Archive for the ‘Human Rights’ Category

GAMBIA ON THE BRINK – AS CALLS FOR CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE REVERBRATE; AMIDST GOVERNMENT BARRICADE OF UDP OPPOSITION CONVOY

April 17, 2015
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UDP convoy blocked on the road by the Gambia’s paramilitary thugs for almost 24 Hours

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Gambia’s Police Intervention Thugs

After refusing the country’s main opposition party, United Democratic Party (UDP), legal permits to embark on a 10-days countrywide sensitisation tour, without any reasonable explanation, the Gambia government had, yesterday 16 April 2015, resorted to some of the worst despotic and cowardly actions ever witnessed in the tiny West African country, by denying freedom of movement to the country’s main opposition leader, Lawyer Ousainou Darboe and his party stalwarts, to continue their party’s sensitisation tour of the country sanctioned by the country’s constitution.

The move which angered Lawyer Darboe, who had for long been criticised for his advocacy of restraint and obedience to the law, forcing him to call for his supporters to defy police orders of his party supporters to abort their intended sensitisation tour and return home. The move had further angered the party faithful, who braced themselves for what they feared could become a bloodbath.

Meanwhile, the Gambian dissidents in the Diaspora, who view the impasse as a window of opportunity for a potential civil revolution in the country to end the 21 years tyranny of Dictator Yahya Jammeh, wasted no time in taking over the social media to call for Gambians in the country to take a stand in solidarity with the country’s main opposition leader to end tyranny in the country.

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UDP convoy on the road

The UDP’s intended 10 days tour began yesterday with a press conference held at the party leader’s compound in Serrekunda. Thereafter, the party’s convoy headed to the country starting with town-hall style meeting in the remote villages of Lower Niumi in the North Bank Regions of the country. The convoy was scheduled to spend the first night at Niumi Lamin.

However from the onset, the UDP convoy was constantly followed by members of the Gambia’s Police Intervention Unit (PIU), who were initially thought to have been dispatched to escort them. They held meetings in few villages in the Lower Niumi, before they were finally stopped by the pursuing PIU officers at a village called Fass Njagga Choi and prevented from pursuing their journey.

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Brave women supporters of the UDP

 

The UDP convoy however refused to be cowed and decided not to move an inch backward. This resulted to the impasse between the convoy and PIU, forcing the closure of the main road linking the Lower Niumis to traffic on both side.

The impasse continued throughout Thursday night to Friday, 17 April 2015, as more party sympathisers and other opposition supporters join the convoy.

The party’s faithful and Gambian dissidents in the Diaspora have also commenced fund raising initiatives and media campaigns to galvanise and support the UDP convoy, as well as intensify their calls for Gambians, especially the youths at home, to seize the opportunity and turn this defiance into a successful civil revolution to bring an end to the tyranny of Yahya Jammeh in the Gambia.

However, it seems the Gambian authorities had deliberately decided to wait for the UDP convoy to reach the little hamlet of Fass Njagga Choi to execute their callous and cowardice act of barricading them. The obvious reason for such, could simply be that the paranoid Dictator of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh is too scared to have such an impasse in the densely populated Kombos of the country or the Capital, Banjul. This is due to his fears of arousing civil strife, the likes of which, which had successfully brought down the regime of his former mentor, Muammar Kaddafi of Libya and Blasé Camporee of Burkina Faso.

Kibaaro will endeavour to keep you posted on this unfolding situation in the Gambia.

THE VALIDITY OF GAMBIA’S DEATH PENALTY REGIME: A QUESTION THE SUPREME COURT ANSWERED INCORRECTLY

April 16, 2015
Reads :433
Author: Lamin J. Darboe

Author: Lamin J. Darboe

By Lamin J Darbo

With the recent announcement of Courts Martial verdicts on the 30 December 2014 State House attacks, the question of the death penalty is back on the agenda as a topic of major public interest. Both sides of the underlying political spectrum informing the December events are curious as to whether The Gambia has a valid death penalty law.  

On the death penalty itself, there is philosophical divergence on its appropriateness as a form of punishment in a public environment professing fidelity to the sanctity of life. This is a legitimate dispute over a public question of great moment, and understandably, the philosophical gulf is not completely bridgeable. For some, there is never any justification for state-sanctioned killing, be it judicial, or extra-judicial. Others are firm adherents to the centuries-old precept of ‘a life for a life’, but only in that specific circumstance. What may not be in doubt is the absolute need for watertight procedural safeguards to ensure that for a transaction so terminal, there are no legal regrets after the fact. The stain of unlawful killing by the state is not cleanable!

In a nutshell therefore, and as far as the death penalty is concerned, the fundamental question to be answered is whether the current state of Gambian law permits state-sanctioned killing. There is no question a gap inheres in the law, and it is therefore the duty of the overall public space to engage with the issue and settle the question publicly and transparently.

It may be argued that the law is clear and there is no need for either visiting or revisiting the issue. And what evidence might be advanced for this contention? In the case of Colonel Lamin Bo Badjie & 6 Others and the State (SC Crim. Appeal No: 1-7/2011), the Supreme Court of The Gambia, in a decision delivered 12 November 2014, spoke on the issue and gave an affirmative answer to the question of whether the country has a valid death penalty law. Although the full Bench of seven Justices of the Supreme Court (JSC) sitting in “review” of the matter pursuant to Rule 54(a) of the Supreme Court Rules decided 4-3 against the appropriateness of imposing the death penalty in a matter involving neither “violence”, nor “the administration of any toxic substance, resulting in the death of another person”, it unanimously upheld the legal validity of The Gambia’s death penalty regime.

On the facts as established in that case, the substitution of life imprisonment for the original death sentence was unquestionably the right decision. It is nonetheless a matter of great concern that the original verdict had to run the whole appellate gamut, and an “exceptional” revisit of related issues including the sentence in a full Bench “review” to reverse the glaringly incorrect death sentences imposed by the trial court, a view echoed by Hon. E. K. Ayebe, JSC (Ayebe, JSC) thus: “It does not appear from the record that in confirming the sentence of death, we took into consideration the fact that we could consider the sentence of imprisonment for life too, that no actual violence has occurred …” (p. 33 of Judgment).

Of additional concern is the fact that Hon. Justice Raymond C. Sock, JSC (Sock, JSC), the author of the opinion the full Bench was moved to “review”, changed his vote on the sentence without accepting the reasoning concomitant to any rational change of vote. Instead of embracing the clear command of section 18 of the Constitution (section 18) and unequivocally accept that the death sentences were incorrect, Sock JSC argued: “Although the Applicants failed to urge the Court of Appeal to exercise its discretion under section 6(4) of the Court of Appeal of The Gambia Act and vary the sentence of the trial court, they did raise it before this Court, as I said earlier. The question, however, is whether the ordinary bench of this Court ought to have exercised its discretion under section 126(3) of the Constitution to vary the sentence passed by the trial judge.  I believe this Court should have done so “in the greater interest of justice to avoid a gross miscarriage of justice”, given the particular circumstances of this case and in the absence of any reason by the trial judge for the exercise of his discretion in sentencing the Applicants to death” (p. 46 of Judgment).

This is an incredible copout by Sock, JSC, in light of the fact that “discretion” was not an issue before the “review” Court. On the facts, the Constitutional pronouncement was conclusive! The “trial judge” had no competence, and therefore no “discretion”, on whether or not to impose the death sentence. Similarly, the ordinary Bench led by Sock, JSC, had no competence to maintain the death sentence of the Applicants. If only for the clear and incomprehensible disregard of 18(3), it acted per incuriam!

Unquestionably, there is sentencing discretion available to the courts when dealing with Section 35(1) Criminal Code offences, with the exception of section 35(1)(f) which imposes a mandatory death sentence. However, when the Constitution, and inferior statutory law speaks to an issue, the former reigns supreme. It wins conclusively! As convincingly articulated by Hon. Justice G.B. Semega-Janneh, JSC (Janneh JSC): “… It is only in respect of offences under section 35(1)(f) that the death penalty is mandatory. But in view of the interpretation of section 18 and the provisions of paragraph 16 of the Second Schedule of the Constitution in relation to the facts, the sentence for which the appellants are liable under section 35 is a sentence of life imprisonment”.

Although the reversal of sentence answered that particular issue correctly, the Supreme Court’s ginger dance around the edges of the larger question did not inspire. On the penultimate issue of whether the Gambia has a valid death penalty law, the Supreme Court answered incorrectly, thereby depriving the overall decision of potential landmark status.

At stake is not so much the sentence per se, but whether the courts have competence to impose the death sentence in light of the architecture created by section 18. Since 2007, no level of court in The Gambia has the competence to impose, or maintain, a death sentence.

Of the opinions by the full Bench of seven, Janneh, JSC, gave the most compelling exposition of the Constitutional principles at stake, concentrating more on the larger purpose of section 18 than the questionable grammatical issues seized on by Sock, JSC – the so-called  “problem” of “the misplaced or dangling modifier” – whatever that means (see pp. 48-50 of Judgment). For Sock, JSC, I merely interpose the Supreme Court of India thus: “The attempt of the Court should be to expand the reach and ambit of the Fundamental Rights rather than to attenuate their meaning and content by a process of judicial construction” (Maneka Gandhi v Union of India, AIR 1978 SC 597).

According to Janneh, JSC, “Section 18 is an entrenched clause and protects a fundamental right and freedom. It has now been repeatedly stated and restated in constitutional cases across common law and other national jurisdictions, that a constitution, particularly the part that protects fundamental rights and freedoms, is given a generous and purposive interpretation” (p. 18 of Judgment, citing Attorney General of The Gambia v Momodou Jobe [1984] AC 670, a Privy Council decision).

But even Janneh, JSC, stopped short of categorically stating that pending a mandatory “review” by the National Assembly, and a possible referendum by the electorate, imposed by the Constitution, the death penalty is placed in abeyance and can neither be imposed nor executed and that those sentenced to death after 16 January 2007 cannot be lawfully killed. Even whilst recognizing the complications embedded in section 18, Janneh, JSC, contends:

... However the death sentence is saved by section 18(1) reproduced above. Section

18(3) contemplates the abolition or otherwise of the death sentence. The effect of this

sub-section has been properly and adequately dealt with by my brother the Hon.

Justice R. C. Sock in the lead judgment under review. I have this to add. It is for the

National Assembly and not the courts to act on the sub-section. It is open to civil

society and society at large to urge upon the National Assembly to belatedly act on

the sub-section, that is to say, “review the desirability or otherwise of the total

abolition of the death penalty in The Gambia”. However, let it be noted that in reviewing

the desirability or otherwise of the death penalty, the National Assembly might well

conclude that a total abolition of the death penalty is not desirable and thereby the

death sentence as circumscribed by the Constitution shall remain in place” (pp. 24-25).

More on the above, but suffice for now that section 18 is entrenched, and as such the National Assembly has no unilateral capacity to decide on the death penalty. Poignantly, Janneh, JSC’s worry about the National Assembly’s direction of travel on a “review” of 18(3) is not a matter for the Supreme Court to ponder. As stated, at section 127(1)(a), the Supreme Court has jurisdiction “for the interpretation or enforcement of any provision of this Constitution …”.

It is therefore a matter of great disquiet some JSC’s are quite dismissive in their opinions on an issue so momentous, and voted to maintain the death sentences without advancing any cogent reasons for so doing. They appear to have lost sight of the enormity of the question they were petitioned to pronounce upon, an inexcusable lapse considering the level of court, and the fact that the machinery of justice continues to impose and maintain death sentences.

For example, the Hon. Chief Justice Ali Nawaz Chowhan offered no original thoughts on the thorny issue of the death penalty, relying instead, and wholesale, for that matter, on the earlier panel of five judgments of Sock, JSC, and then Chief Justice Hon. Emmanuel Akomaye Agim (pp. 81-84, and 89-90 of Judgment), effectively confirming the legality of the death penalty, and more crucially, accepting the implicit suggestion running through the opinions that the jurisdiction of the Supreme Court was ousted, and cannot therefore fashion a way out of the evident legal paralysis 18(3) speaks to. Concurring, Hon. Walters S.N. Onnoghen, JSC (Onnoghen, JSC) states: “While the majority of the full Bench are of the view that the court can and should so review, I hold a contrary view mainly because having held that the application for review failed, the failure is total and includes the sentence as affirmed by the ordinary Bench of the court” (p. 105 of Judgment).

In clear conflict with the considered view of Sock, JSC, that the “the ordinary bench of this Court ought to have exercised its discretion under section 126(3) of the Constitution to vary the sentence passed by the trial judge” (p. 46 of Judgment), Onnoghen, JSC asserts: “the matter of sentence was not made an issue before this court on the appeal, the judgment of which is now on review, so this court has no business engaging on a voyage of discovery in respect of the sentence imposed on the applicants” (p. 105 of Judgment).

Not to be outdone, Hon. Justice E.O. Fagbenle, Ag JSC, states: “The applicant has only reopened and reargued all the issues earlier argued and determined by the full panel of 5. It has not canvassed any new grounds showing exceptional circumstances that has led to a total miscarriage of justice. It is on this score that I agree with the ruling of the Hon. Chief Justice that the application be dismissed” (p. 107 Judgment).

Contrast this with the view of the Supreme Court of India that as “the protector and guarantor of the fundamental rights … it cannot, consistently with the responsibility so laid upon it, refuse to entertain applications seeking protection against infringement of such rights” (Romesh Thappar v State of Madras, AIR 1950 SC 124). With utmost respect to Fagbenle, Ag JSC, the “exceptionality” of a wrongly imposed death sentence, is, at the very least, a legitimately contestable issue.

Notwithstanding the position of the Supreme Court therefore, the question of whether there is a legally implementable death penalty law in The Gambia must be seen as an issue of the highest import. I answer that question in the negative, arguing instead, and unequivocally, that there is currently no legally enforceable death penalty law in The Gambia.

As the reader ploughs through, it would be helpful to afford particular attention to section 18, and more especially, to the explicit wording of subsection 18(3). Of all the entrenched clauses, 18(3) alone incorporate a “sunset” provision mandating very specific action within ten years of 16 January 1997. A corollary enquiry must address the issue of the legal permissibility, and, or, fairness, of unilateral benefit to one side of a transaction akin to a contractual relationship between the state and the citizen. In other words, can the state maintain the death penalty, and continue to profit from it even where its permission lapsed, and it either refuses or neglects to renew that permission? In that kind of climate, can the highest court in the land, with the legal authority to pronounce what is law, legitimately absolve itself of responsibility to do so on a public question of such seminal importance?

Pertinently, section 18 states:

(1) No person shall be deprived of his or her life intentionally except in the execution of a sentence of death imposed by a court of competent jurisdiction in respect of a criminal offence for which the penalty is death under the laws of The Gambia as they have effect in accordance with subsection (2) and of which he or she has been lawfully convicted

(2) As from the coming into force of the Constitution, no court in The Gambia shall be competent to impose a sentence of death for any offence unless the sentence is prescribed by law and the offence involves violence, or the administration of any toxic substance, resulting in the death of another person.

(3) The National Assembly shall within ten years from the date of the coming into force of this Constitution review the desirability or otherwise of the total abolition of the death penalty in The Gambia.

As an entrenched provision, section 18 is amendable only via the restrictive procedure delineated at Section 226 of the Constitution, which states:

(2) Subject to subsection (4), a Bill for an Act of the National Assembly under this section shall not be passed by the National Assembly or presented to the President for assent unless-

(a) Before the first reading of the Bill in the National Assembly, the Bill is published in at least two issues of the Gazette, the latest publication being not less than three months after the first, and the Bill is introduced into the National Assembly not earlier than ten days after the latest publication, and

(4) A Bill for an Act of the National Assembly altering any of the provisions referred to in subsection (7) shall not be passed by the National Assembly or presented to the President for assent unless-

(a) the Bill is published and introduced in the manner required by paragraph (a) of subsection (2),

(b) The Bill is supported on the second and third readings by the votes of not less than three quarters of all the members of the National Assembly,

(c) the Bill has been referred by the Speaker to the Independent Electoral Commission and the Commission has within six months of such reference, held a referendum on the Bill and

(d) at least fifty percent of the persons entitled to vote in the referendum have taken part in the referendum and the Bill is supported in the referendum by at least seventy five percent of those who voted

(7) Subsection (4) applies to-

(a) this section (b-d)

(e) Chapter IV (which provides for the protection of fundamental rights and freedoms)

As earlier mentioned, 18(3), alone of the entrenched clauses has a “sunset” provision mandating a particular action within ten years of the Constitution coming into force. Notwithstanding subsection (4)(b) of section 226 that “The Bill is supported on the second and third readings by the votes of not less than three quarters of all the members of the National Assembly”, it is arguable that at least for 18(3), the mandatory “review” slated for the National Assembly is one of mere administrative routine. Unlike other entrenched clauses with no “sunset” provisions, it appears that 18(3) does not contemplate a defeat of the “review” Bill at the National Assembly stage of the multi-faceted procedure delineated for deciding the “desirability or otherwise of the total abolition of the death penalty in The Gambia”.

But even where the strict constructionist would ignore the internal contradictions that beset the Constitution and allow for the defeat of the Bill at the National Assembly stage of the mandatory “review”, there can be no doubt the “review” must take place within ten years. Where the state refuses to abide by the explicit Constitutional command of a “review”, the highest court in the land must declare a judicial moratorium on the death penalty. On different facts, but with identical underlying principles to the command of a “review” in 18(3) on the status of Gambia’s death penalty law, a differently constituted Supreme Court, in a declaratory judgment, ordered the Independent Electoral Commission “to hold Chieftaincy elections as required by the Constitution” (The Constitutional Law of The Gambia: 1965-2010, by Ousman A S Jammeh, at p. 256).

In that celebrated case of Fasaikou Jabbi v Kebba Fanta Koma, the AG, & Others[Civil Application Number 4/2000] (Sup. Court), the plaintiff, “of Lameng Koto village, Sami District … sought to ensure compliance with the Constitution as supreme law… Jabbi took out an originating summons in the High Court against the Defendants namely, Kebba Fanta Koma, then acting Chief of Sami District, Central River Region, the Minister for Local Government and the Attorney General, praying” thus:

  • “a declaration that the continued holding and performance of the functions and duties of the office of District Chief of Sami District by the first defendant is in contravention of section 58 of the 1997 Constitution and therefore null and void;
  • a declaration that the act of the second defendant to retain the first defendant as Chief for the District of Sami without holding an election to fill the vacancy created by the removal/retirement of Musa Coma is unconstitutional, null and void; and
  • an order or directive restraining the first defendant from parading or holding himself out as Chief of Sami District until he is properly elected as such in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution and the Elections Decree, 1996” (Ibid).

In the emphatic and cogent analytical words of Ousman A S Jammeh, this “was another unprecedented case of constitutional significance arising from an omission, rather than an act of commission on the part of the executive, and by implication, the legislature”. The decision of course found disfavour “with the executive branch” (Ibid, at p. 113), and was predictably followed by a Constitutional Amendment in 2001 making chieftaincy an appointive position, but at least the intervention of the Court spurred movement by the drivers of public policy, in this case the Executive, and the Legislature.

Given its own precedent, albeit by a differently constituted Supreme Court, it is wholly unpersuasive for Janneh, JSC, to interpose an argument akin to what is known in US federal jurisprudence as the “political question”, a doctrine fully enunciated in the landmark case of Baker v Carr 369 US 186 (1962). In deciding that there is no implementable death penalty law, the Supreme Court would not be traversing Constitutional demarcations by intruding into legislative territory. Indeed it is the function of the courts to uphold “the Constitution and to this end, have been conferred the power to interpret it. It is they who have to ensure that the balance of power envisaged by the Constitution is maintained and that the legislature and executive do not, in the discharge of their functions, transgress constitutional limitations” (L. Chandra Kumar v Union of India AIR 1997 SC 1125 at 1149-50).

In the inspiring words of the Indian Supreme Court, “Articles 32, 141 and 142 are couched in such wide and elastic terms as to enable this Court to formulate legal doctrines to meet the ends of justice … To deny this power to the Supreme Court on the basis of some outmoded theory that the court only finds the law but does not make it is to make ineffective the powerful instrument of justice placed in the hands of the highest judiciary of this country” (I. C. Golak Nath v State of Punjab AIR 1967 SC 1643, at 1668-9).

Considering the many currently on death row, the validity or otherwise of the death penalty is a legal question that comes within the competence of the Supreme Court to settle once and for all. In the Indian case of Minerva Mills Ltd v Union of  India, AIR 1980 SC 1789, the Chief Justice, for the majority, ruled: “It is the function of the Judges, nay their duty, to pronounce the validity of laws. If Courts are totally deprived of that power, the fundamental rights conferred on the people will become a mere adornment because rights without remedies are as writ in water. A controlled constitution will then become uncontrolled”.

I accept that it cannot enforce an order directing the National Assembly to “review the desirability or otherwise of the total abolition of the death penalty in The Gambia”, but there is no question that given the wholly legal nature of the matter, the Supreme Court has the Constitutional mandate, and the public responsibility no less, to place a judicial moratorium on the imposition, maintenance, or execution of the death penalty. In the words of Ayebi, JSC, “the framer of the Constitution would want the retention of the death penalty on the statute books in the Gambia considered or given a second look after the operation of the Constitution for a period. That in my view is the spirit of the Constitution” (p. 32 of Judgment), and in this regard, in its interpretive role, “the judicial approach should be dynamic rather than static, pragmatic and not pedantic and elastic rather than rigid” (Pathumma v State of Kerala AIR 1978 SC 771, at 774).

From the onset, there is absolute clarity on the fact that section 18, as part of Chapter IV of the Constitution, is an entrenched provision. The fundamental point to note is therefore that in light of the constitutional architecture on entrenchment, the National Assembly has no unilateral capacity to “review the desirability or otherwise of the total abolition of the death penalty in The Gambia”. In simple terms, 18(3) of the Constitution mandates the National Assembly to initiate a referendum process on “the desirability or otherwise of the total abolition of the death penalty in The Gambia”. The National Assembly can only validly act in collaboration with the electorate. In theory at least, it can also refuse to act by defeating any Bill on amending section 18 of the Constitution, thereby foreclosing any need to consult the people on whether to maintain the death penalty or not.

On any reading of 18(3), it is clear that the National Assembly is under Constitutional compulsion to initiate the “review” process. And provided the most critical hurdle of section 226(4)(b), i.e., “the Bill is supported on the second and third readings by the votes of not less than three quarters of all the members of the National Assembly”, a referendum vote on the simple question of whether or not The Gambia should maintain the death penalty must take place by 16 January 2007 at the very latest.

Albeit partially, I concede there is an argument The Gambia had a valid death penalty law from 10 August 1995 when the AFPRC reinstated it, up to, and including 16 January 2007. That validity, sanctioned by a higher law and encapsulated in 18(1), and 18(2) of the Constitution, lapsed on 16 January 2007. On 17 January 2007, an automatic moratorium on conviction, sentence, and implementation of the death penalty kicked in by virtue of 18(3) of the Constitution. That moratorium is what the Supreme Court must now unequivocally pronounce!

In other words, 18 (1) and (2) ceased to have effect and were placed in abeyance by the express overriding qualifier of 18(3) in so far as the constitutional command of a “review”, and a possible referendum, on the death penalty did not take place. All death sentences not implemented as of 16 January 2007 were constitutionally stayed. And all death sentences imposed since 17 January 2007 were legally invalid. The supremacy clause at Section 4 of the Constitution overrides the Death Penalty Restoration Act 1995 (see Cap 11:02, Laws of The Gambia, 2009). And notwithstanding anything in section 35 of the Criminal Code, no court in The Gambia is competent to impose, maintain, or implement a sentence of death.

Considering the constitutional timelines around a mandatory “review” of the death penalty law in The Gambia, assuming no hurdle at the National Assembly, even 16 January 2007 as an absolute deadline must be construed as somewhat of a charitable interpretation of the law. The outer deadline of ten years assumes the “review” and potential referendum process was in motion in accordance with the stipulated timelines in section 226 (2)(a) of the Constitution regarding publication of a pertinent Bill in at least two issues of the Gazette, the latest publication being not less than three months after the first, and the Bill is introduced into the National Assembly not earlier than ten days after the latest publication. This alone is a clear 100 days before the mandatory “review” deadline of 16 January 2007!

On commencement of the Bill’s journey through the National Assembly, it may take a good two to three months through the third reading and voting on the matter. After this constitutionally mandated journey in the National Assembly, and again depending on the decision of that legislative body, the Speaker must refer the Bill to the Independent Electoral Commission which must, within six months of such reference, organise a referendum on the Bill. As the wording on timelines permit some discretion on when certain things happen, e.g., “within six months”, it is reasonable to assume that from the first reading of the death penalty retention or abolition Bill in the National Assembly through the holding of a referendum by the IEC, a solid six to nine months could, at the very least, lapsed.

What this means is that a “review”, and possible referendum process, must have commenced in January 2006 to avoid legal uncertainty over the death penalty. Although the commencement of a “review” and referendum process in January 2006 would not have invalidated 18(1) and (2), it would have suspended the implementation of the death penalty pending the verdicts of the National Assembly and the electorate. Since the mandatory “review” and potential referendum process was not even attempted, a strict application of 18(3) suggests the death penalty was in abeyance as early as January 2006.

If only because the Constitutional mandate was inexplicably ignored by the drivers of public legislative power, in this case the National Assembly, and the Executive, the Supreme Court cannot absolve itself of responsibility to act on the matter. It may well be for the “National Assembly” to act on “sub-section” 18, but there is no question citizens and residents of The Gambia continue to endure the strictures of a law no longer validly implementable.

It may be “open to civil society and society at large to urge upon the National Assembly to belatedly act on the sub-section, that is to say, “review the desirability or otherwise of the total abolition of the death penalty in The Gambia”, but there is no question the Supreme Court has the Constitutional mandate to apply the brakes and impose a judicial moratorium on the imposition and implementation of death sentences. This is not remotely akin to trampling on the domains of either the Executive, or Legislative arms of government, but of protecting the polity itself by removing “certain basic and fundamental values out of the reach of transient political majorities” (Fifty Years of the Supreme Court of India: Its Grasp and Reach, Oxford University Press, 2000). Legality is the software of a democratic political system. Without it, the mainframe is but a mere carcass!

When the question returns to its docket, as it certainly will, the Supreme Court must not again squander the opportunity, and duty, to hold the drivers of public power to account by declaring a judicial moratorium on the death penalty pending National Assembly compliance with a “review”, and potential referendum, as commanded by 18(3) on this thorny, if highly significant issue of public concern.

 

Lamin J Darbo

REFUGEES’ TESTIMONIES SUPPORT UN SPECIAL RAPPORTEUR’S TORTURE REPORT ON GAMBIA

April 16, 2015
Reads :593
Lamin Waa Juwara

Evidence of torture in the Gambia

By Djibril Balde

On 16 March 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Mendez, released the report of his November 2014, visit to the Gambia. Torture is a crime under Section 21 of the Gambian constitution as well as a result of the ratification of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (although it has not yet deposited its instruments of ratification for the latter with the UN Secretary General). Yet the Special Rapporteur found that a number of practices in the Gambia violate international legal standards with regard to the prevention and punishment of torture. Indeed the report finds there is a regular practice of torture carried out by the NIA (National Intelligence Agency):

“The mistreatment inflicted was normally of short duration, consisting mainly of physical trauma caused by punches, slapping and blows with objects such as canes or batons and burns.” (Report of the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Juan Ernesto Mendez – Addendum – Mission to Gambia, para 25)

Since 2010, IRRI has interviewed more than 113 Gambian refugees in and around Dakar, Senegal and their credible and consistent stories corroborate many of the findings of the Special Rapporteur’s report and suggest that torture is particularly prevalent in NIA custody, that it often occurs in “unofficial” places of detention, and that impunity for torture prevails.

Although he was unable to independently verify the existence of “unofficial” places of detention, the Rapporteur notes that he:

“heard testimonies and received corroboration from a number of reliable sources that there are also “unofficial” places of detention in The Gambia. This includes secret cells in military barracks, NIA and NDEA Headquarters, prisons, and police stations, particularly in remote areas. He also received numerous testimonies that referred to a “Bambidinka” or crocodile pond which is reportedly a “dungeon” of small, dark and isolated holding cells in the ground, reportedly at Jeshwang prison and NIA Headquarters. (para 38)

Consistent with these reports, in March 2015 a Gambian journalist and asylum seeker in Senegal told IRRI that he was arrested from his house by five national security agents, blindfolded, and taken to an unknown location for interrogation. During the interrogation he was hit on his forehead but was unable to tell what weapon was used because of the blindfold and he continued to receive severe beatings throughout the day. He was released after one day in detention and warned: 

“You think we don’t know what you’re up to? We know that you are supplying information to opposition and enemies of the Gambia abroad. You know what happens to people who can’t stay out of the government’s business. If you don’t silence yourself, we will come back for you. When we do, will be different from this time.”

He later fled the Gambia to Senegal, where he applied for refugee status, and sought medical treatment for the injuries sustained during the torture. The effects of abuse on his body are plainly evident.

Another asylum seeker also interviewed by IRRI in March 2015, reported having experienced a phenomenon also noted by the Special Rapporteur in which those subject to torture in NIA custody are transferred after some time into police custody. This individual, a former member of the Gambian National Army, told IRRI that he was dismissed and arrested in 2009 for disobeying orders and insubordination because he refused to participate in government efforts to use soldiers to suppress the opposition and the media. Later, he joined the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP). During, the presidential elections of 2011, security agents arrested him again and took him to the NIA headquarters in Banjul for interrogation. He was tortured for a week by NIA personnel and masked soldiers, before being transferred to the state prison, where he was further tortured.

He claims that that whilst handcuffed, he was suffocated with plastic bags, electrocuted, severely beaten, and starved for several weeks. Eventually, he collapsed and only then was he taken to the Royal Victoria hospital in Banjul, where he received medical treatment. Some days later, at around 4.00am, he escaped from the hospital while the police officer on guard was sleeping. With the help of fishermen, he crossed the river by boat and trekked on foot through the bush to enter Senegal. He is now living in Senegal as an asylum seeker but is suffering from psychological problems as a result of his detention and torture.

As noted in the Special Rapporteur’s report, reports of torture have continued unabated. As discussed in a previous blog, an attempted coup d’etat in the Gambia on 30 December 2014 led to a significant crackdown in the Gambia. According to the Special Rapporteur, in early January “it was reported that at least fifty-two individuals (civilian and military personnel), some of them family members of the insurgents, were being held and their whereabouts is unknown; they may be at unofficial places of detention and at great risk of being tortured” (para 14). IRRI has heard similar stories. Recently, a family member of one of the soldiers allegedly involved in the failed coup was arrested and detained for one week in an unofficial detention centre. After having fled to Senegal, he reported that national security agents beat him and threatened him with death during interrogation. He reports that he was released following the investigation about the failed coup attempt, and was subsequently cleared, but was warned to be careful of to whom he spoke and that even if he ran to Senegal he would still be monitored.

Many Gambians have welcomed the visit and report of the Special Rapporteur. One Gambian human rights defender told IRRI that the visit was a step in the right direction to fight torture. He appreciated the detailed nature of the report and its recommendations, expressing the importance that the latter be implemented to the letter by the government of the Gambia. In particular he pointed to the recommendation that the government “[a]ccelerate the review of the National Human Rights Commission Bill, 2014 that is before the National Assembly to ensure that it will be an independent and impartial institution, established in accordance with the principles relating to the status of national institutions (the Paris Principles)”. Such a commission would be vital in monitoring the human rights situation. He further emphasised that torture is a serious crime, both in the Gambian constitution and Article 1 of the Convention against Torture and those who carry it out should be punished by law.

It is clear that the report is just the first step in addressing the issue of torture in the Gambia. The report ends with five pages of recommendations, laying out a strong plan of action for addressing torture in the Gambia. It is essential that the international community, including African state and non-state actors, ECOWAS, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and respective African organs mobilise and put pressure on the Gambia to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur. In addition, IRRI recommends that all of these be implemented, but with particular urgency:

1) Revise the law to strengthen protection against torture: While the prohibition against torture is included in the constitution of the Gambia, additional provisions should be introduced to clarify that that this right is absolute and non-derogable. Torture should also be established as an offence in national law, defined in accordance with Article 1 of the Convention against Torture and the criminal procedure code should be amended to make clear that any evidence obtained as a result of torture will not be admissible in court.

2) Set up a National Human Rights Commission and other mechanisms to investigate and punish acts of torture and other allegations of human rights abuses.

3) Close all unofficial places of detention as the mere existence of such facilities is a violation of international law.

NAM PA MALICK CEESAY REMANDED FOR ALLEGED ECONOMIC CRIME

April 14, 2015
Reads :931

PA M CEESAY AT THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

PA M CEESAY AT THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY

Kibaaro News has been reliably informed that National Assembly Member for Lower Saloum, Hon. Pa Malick Ceesay, has been arrested and remanded for purportedly committing economic crime. As we go to press, Pa Malick Ceesay, a one time stout supporter of Dictator Yahya Jammeh and National Assembly Member for Lower Saloum is in the net of the notorious NIA. Early last year, Hon Ceesay had his membership of the Public Accounts Committee and Public Enterprise Committee (PAC/PEC) terminated. In a letter addressed to Hon Ceesay, the National Assembly said it terminated his membership because his “conduct has been found to be grossly out of order and unacceptable.” The letter fell short in shedding light on what the supposed “unacceptable” conduct was but when on to state that  Hon Ceesay’s membership of PAC/PEC “was terminated with effect from Thursday 29th January 2014.”

A source close to the estranged NAM disclosed to Kibaaro that Mr Ceesay foresaw his arrest days after he received his membership termination letter signed by the Clerk of the National Assembly, D.C.M Kebbeh. The same source added “the National Assembly received a complaint against Hon Ceesay, from the Joint Session PAC/PEC, at its meeting on Thursday, 29th January 2014.”  Now it appears that Pa Malick Ceesay has landed into the Dictator Jammeh’s trap.  He charged with seven counts of economic crimes and is remanded at the notorious NIA headquarters in Banjul.

 

Hon Pa Malick Ceesay’s scenario speaks volumes on how President Jammeh treat lawmakers of the Gambia. His family is worried that he will not only be denied due process of the law but he will be subjected to gruesome torture while in the hands of the NIA helping them in their investigation.

FATOU DRAMMEH, WHO WAS DETAINED FOR MORE THAN 2 YEARS WITHOUT CHARGE, CRIES FOUL OVER HER PRISON CONDITION

April 12, 2015
Reads :3350
FATOU DRAMMEH

FATOU DRAMMEH

Kibaaro News has received dependable information that the Gambian security has released a long time detained suspect, Fatou Drammeh, who was allegedly arrested in suspicion of secretly thrashing government information to Gambian online media houses in the diaspora and Gambia’s ex-military officers in abroad. A team of NIA undercover operatives arrested Fatou Drammeh on 27 June, 2012 and kept her incommunicado.

Fatou, a staff of the record office in Banjul, started having problems when her junior staff at work constantly talked about tribalism and how soon all enemies of President Jammeh would be fired especially those secretly supporting the Mandinka UDP Party.  Fatou, known for her steadfastness in promoting unity at her work, confronted her junior staff that she would not allow politics and discussion of discrimination in her office. She was reported to the authorities by one of her juniors it is believed. On 27th June, 2012 the Gambia’s fearful National Intelligent Agency picked up madam Drammeh from home and her two children at about 21:15 PM local time. The NIA officers who arrested her were all in plain clothes with one informer, who is a lady, and personally known to Fatou. She phoned Fatou on her mobile phone asking if she was home as she needed to see her urgently for personal reason while the NIA officers were waiting in an unidentified car.

The NIA officers waiting in the car came out and approach Fatou and said to her that she was wanted at the NIA headquarters in Banjul to answer some security questions. They refused to tell her what exactly was going on apart from “you will know when we arrived at the head office”. Her mobile phone was confiscated before their arrival in Banjul to prevent her from telling her family that she was detained. That was how she went missing for over two and half years. But out of the blue on the 8th of April, 20015 she was released on bail after her family coughed out D25, 000.00. The family then took her to Senegal for medical treatment but were warned by the NIA that she must return to report on bail or her surety will be arrested as she is to appear in court on 19 August 2015. Upon her release, Fabakary Drammeh, her father, spoke to one NIA officer, Salifu Nyassi, and he reiterated to him that the Gambia constitutional law limited detention without trial for any 72 hours and asked why his daughter and many Gambians are unlawfully detained for extended period of time without trial. Our investigation confirmed that in reply, the NIA officer told him, “decisions and orders are received from the top and they are merely doing what they are asked to do”.  Narrating her ordeal in prison to her family, tearful Fatou relived how she was “tortured, beaten up, and forced to confess. “I was denied access to legal counsel and subjected to all kinds of degrading human treatment in the prison”. “I went through Hell”, but I still kept firm because I know I had not done anything morally wrong and let justice guide our actions” she added choking in tears. Fatou is reported to have been sick while in detention but denied medical attention and her family was told that she was moved to a different detention centre which they were not allowed to disclose for security reason. Media coverage about her story was less copious due to family fear for her live and the gaping holes in the Gambia judicial system which is controlled and dictated by the President Yahya Jammeh.

The government set up a media commission to strength its control over the media in Gambia, but retaining far-reaching power to control Gambian online news papers. Legal battle continued between government and Gambia Press Union about imposing sanctions on journalists ranging from suspension of media houses to prison sentence. However, Gambian journalists are committed to professional journalism and media friendly society to promote and defend the rights and freedom of expression in Gambia which includes freedom of the media.

UDP LEADER UNLOCKS THE DANGEROUS LINKS BETWEEN CORRUPTION AND PERVASIVE HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSE TO THE GROWING INFLUENCE OF INSECURITY ON POLITICS IN WEST AFRICA

April 12, 2015
Reads :391
UDP LEADER-LAWYER DARBOE

UDP LEADER-LAWYER DARBOE

The leader of the United Democratic Party (UDP) Lawyer Ousainou Darboe has warned West African leaders to curb corruption and pervasive human rights abuse if they are to be successful in combating the growing insecurity in West Africa. The UDP leader was speaking at a well-attended international confab of the Socialist International in the Malian capital of Bamako on April 10th 2015 where he presented a paper on: The growing influence of insecurity on politics in West Africa: Unlocking the dangerous links between insecurity and transnational crime, corruption, lack of respect for human rights and democratic governance in the region.

The UDP leader’s speech which was constantly interrupted by clapping and standing ovation, covered in detail, the underlining factors that promote insecurity in the region.

Insecurity fuelled by State sanctioned repression and rights abuses

Lawyer Darboe said in order to understand why there has been a rise in insecurity in West Africa, people have to look at the interconnectedness of other opportunistic factors that breed insecurity leading to their pervasive impact on politics generally.

He said “in many West African countries, there is hardly a distinction between the State and the ruling party. Quite often, ruling parties in their quest to remain in power, put in place deliberate policies in guise of protecting national security to systematically suppress dissent; muzzle freedom of expression and of the media; and deny citizens their basic and fundamental rights

“In some countries, a mere attempt by the opposition to organize political rallies at the very least, receive puzzle response from the authorities. In more severe cases, heavy handed security tactics are used to clamp down on the opposition as a deliberate ploy to distance the opposition from its constituent supporters” the UDP leader said.

He added that rule of law is also hardly respected characterized by a persistent disregard for the due process. “Electoral reforms that could bring about credible, transparent, free and fair elections are always frowned upon. Where they are put under pressure, ruling parties accept reforms that are only but cosmetic” Mr Darboe said attracting loud applause from the audience.

 “In such situations distinguish ladies and gentlemen, resentments against the established order are strong that normally translates into violent conflict and confrontation” Mr Darboe said.

 The twin evils of poverty and corruption

The UDP leader also dwelled on what he called “the twin evils of poverty and corruption” that contribute greatly to insecurity in West Africa, thereby affecting peaceful political conduct. Lawyer Darboe said: “Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, behind the competition for political dominance in the countries of West Africa, reveals some deep seated cowardly facades by the political class particularly those in charge of the nations’ coffers to perpetually keep the messes in poverty.

“Deliberately, some governments will even deny development programmes to their own citizens because they are deemed to be opposition supporters. In most of these communities, unemployment is unbearably high and they also lack the basic of opportunities. In addition, national resources are plundered and State coffers looted.”

 He added that in a situation where people lack hope and opportunities, and are deliberately downtrodden, they resort to measures that could have profound consequence on peace and security talk less of peaceful politicking.

Thus, Lawyer said, “the twin evils of poverty and corruption that our governments continue to perpetuate, are important factors that we should not ignore when we discuss politics and insecurity in West Africa.”

Conference delegates praised the UDP leader for well researched paper and they called on governments in the region and across Africa to take note of the issues raised in presentation in order to effectively tackle insecurity while at the same time guaranteeing political freedoms.

……………………………………….

Below is Lawyer Ousainou Darboe’s full speech.

…………………………………………..

Speech delivered by United Democratic Party leader Lawyer Ousainou Darboe of the Gambia during the SI Africa council meeting held in Bamako Mali.

Protocol: Mr Chairman, party leaders present here, distinguished delegates, ladies and gentlemen. I stand on existing protocols.

West Africa is witnessing a rebirth in the quest to establish sustainable democratic systems across the region.

From Senegal to Ghana; Ivory Coast to Benin and most recently Nigeria, tremendous successes are being registered where power changed hands through the ballot box. In some of these cases, opposition parties turned the tide by wresting power from ruling parties through keenly contested general elections. This goes to show that when the playing field is levelled, and the due process respected, victory can go either way. The recent electoral successes in Nigeria by the opposition All Progressive Congress is pointer to this. And let me take this opportunity to profoundly thank the people of Nigeria and indeed the APC party on their success in the just concluded general elections.

Mr Chairman, I am tasked to present a paper on “the influence of insecurity on the politics of West Africa.” I have tried as much to go beyond the academic exercise of this issue by bringing out the interconnectedness of other opportunistic factors that have direct bearing or shall I say that breed insecurity leading to pervasive impact on politics generally. They include:

The influence of State repression and lack of respect for due process and their attendant consequences on peaceful politics in the region:

In many West African countries, there is hardly a distinction between the State and the ruling party. Quite often, ruling parties in their quest to remain in power, put in place deliberate policies in guise of protecting national security to systematically suppress dissent; muzzle freedom of expression and of the media; and deny citizens their basic and fundamental rights.

In some countries, a mere attempt by the opposition to organize political rallies at the very least, receive puzzle response from the authorities. In more severe cases, heavy handed security tactics are used to clamp down on the opposition as a deliberate ploy to distance the opposition from its constituent supporters.

Independent journalism is also crushed and in some countries where even a free media flourishes, underhand tactics are deployed to starve the media of the much needed income to stay vibrant. This is always a deliberate attempt to suppress and keep the unsuspecting populace in the dark.

Rule of law is also hardy respected characterised by a persistent disregard for the due process. Electoral reforms that could bring about credible, transparent, free and fair elections are always frowned upon. Where they are put under pressure, ruling parties accept reforms that are only but cosmetic.

In such situations distinguish ladies and gentlemen, resentments against the established order are strong that normally translates into violent conflict and confrontation.

The twin evils of poverty and corruption:

Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, behind the competition for political dominance in the countries of West Africa, reveals some deep seated cowardly facades by the political class particularly those in charge of the nations’ coffers to perpetually keep the messes in poverty.

Deliberately, some governments will even deny development programmes to their own citizens because they are deemed to be opposition supporters. In most of these communities, unemployment is unbearably high and they also lack the basic of opportunities.

In addition, national resources are plundered and State coffers looted. In a situation where people lack hope and opportunities, and are deliberately downtrodden, they resort to measures that could have profound consequence on peace and security talk less of peaceful politicking.

Thus, the twin evils of poverty and corruption that our governments continue to perpetuate, are important factors that we should not ignore when we discuss politics and insecurity in West Africa.

Terrorism: A new shockwave that should serve as a wakeup call Mr Chairman, ladies and gentlemen, West Africa, like other parts of the continent, is grappling with a new cancer that is feeding on the fallout from the unrestrained public corruption, poverty and state repression. From Mali to Niger, Mauritania to Nigeria, tragic as it were, Islamist insurgents are using our fault lines of ethnicity and religion as well as resentment against repressive regimes to recruit and turn our young people into potential jihadists and martyrs.

Terrorist networks and sleeper cells are capitalizing on our governments’ repressive and flourished corrupt practices as magnets to recruit our children who are consumed by hopelessness and lack of opportunities.

In some of the countries where our education systems especially Islamic education are left at the mercy of foreign benevolence, our children are being fed with new ideologies that are inimical to peaceful coexistence. The broken education systems caused by neglect and official corruption are becoming the new feeding points for recruitment.

In a situation where minimal state supervision and funding is provided to religious schools, their survival entirely deponent on outside funding by mainly charitable NGOs from countries whose curriculum is very much oriented on radical teachings.

And this is where the problem lies as far as the influence of terrorism among young people is concerned because from the very beginning, the children are brainwashed and taught certain principles that make them see the society differently.

Where young people are taught to despise the very political institutions and systems from the very beginning, they will certainly grow up to be handfuls.    Surviving on organized crimes.

 Organized crime is another serious concern in West Africa that is pushing new boundaries. Because of endemic corruption and weak governance prevalent in the region, organized criminal cartels are increasingly targeting West Africa for their illicit activities. And these cartels have found willing and unholy alliances among our security forces, judiciary, financial institutions and more scarily among our young people.

 West Africa, being a region synonymous to civil wars and proxy military coups fuelled mainly by bad governance, Organized Criminal networks are asserting their influence and control of the region. For example in Guinea Bissau from 2007 to 2011 at the height of the drug trade engineered by Latin American cartels, the street value of the monthly export of cocaine trade to mainly European countries was estimated to worth more than the yearly international aid to that country.

In 2010, an estimated two tons cocaine mule was discovered in the Gambia worth over $1 billion. The alleged owners of the drug being Latin American and some European nationals were apparently prosecuted and jail for more than 50 years.

Over the last three years, in Senegal, Ghana, and Sierra Leone, cargo ships were intercepted on which huge amount of drugs were found. In the desert region of the border between Mali and Niger, a passenger plane was found abandoned and disabled after it was apparently used to smuggle drugs from the desert regions of the Sahara to Northern Europe.

The effects of arms trafficking through Organized Crime has been having its toll on West Africa with often devastating consequences of deaths and untold destruction. Most of these arms are used in the conflicts in the region. In the past two decades alone, West Africa had endured three brutal civil wars in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast with a combine death toll of more than 250 000 people. The current conflict in Northern Nigeria is mainly fuelled thanks to proceeds from organized criminal activities which are particularly used to buy weapons for the Islamists insurgents linked to Al-Qaida.  All these have profound effects on peaceful and democratic politicking in our Sub region..

In conclusion Mr Chairman, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, what is happening in our region regarding insecurity should serve as a wakeup call for all of us. If West Africa and indeed the entire continent is to is to be successful in countering the influence of insecurity on our body politics, the States and indeed “WE” should develop strong interest in establishing just societies, fight corruption in all its forms and manifestations, respect the rule of law, human rights and put in place programmes that will bring about sustainable development and poverty reduction..The alternatives, ladies and gentlemen would continue to be costly for the  sub region in terms 0f  not only the lost of human life but also of property.

Thank you for your kind attention.

IS IT PRESIDENT JAMMEH’S FAULT?

April 10, 2015
Reads :929
THE DICTATOR JAMMEH

THE DICTATOR JAMMEH

It is 15 years today since 14 unarmed Gambian students were murdered in cold blood broad daylight by Dictator Jammeh’s armed bandits in uniform. Some of those who perpetrated the callous killing and maiming of those vulnerable students still walk freely in the streets of Banjul with impunity. What is even more disheartening is the government’s unapologetic stance in blaming the student leaders for the death of their colleagues. In a statement issued by the unremorseful Jammeh government, VP Isatou Njie-Saidy stated that it “was the students who first opened fire on the security men”. Suffice it to say if that assertion holds any iota of water, how come the security did not sustain any casualty like the students? One day, perhaps, when all things fit perfectly well to make sense; justice will be served evenly for to all parties.

It all started on March 8, 2000 at Forster Secondary School in Brikama when one Ebrima Barry, a 19-year-old student was sent out of his class for insulting a teacher. Paul, Ebrima’s teacher called the Fire Service Officers who are close to the school to come and remove Barry from the class as he feared Ebrima will not leave without a fight. At the station, his head was shaved, he was severely beaten and forced to carry heavy bags of cement while stripped naked. He was also coerced to drink a concoction of cement. Next day, Ebrima Barry was no more. The Gambia Students’ Union (GAMSU) through its leadership pushed for an autopsy on Ebrima to determine the actual cause of his death. Their efforts to get justice for their colleague was met by the government lack of interest to thoroughly investigate Ebrima’s murder. Instead, it embarked on a cover-up scheme. While GAMSU was protesting the killing of Ebrima Barry, a 13-year-old girl from Brikama Ba was raped by an armed uniform man at the Independent Stadium during an inter-schools sports competition. GAMSU became outraged by the government’s lack of interest in both events and concluded to protest on April 10, 2000 to register their profound dissatisfaction with the authorities.

Sadly, their peaceful protest was brutally repelled by the Jammeh government. Dictator Jammeh who was out of the country at the time gave orders, according to highly placed sources, for the shooting and killing of the students. Reports had it that Dictator Jammeh believed the students were used by the opposition to destabilize his young and fragile regime. “Kill all the bastards”, he ordered sternly. As the news of brutal killing of unarmed students spread, it sparked a nationwide student riot. The provincial students also took to the streets in support of their colleagues. Sensing more danger, the tyrant regime ordered the closure of all schools throughout the country for days. Some of the student leaders were arrested while others went into hiding and subsequently fled the country.

A responsible government led by a people’s leader would have worked closely with the student leaders to ensure both Ebrima Barry and the 13-year-old girl had the justice they deserve. An investigation team comprising security officers, student leaders and civilian should have been commissioned to thoroughly look into both allegations. Whatever findings and recommendations they eventually come up with, should be carried out to the letter. Then, the students would not have taken to the streets. It is now 15 years, why is the Jammeh regime still not doing anything to bring to justice the students’ killers? Why are the victims and their families still not compensated by the government?

In a nutshell, Dictator Jammeh has no respect for human life apart from his. As a result, it is about time that we usher him to the exit. How many Gambians have been killed, tortured, unlawfully detained and forced to flee the country since 2000? Many youthful lives of Gambians have perished in the Mediterranean Sea in search of greener pasture. How long shall we continue to live as Gambians while Dictator Jammeh continually kills, detains and banishes us at will? Is that how we should love our country? Loving a country means standing up against injustice or anything that will derail the progress, peace and stability of that country. What is currently prevailing in the Gambia is the fermentation of hatred and anger which breed civil unrest.  We often say, we don’t want any instability or unrest in the Gambia but are we doing anything to avert that? Condoning Dictator Jammeh means fuelling unrest.

Sulayman Jeng

Birmingham, UK