Is Human Rights Discussion Off The Table?
The stalled political dialogue between the Gambia government and European Union is scheduled to resume this month amidst worries that discussions on human rights will be off the table.
The talks were suspended or called off after Gambian President Yahya Jammeh flatly rejected the EU’s 17-point demands. The demands include respect for human rights in the Gambia.
“It was learnt from some sources that the agenda for the next round of political dialogue with the Gambia Government is being broadened beyond human rights and democracy,” a report on UK-Belgium Advocacy Tour on the Gambia revealed, relying on sources that “human rights will not be on the table – a very worrisome prospect. To this effect, all participants in the Advocacy Tour have proposed immediate, coordinated initiatives to ensure that human rights remains at the core of all deliberations with the Gambia government.”
The one week European tour involves members of the Coalition for Change –The Gambia, Amnesty International and the Campaign for Human Rights and Democracy.
Read full text of the report below:
UK – BELGIUM ADVOCACY TOUR ON THE GAMBIA -May 28 – June 24, 2013
A team of executive members of the Coalition for Change – The Gambia (CCG) in close collaboration with Amnesty International and the Campaign for Human Rights and Democracy (CHRD) embarked on an Advocacy Tour of Europe focusing on The Gambia from May 28 – June 24, 2013.
The tour was led by Dr. Amadou Scattred Janneh, Coordinator of CCG, and included: Alieu Badara Ceesay of CHRD based in Scotland; Ameen Ayodele and Luana Gard of Amnesty International’s International Secretariat in London; Paul Dillane of Amnesty International – UK; and Francesca Feruglio of Amnesty International, EU – Brussels.
EVENTS / ACTIVITIES
(A) Dr. Janneh arrived in the United Kingdom on May 28, 2013 and met Gambians across the country ahead of the June 12, 2013 Seminar organized by Amnesty International. He visited Portsmouth, Newport, Leeds, Bristol, Nottingham, Southampton, and London. Discussions centered on the deteriorating human rights situation in The Gambia, efforts to unify opposition groups under a common platform, and ways in which individuals and groups can play constructive roles in the struggle for democracy in the country.
(B) The tour was quite successful in terms of shedding the media spotlight on The Gambia. Besides the extensive coverage that the June 12, 2013 Seminar attracted, Dr. Janneh was interviewed by two major British newspapers, including The Guardian. He took part in a popular current affairs program on Colourful Radio, and appeared on a news program hosted by Henry Bonsu via the Pan-African TV channel VoxAfrica. The episode was rebroadcast three times during the week.
(C) Dr. Janneh, Alieu Badara Ceesay, and Ameen Ayodele held a meeting with British MP Katy Clark to update her on the situation in The Gambia. The group sought and got her pledge to play a leading role in the struggle to protect and promote human rights in the country. Various recommendations were presented to her after extended discussions.
(D) Another round of discussions were held at the House of Lords by Dr. Janneh, Alieu Badara Ceesay, and Luana Gard with Lord Eric Avebury, Joint Vice Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Rights. Lord Avebury suggested that the team liaise with other parliamentarians to build a strong alliance within the British legislature. He also agreed to introduce a Motion in the House of Lords designed to recognize the work Dr. Janneh and his colleagues have been doing and to express solidarity with those demanding freedom in The Gambia.
(E) Similar sentiments were expressed by Ian Lucas, Labour Party Shadow Minister for Africa, during meetings with Dr. Janneh, Alieu B. Ceesay, and Luana Gard. The group submitted current information on the Gambia and agreed to keep the MP informed. Mr. Lucas offered suggestions on the way forward and promised to bring the issue of human rights in The Gambia up for debate in the House of Commons. He also pledged to seek the support of his colleagues and media associates to keep The Gambia in the limelight and to exert more pressure on the regime in Banjul.
(F) The Brussels Advocacy Round by Dr. Janneh with the support of Francesca Feruglio, Amnesty International’s EU Foreign Policy Assistant, was also quite fruitful. The duo met with Ioana Bobes, Human Rights Unit Officer, DG External Policies, European Parliament; Karolina Stasiak, Desk Officer for Senegal and The Gambia, West Africa Division, European External Action Service; Victoria Correa, Policy Officer, Human Rights Policy and Guideleines, European External Action Service; Anton Jensen and Veronica Girandi, Geographical Coordination for Western and Central Africa, Development and Cooperation Directorate of the European Commission; Leonie Galler of the German Permanent Representation to the EU; and Daniel Sherry of the UK Permanent Representation to the EU.
Dr. Janneh and Francesca Feruglio shared current information on the human rights situation in the Gambia with all parties concerned. As in previous events, Dr. Janneh advanced CCG’s recommendation that the international community adopt tougher measures against Yahya Jammeh’s regime to compel it to abide by The Gambia’s laws and its international obligations.
The group received mixed signals relating to the EU’s possible resumption of political dialogue with the Gambia government in July 2013. The talks were suspended or called off after President Jammeh rejected EU demands that the regime abide by its own commitments to democracy and human rights.
It was learnt from some sources that the agenda for the next round of political dialogue with The Gambia Government is being broadened beyond human rights and democracy. Other reliable sources, however, said human rights will not be on the table – a very worrisome prospect. To this effect, all participants in the Advocacy Tour have proposed immediate, coordinated initiatives to ensure that human rights remains at the core of all deliberations with the Gambia Government.
(G) The Joint Seminar on Human Rights in The Gambia, co-sponsored by Amnesty International and the UK Bar Human Rights Committee on June 12, 2013 in London, was the apex of the Advocacy Tour. With Dr. Janneh as keynote speaker, the program also featured Alieu B. Ceesay of CHRD, Paul Dillane of AI, Ben Cooper from Doughty Street Chambers, and Kirsty Brimelow QC, Chairwoman of the Bar Human Rights Committee.
The panelists focused on the current human rights climate in The Gambia, particularly prison conditions, threats to free expression, and the need for rule of law. The challenges Gambians face in seeking asylum in the UK were also dealt with in detail, with citations of recent cases.
Turnout at the event was quite high, and interactions during and after the seminar indicated heightened concern about human rights in The Gambia.
As a result of the Advocacy Tour, several specific actions or policies have been proposed to bring about change:
1. The imposition of sanctions, such as travel bans and the freezing of assets, targeting President Jammeh and his closest associates and family members;
2. Diplomatic efforts to isolate and shame the Jammeh regime at international organizations until it dramatically alters its treatment of Gambians;
3. Effective use of litigation through regional international courts to end impunity and human rights violations;
4. Gather evidence to build an air-tight case against President Jammeh at the ICC;
5. Devise means of ensuring that Gambians both at home and abroad have unfettered access to information;
6. Concerted, coordinated, and sustained actions to push the agenda for a better human rights environment.
It is worth noting that Amnesty International does not endorse some of these recommendations for policy reasons. However, these reflect the views and positions of many civil society groups working for democratic change in The Gambia.
Dr. Janneh; Banka Manneh, Chairman of Civil Society Associations – Gambia (CSAG); and Ndey Tapha Sosseh, Secretary-General of both CCG and CSAG; will embark on a similar Advocacy Tour of West Africa beginning on July 1, 2013.