By Mustapha Darboe
President Adama Barrow yesterday welcomed human rights defenders from across the world who have gathered at the Kairaba Beach Hotel to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the founding of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) as well as attend the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR.
The Gambia played a pivotal role in the setting up of the charter and its home to the commission among other human rights bodies.
“It is important to note that human rights protection must not only be about enacting laws on paper,” Barrow, who assumed power in December 2016 from Yahya Jammeh, warned the gathering. “Concrete steps must be taken through the creation of institutions, policies and programmes for the full realisation and enjoyment of these rights,” he stated.
The Gambian leader received standing ovations as he read his speech at a rights session that was never attended by his predecessor.
The session which will last for two weeks during which rights issues across the continent are discussed by leading rights activists and state parties, is the 61st session since the beginning on the institution 30 years ago.
Barrow who campaigned on the promises of protecting fundamental human rights of Gambians, told the gathering that he intends to ratify many human rights related treaties including the Convention Against Torture.
“One of the key reforms of my administration is the adoption of a new Republican Constitution within the shortest time possible. Existing constitutional provisions on protection of human rights shall be strengthened in the new constitutional order,” he said.
“We will be making a Declaration pursuant to Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights to allow individuals and NGOs to have direct access to the Court.”
Barrow said his government has released a total number of 334 prisoners including all political and prisoners of conscience.
He added: “241 pending criminal cases involving 304 accused persons were reviewed; prosecutions in 36 cases involving 86 accused persons were discontinued on the basis of insufficient evidence. Currently, there are fewer people held in remand awaiting trial or the conclusion of trial.
“Prisoners with medically certified mental disabilities have now been transferred from prisons to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.”
He said his administration is working closely with international human rights organisations for the total overhaul of the media laws to remove all repressive provisions that suppress the fundamental right to freedom of expression and opinion.