EUROPEAN UNION ASKED TO STAND FIRM
ON RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS IN GAMBIA
Right groups have raised concern about the resumption of political dialogue between the Gambia and European Union’s Managing Director for Africa, Nicholas Westcott.
“Coalition for Change – The Gambia (CCG), the Campaign for Human Rights in The Gambia UK (CHRG), and the Civil Society Associations Gambia (CSAG) are deeply concerned about this development especially after it comes in the wake of a public condemnation of the European Union’s demands led by the head of state, President Yahya Jammeh, senior government officials, national assembly members and community leaders,” the groups said in a statement.
The groups “wish to bring to the attention of the European Union delegation that since they made the 17 Point Demands in January 2013 focusing on the revision of media laws, the moratorium on the death penalty, including the provision of information regarding the location of burial of nine death row inmates executed in August 2012 and broader human rights issues; other obnoxious and more stifling media laws have been put in place including the Information and Communication Amendment Act (2013) which was passed into law by the National Assembly on Wednesday, 3 July, 2013. Any person convicted under this law is liable to “a fine of three (3) Million Dalasis approximately US$88,235 or imprisonment for 15 years or to both the fine and imprisonment.” The Act applies to all persons without regard to the place from which the offence was committed.”
The groups also raised concerns over the Gambia government’s refusal to inform families of the executed death row inmates about their place of burial and that many Gambians, including senior government officials continue to be the victims of incommunicado detentions and torture.
However, the groups were comforted by the statements of Nicholas Westcott after he his closed door meeting with President Jammeh that “We raised most of the issues that have been a cause for problems before; we reached an understanding that there should be a full exchange of information from both sides, questions asked, answers provided where they are and that the political dialogue would continue in its full form later this week on 11th July.”
The right groups want the Gambia government to comply with all the Articles of the Cotonu Agreement, which underscore the respect for human rights, rule of law and good governance as the cornerstone for EU support for development. “We understand that Human rights are an essential element of the Cotonou Agreement,” they said. “The human rights situation in the Gambia continues to deteriorate and we insist that the EU must continue to promote a strong commitment to human rights principles,” the groups added, expecting the “EU to stand firm by its demand that families of the executed death row inmates will finally be given the much needed information of where the loved ones were buried to allow them closure from this most traumatic experience.”
They also want the EU to pressure the Gambia government to repeal its recently enacted Communications Bill, which does not fall in line with international standards of Free Expression and Access to Information.
Last month the CHRG and CCG conducted a tour within Europe and in consultations with senior government officials in the UK and the European Union insisted that a strong commitment to human rights principles, rule of law and respect for the dignity of the Gambian people, remains at the forefront of any consultation and continued relationship between the government of the Gambia and the European Union.
Reassurances from Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the United Kingdom’s Senior Minister of State, at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office indicate that the “UK Coalition government and their European partners are in agreement that the EU must continue to promote a strong commitment to human rights principles.”
The CCG, CSAG position is backed by Lord Eric Avebury, joint Vice Chair of the UK, Parliamentary Human Rights Group and Liberal Democrat Peer.
International human rights groups and other CCG, CHRG, CSAG partners in the region are also of the view that a government that does not respect human rights, continues to hold its people ransom and disregards the rule of law should not continue to receive European Union funding.