By Omar Bah
President Adama Barrow has tasked the five newly sworn in National Human Rights Commission members to treat all complainants fairly and transparently regardless of ethnic or political background.
“As all categories of citizens will look up to you for the protection of their individual and collective rights and interest, I will implore you to deal with all complaints fairly and objectively regardless of ethnic and political backgrounds of all complainants,” he told the commissioners at their swearing-in yesterday at the State House.
The five commissioners are Emmanuel Daniel Joof as chairman, Jainaba Johm as vice chairman and diasporan Gambian, Njundu Drammeh, Imam Baba Muhtar Leigh and Dr Agnes Adama Campell nee Kallay as members.
“My government is committed to rendering the necessary assistance to the commission for the realisation of its objective. My government is committed to safeguard the independence of the commission and I am confident that you will leave up to expectation. As commissioners of the National Human Rights Commission, your nomination signified your credibility and suitability to serve in this very dedicated role which we expect you will protect jealously.” he added.
The Gambia, he added, being the host of the Human Rights Commission for over 30-years has the task to serve as a role model in the promotion and protection of human rights in Africa.
“The absence of an independent human rights commission has always been a major vacuum in our human rights architecture. Therefore, your appointment is a historic milestone in the fulfillment of our human rights. However, I must say that the commission is not a substitute to the court system but its effectiveness is expected to have far reaching consequences on the lives of the ordinary Gambian by providing avenues to issues affecting their lives. I urge you to prioritise the needs of the poor, marginalised and the hard to reach. In this regard the establishment of regional offices throughout the country is imperative for people to feel the commission’s presence,” he asserted.
Meanwhile, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubacarr Tambadou said the establishment of the commission laid the foundation of a fundamental pillar of governance and paved the way for the country to reclaim its rightful place as a global leader in human rights.
“Respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms remain a corner stone of our governance architecture and no effort will be spared to achieve our goals. Our progress in this regard is irreversible. For the first time in the history of our country we have established a national human rights commission in full compliance with the Paris principles of Autonomy and independence,” he said.
Minister Tambadou said the National Human Rights Act makes “it clear that in the performance of its functions, the commission shall not be subject to the direction or control of any person or authority. Their principal mandate is to promote and protect the human rights of everyone in the country. They have the powers, rights and privilege of a high court judge at trial to hear complaints, summon witnesses, compile the production of document and enforce its decision.”
Meanwhile, Chairman Joof, said although the state has the paramount duty to respect, protect and fulfill the human rights of the people, “It is also our duty and obligation that we conform to the laws of the land, be responsible citizens and not only hold our elected officials to account but also ourselves. We certainly cannot build a society on lawlessness and where impunity reigns. It is a two-way affair.”
He said the commission will work with rule of law institutions, law enforcement agencies, NGOs, CBOs, the UN, AU and other development partners, “Together we will all put our efforts to build a better Gambia where respect for the rule of law and human rights will be the model”.
He said the National Human Rights Commission is a permanent body established by an Act of the National Assembly in 2017 and is mandated among other things to conduct public awareness and education programmes to promote a culture of human rights in The Gambia and assist the government formulate policies to guarantee human rights.
He said the commission is not however mandated to investigate and or examine the past human rights abuses or record of the former government.