjul since his latest arrest on Monday, 1st March.
Meanwhile, Police sources indicated that the authorities intend to seize the license of ADG and deport Edwin back to Nigeria. The sources said that the passport of the accused has already been seized from him.
Tuesday, 9 March 2010
The Sweden based Human Rights for All (HUMRA), has issued a statement, expressing ‘‘deep concern’’ over recent announcement of the arrest, detention and pending trial of Mr Edwin Nebolisa Nkawaeme, the founder and Director of Africa in Democracy and Good governance (ADG), by the Gambian authorities, on charges of false information.
‘‘Mr. Nebolisa’s arrest and prosecution is of great concern to us,’’ the statement by the organization’s coordinator, Yaya Dampha, which was emailed to Jollof News reads. And it added, ‘‘we fear that he might not receive free and fair trial, considering the fact that his rights have already been violated under the Gambia’s own 1997 Constitution.’’
The statement from HUMRA cited the Gambian Constitution which forbids detention without charges beyond 72 hours. The statement added that the ADG boss has already spent ‘‘eight good days’’ in detention before being hastily taken to court unnoticed.
This incident is a fervent reminder of President Yahya Jammeh’s widely published statement last August that he will ‘‘cut off’’ heads of so-called human rights defenders who were bent on sabotaging his government.
To this effect, HUMRA calls on the Gambian authorities to discontinue the ADG director’s trial and release him from police detention with immediate effect.
‘‘Further more, the government of the Gambia should desist from mingling in the work of human rights defenders in Gambia, for this only demonstrates a bad image of the country,’’ the statement concludes.
Monday, 8 March 2010
Mr. Edwin Nebolisa Nwakaeme, director of programs at the Africa in Democracy and Good governance (ADG), was Monday charged with giving false information, at the Kanifing Magistrate Court, following his arrest and detention for some eight days.
Mr Nwakaeme however did not take his plea, and was reportedly escorted back to the police headquarters where he is being held. He is expected return to court next Wednesday.
The ADG boss was reportedly arrested by the police since Monday, 1st March, and detained at the serious Crime Unit at the Police Headquarters in Banjul.
According to reports, Nwakaeme was first arrested on Monday, 22 February this year by three plain clothes men from the Serekunda Police Station. Sources said that he was escorted to Kairaba Police Station, but later transferred to New Jeshwang Immigration Post where he was detained until Thursday, 25 February. Sources added that the following day he was recalled by personnel from the Serekunda Police Station who escorted him to the Police Headquarters in Banjul, only to be released in the evening without any charge.
Again, sources said, last Monday 1st March, the Gambia based Nigerian national was called by personnel of the Serious Crime Unit of the Gambian police and asked to report to the Police Headquarters where he was put under arrest up to this Monday when he first appeared in court, and got charged with giving false information.
There is no word from the arresting authorities surrounding the nature of Mr Nwakaeme, as to what knid of ‘false information’ he might have given or to whom.
An Observer who spoke to this paper say the police’s move, charging the accused without giving details about his crime, could be seen in the light of buying time to prevent condemnation for detaining the Nigerian beyond the 72 hour constitutional limit, while looking into making a stronger case.
The Gambian government has been at loggerheads with human rights defenders since President Yahya Jammeh past his alleged death threat to ‘saboteurs’ of his government. Source: Jollofnews.com
Sunday, 7 March 2010
When we undertook the decision of joining the media to pursue what we know and what we are used to - dissemination of information, we did so absolutely sure of what we were up to, vis-à-vis the implications of what it means to be in this profession. Therefore no amount of intimidation can deter us from continuing on this path we have already taken. Not even death threats.
In case you are wondering, Jollof News’ founder and managing director, Yusupha Cham, has so far received two email messages, following in an interval of 24 hours, warning him against stepping his feet on Gambian soil.
The cowardly mails were supposedly written by people claiming to be members of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) of the Gambia. The first one, dated Friday 29 January, 2010, was received from someone who could only be indentified by his email: firstname.lastname@example.org. The second mail, apparently from a different author who signed as Musa Last Name Jammeh, email: email@example.com, followed suit on Saturday 30th January.
In both mails the author(s) is/are promising death for Mr Cham, if he ever ventured to step on Gambian soil.
However, the fact that no mention was made of Jollof News makes it assumable that this threat has to do with Cham’s previously written articles, which were published on other online Gambian sites, prior to his establishment of this paper.
In any case, we find the threats ridiculously despicable and unbelievable that even as calls for a change in the Gambia government’s policy towards dissenting voice amplify, hard-hitting elements within the government are bent on pursuing this line of defiance of wisdom. It is hard to believe that after all the strong warning coming from the rest of the free world, a few people continue to trade in blackmailing, in an effort to stifle free speech.
While challenging the Gambian authorities to use their expertise through Gamtel or other means at its disposal to unveil the people behind this threat, we wish to add our voice to global call for sanity to be reintroduced in the country. We take these threats very seriously, given the prevailing situation in the country.
Meanwhile, Mr Cham is very well ready to cooperate with any investigation regarding the matter by releasing the full details of the said mails to the relevant authorities for investigation, in an effort to help track down the absolute coward who are behind this act.
Just for the record, no amount of intimidation can deter us from this path.
It is increasingly becoming acceptable, and every Gambian appears to have grown apathetic with the fact that whatever Yahya Jammeh does is in conformity with the best interest of the nation – no questions, no queries.
Or are Gambians, especially those around the president, just playing hypocrisy by resorting to talking only behind his back?
While we are obliged to put up with the man at State House, as he is the head of state, we are equally obliged to put him to check for all his actions and decisions, which he in fact takes on our behalf. That is the only sure way of preventing looming dictatorship.
Unacceptable as it maybe to many, OJ Jallow’s statement, as published by Jollof News, Sunday, 28 February 2010, contains some salient points that should arouse questions in our minds. Why is it that Yahya Jammeh cannot get the good ones?
President Yahya Jammeh is certainly not getting the good ones, or else we wouldn’t have been witnessing this frequent sacking of government officials. And since he clearly appoints from among his support base, the APRC to be precise, it can be argued that the party no longer has what it takes, in terms of human resource, to provide the Gambia with the development Yahya Jammeh wants for the country. Or is the APRC just a composition of fraudulent people? Well that is what all this endless sacking suggests.
Lest we forget, it is also pertinent to look at it this way; Gambians never get the side of sacked officials.
It is understandable that given the prevailing intimidating situation in the country, it is not a surprise that sacked officials can not go about talking in defense of themselves. However, some of them, if not all, actually do leave the country on their removal; that is if they are lucky to escape the wrath of the NIA, but you hardly hear them talk. Could they be guilty of the tacit accusation of corruption, in efficiency of malpractice?
After all, the least we expect is an explanation, either from the sacking authority or the sacked, as to why all these endless dismissals.
Officials are certainly appointed on the basis of their qualification and commitment, so if they are sacked, it is important that we [Gambians] get to know why. It certainly is not possible that all these people could be bad. But we still want to know. It is discomforting to be in the dark. This, in fact, breeds unavoidable speculations.
Besides, the Gambian constitution guarantees free flow of information. No information is as relevant to us as Gambians as those pertaining to our servants, from the president down to the last junior civil servant on the payroll of Gambians.
It is high time that we, ordinary Gambians, supporters and none supporters of Yahya Jammeh, as well as well wishers of the country, started asking questions. After all that is what democracy is all about.
This was not supposed to be a totalitarian regime.
Saturday, 6 March 2010
Gambian president, Yahya Jammeh, has extended his so-called electric broom to another of the countries security institutions with the sacking of the Executive Director of the National Drug Enforcement Agency (NDEA), Ebrima Bun Sanneh, and his deputy, Bakary Bojang.
A presidential statement contained in a press release and aired over state owned Gambia Radio and Television Services (GRTS) announced the sacking of the top officials alongside the Commissioner of Operations of the same agency, Ousman Sanneh. According to the statement, announced Friday 5th March 2010, the dismissal of the men was with immediate effect. No reasons were forwarded.
The removal of Gambia’s anti-narcotic boss comes just three (3) days after the high profile sacking of the country’s formerly influential police chief, Ensa Badjie. All this has been part of a string of sacking in the country’s security sector, which has seen the arrest and detention of top security officials, including former Chief of Defence Staff, General Lang Tombong Tamba.
According to sources, the sacked NDEA boss and his deputy have joined the list of detained former security officials in Mile II prisons. They were reportedly handed over to the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) for interrogations before been transferred to Mile II.
Both the former NDEA boss, Bun Sanneh and former IGP Ensa Badjie have had a fair share of extensive criticism for their alleged involvement with known criminals and drug dealers in the country. Sources informed Jollof News that Sanneh and Bojang underwent questioning for the same reason.
Former IGP pleaded to be taken to court
The reported arrest of all these men has neither been officially acknowledged, nor has any reason been forwarded for their continued detention without any formal charges by the authorities. This disturbing trend has sparked heightened concern among the entirety of the Gambian populace, especially those who have relations across the security sector.
But there is also a parallel feeling of lack of sympathy among a section of the population who largely blame the security for what is happening to them. It has emerged that many of them follow orders even though they know it is not inline with the constitution. For instance, the former IGP, Ensa Badjie, who has presided over numerous arrests and detention of opponents of the regime without charges, reportedly told his arresters to ‘‘ take me to court before dumping me in Mile II.’’ This, according to observers, indicates Jesus’ knowledge of what it means to be detained in Gambia.
Transfer of ministerial portfolios
In a similar development, the Gambian president has also ordered the transfer of the Religious Affairs, which had hitherto been part of his accruing portfolios, to the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources. And National Assembly Matters has been transferred from the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources to the Ministry of Forestry and the Environment. All this was contained in a news release from the office of the President signed by the Secretary General and Head of the Civil Service, Dr. Njogu Bah, according to news monitored over GRTS.