Darboe says executions not obligatory
The leader of the main opposition United Democratic Party, UDP, Ousainou Darboe, has said that the 26 August executions of nine death row inmates by the Gambia Government was not a constitutional obligation.
Speaking to The Standard in an exclusive interview at his office in Banjul, the 64-year-old constitutional lawyer asserted: “The constitution does not state that those convicted of murder must willy-nilly be executed. If that were so, there would be no reason why we would have Section 82 in the Constitution. It is absolutely misleading to say that the president was upholding the constitution when these executions took place. It is again misleading to say that the death penalty was introduced by the constitution and people voted for it in a referendum. Those people who said that the constitution empowered the president to execute do not understand the constitution. The constitution takes outside the class of murder, deprivation of life carried out pursuant to judicial order. In 1996, the constitution was not put [explained] to Gambians in piece-meal and no voter had an option to say that he was voting to approve Section 13 or disapprove Section 18 of the constitution. It was the thinking of small minds that Section 18 was approved by Gambians at a referendum. It was the AFPRC government that restored the death penalty and exercised legislative powers that were not bestowed on them by the Gambian people. It was Decree 52 passed by the AFPRC military government so Gambians had nothing to say in passing the death penalty. Before 1994, how many murder cases did we have in The Gambia? Between the date when the death penalty was abolished and the date the death penalty was restored, how many murder cases do we have? The Minister for the Interior, Ousman Sonko, said in one year there were more than 20 murder offences committed.”
Asked his opinion on the streaming of elders, women and youth groups to State House to appeal for reprieve from the president, Darboe said: “One thing that is clear was that the Jammeh government has realised that it has committed the biggest blunder in executing these nine prisoners. And in order to cover up their blunder, they resorted to self-lobbying. They called on all APRC outfits to appeal to the president through the vice-president for clemency. This self-lobby shows that no leader should be intransigent and no leader should ignore local and international opinion on issues like the death penalty or implementation of the death penalty. I do not condone murder, manslaughter, infanticide and abortion. It is because of my revulsion for the taking away of life that I do not defend anybody charged with murder, infanticide, abortion and manslaughter. But that does not mean that I support the imposition of death penalty as a punishment for murder or any crime. One would have thought that if the death penalty were a deterrent, murder cases would have been on the decline than on the increase. Talking about 20 murder cases in one year, were not more than ten defenceless unarmed school children killed one day in this country? There is no legal justification for the killing of the students. Why were the perpetrators not brought to court and prosecuted for murder? If those who killed those innocent school children in 2000 were protected by any of the exceptions in Section 18 of the constitution, the Indemnity Act would not have been amended to absolve the perpetrators of those heinous crimes. Let us stop appealing to the constitution to justify the unjustifiable. If Section 82 was not in the constitution then we could all say the president cannot be merciful to anybody. Those people who have been charged and are being tried at the high court..why has the government not upheld the constitution and allowed them decide for their trials be conducted by a judge and jury as provided for in Section 24, Subsection 9 of the constitution which was also an entrenched section. The implementation of the death penalty will not attract investors to invest in the country. President Jammeh and cohorts are trying to justify their blunder that the executions were also meant to give confidence to investors by guaranteeing their personal safety. I am saying that their argument that the death penalty will give confidence to investors is puerile. There are countries on the African continent where the murder rate a day is much higher than The Gambia's murder rate in a decade and yet investors are going into those countries in large percentage. There are countries in the sub-region where the murder rate is higher and yet investors do not hesitate to invest in there because they knew that their investment was guaranteed. In order to attract investors in The Gambia, the government should be able to lure them and guarantee their investment.”
Responding to assertions made by the Local Government and Regional Administration minister, Lamin Waa Juwara, that the opposition endorsed the death penalty in the constitution, the UDP leader retorted: “I do not like responding to Juwara because he has several times said that this constitution was tailor-made to suit President Jammeh and his cohorts. Any serious minded person and any serious political party will certainly look at the constitution in its entirety in order to see what changes should be effected to it.”