9 May 2019

Gambia: Government Commutes All Death Sentences to Life Imprisonment

Photo: Glenna Gordon
(file photo)

Abubacar Tambadou, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice said on Tuesday 7th May 2019 the government of The Gambia is committed to removing the death penalty in the laws of the land.

He said as far as the CRC public consultations are concerned, there is a divided public opinion with regards to the death penalty in The Gambia where some believe it should be maintained whereas others are of the opinion that it should be revoked from the laws of the land. He said the government is awaiting the report by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC).

He told the press that the government of the Gambia as part of fulfilling its international obligation is willing to revoke the death penalty. He said 22 death sentences have been commuted life imprisonment sentences.

"There is no longer any person on death row," the Minister explained, adding that their death sentences have been commuted to life imprisonment.

On the reforms, Tambadou said his office will ensure that there is no culture of impunity in the Gambia. He added that The Gambia would no longer tolerate human rights violations or impunity.

Arrests of TRC Witnesses

Minister Tambadou said the TRRC process is a victim-centred process, - therefore witnesses appearing the before Commission must ensure that they speak the truth and help victims in their truth-seeking process.

Tambadou said in most of his public consultations for the past two years on this matter, he always encouraged witnesses to come forward, to tell the truth. "Come forward with the truth, potentially benefit from an amnesty or do not come forward with the truth and you will face the consequences in terms of prosecution."

"We have learnt the challenges of the other truth commissions around the world and we don't want to repeat the same mistakes. We should always have the victims at the forefront of our mind. We are satisfied when victims find pleasure - we are satisfied when victims find the truth about what happened to their loved ones and we are satisfied when victims in the spirit of reconciliation forgive the perpetrators," he said.

He said the perpetrators are required to speak the truth and help the government in dealing with the victims. He said they should be truthful in order to help the victims find the truth about events.

"When I conclude that a particular witness has been outrageously dishonest, the consequence is prosecution," he said.

He said the three persons arrested following their testimonies before the TRRC were outrageously dishonest. He challenged the perpetrators who will be appearing before the TRRC to be truthful in order to help the victims find closure and the whereabouts of their loved ones, adding that Sanna Sabally was a perpetrator who has confessed to his crimes.

"If they cannot help the victims then I'm sorry we cannot help them too. I will not change that attitude. I will not change my mind about it. I will continue with that policy with aggressiveness and rigour. There is no compromise on it. They have had two years to think about it. They have been reminded constantly to tell the truth," he said.

Minister Tambadou outlined some of the dynamics that he uses to test the testimonies of witnesses before making a decision over whether or not he or she should be arrested.

"I have decided that the test of outrageous dishonesty will be based on a number of factors. It will be based on the evidence adduced so far before the TRRC, the nature or gravity of the human rights violations, the alleged role of the perpetrator, and the materiality of the dishonesty."

He said as the Attorney General, he has the discretion to initiate prosecution which the TRRC has no control over. He said his decision to arrest and prosecute such witnesses is meant to complement the work of the TRRC.

Tambadou in responding to a question regarding last week's revelation by Amnesty International that there were up to fifteen juveniles in Gambian jails detained with adults, saidhe has no knowledge of the issue prior to Amnesty's revelation.

"My team is working on finding out the circumstances surrounding these concerns expressed by Amnesty on the 15-year-olds and I am hoping to get a response from my team by Friday," he said.

About the TRRC

He said the TRRC has now commenced public hearings and they are doing remarkably well.

"It shows the level of planning, organization and preparation and all the other efforts we have put into the set-up. I am pleased that they have now taken off the ground. The Government, through my Ministry, in particular, will continue to provide the required support to them so that they can execute their mandate and attain their objectives in accordance with the TRRC Act," Tambadou said.

Reform in the Laws Criminalising Speech

He said his Ministry has been working closely with the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure, and Article 19 for a comprehensive reform of the media law regime in the country.

"These involve the promulgation of a Media Services Act that will consolidate and modernize a variety of currently disparate and often obsolete media-related laws such as the Newspaper and Broadcasting Stations Act of 1944, or the Telegraph Stations Act of 1913," he said.

He indicated that they have also embarked on a comprehensive amendment of the Information and Telecommunications Act with the aim of removing all the bad and unconstitutional media laws enacted by the previous administration, and also to provide for laws that will facilitate the exercise of the right to freedom of expression.

"We are at the final stages of review and I hope very soon the Honourable Minister of Information will present these bills to the National Assembly for enactment. A Freedom of Information Act is also being considered as part of these reforms," he said.

On reform of the criminal justice legislative framework, he said with the support of UNODC and UNDP, and the gracious funding from the Korean International Cooperation Agency (KOICA), a team of local Gambian consultants have now been engaged by the UN following competitive recruitment process to conduct a holistic review of our criminal laws and procedure. They are Mr Antouman Gaye, Ms Jannet Sallah-Njie and Mr Gaye Sowe.

"The aim of this review is to sanitize our criminal justice system by modernizing our criminal laws and procedure and bringing them in line with the practice in modern democratic States. They have, in principle, up to the end of this year to complete the exercise," he said.

Reforms of Electoral Laws

On reform of the electoral laws, he said they are aware that the ongoing constitutional review process will likely address the fundamental aspects of elections in the country. Notwithstanding, they have initiated the process of electoral reform at the level of legislation with a view primarily to review and amend the Elections Act of 1996 which had its genesis from the Elections Decree No. 78 of 1996, in order to reflect modern democratic practice and ensure a transparent, credible and level playing field for all actors in the political arena.

"To this end, I convened a meeting of registered political parties here at the Ministry in February this year as the first step towards a consultative, inclusive and consensus-seeking approach. It was agreed that all political parties will conclude internal party consultations on the provisions of the current Elections Act by 31 March 2019; that they should convene under the auspices of the Inter-party Committee to identify common positions by 30 April 2019; and then a final joint workshop will be convened under the auspices of the Ministry of Justice by 31 August 2019 to finalize the process," he said.

Prison Reform

On Prisons, he said a comprehensive review of the Prisons Act of 1954 is already underway led by the Ministry of the Interior and again, with funding from KOICA and in partnership with UNODC. An international consultant is being recruited to assist in this exercise.

"We are now at the final review stage of strengthened anti-corruption legislation following comments we received from the UNODC. We have also initiated contact and requested the assistance of Parliamentarians for Global Action for the promulgation of an International Crimes Act to include the crimes contained in the Rome Statute of the ICC among others," he said.

He said he led a delegation to the 64th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights in Egypt where The Gambia formally presented its combined State report on human rights in the country for the first time in 25 years, since 1994. He said the report was prepared in consultation with government ministries and departments, civil society organizations including national and international NGOs.

"The report was comprehensive touching on many issues in respect of civil and political rights, and economic, social and cultural rights. We also presented The Gambia's initial report on the protocol to the African Charter on the rights of women otherwise known as the Maputo protocol," he detailed.

He said the session was a milestone for The Gambia in its historical relationship with the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights because finally, after 25 years, The Gambia was able to fulfil a fundamental treaty obligation of submitting our periodic report to the African Commission. He stated it is yet another concrete demonstration of the commitment of this Government to uphold the highest standards of the values enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights otherwise known as the Banjul Charter.

Nonetheless, he said the occasion also allowed them to reflect on the missed opportunities occasioned by the inexcusable failure to uphold this fundamental treaty obligation and all the attendant consequences in terms of the lack of accountability at the continental level for human rights violations in The Gambia since 1994.

"It is indeed sad that such an important accountability mechanism was deliberately ignored to the detriment of many in our country," he said adding that they recognized the great strides The Gambia has made as a country regarding human rights over the past two years and commended The Gambia for this as well as the fulfilment of its treaty obligations in submitting the report.

"The Commission also encouraged The Gambia to continue efforts in addressing challenges in some areas of concern to the Commission," he detailed.

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