Gambia National Assembly launches parliamentary caucus on Freedom of Belief

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On Saturday 03rd December 2021 at the Gambia Teachers Union premises the National members, faith leaders, CSOs, British High Commissioner and Human Rights Activists launch a Parliamentary Caucus on freedom of religion and belief.

In the opening remarks Dr Rasheed Draman explained the need to have a parliamentary caucus, he said the ACEPA and its partners – Oxford University and the Church of England, firmly believe that respect for freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental prerequisite to the advancement of peace and stability in the world. 

“The right of every citizen to practice or not to practice any religion or belief is at the heart of democracy.  It is the foundation of our shared humanity,” he said.

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He Said these beliefs are the driving force behind their efforts to engage with Parliaments, Faith Leaders and Civil Society Organizations around the world. 

He describes what they are witnessing today as historic, and pioneering, adding that The Gambia is the first country on the continent to set and officially launch a Parliamentary Caucus on Freedom of Religion or Belief.

“This is a clear demonstration that this country does not take the harmony that exists amongst its citizenry for granted,” he highlights. 

He concluded by assuring the Hon. Members and Faith Leaders that ACEPA and its partners will continue to travel with you on this journey of nurturing and maintaining religious and belief tolerance in your country.

In his final note, he thanked the British government, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office for making funding available to ACEPA and the Hon. Speaker and the authorities of the National Assembly for welcoming them into their fold and providing space in their calendar for the implementation of our project.

On the side of the Parliament of the Gambia, the deputy clerk Buba Jatta on behalf of the clerk thanked Members of the Parliamentary Caucus on Freedom of Religion or Belief Leadership Network (FoRBLN) of the National Assembly of The Gambia, and Faith Leaders.

He assured the group of his office’s full support of the Parliamentary Caucus. He continues by saying the right to practice one’s deeply held beliefs is a defining issue of our time.

“He said Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights defines freedom of religion or belief as the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

“This article states that everyone has the right to choose a religion or belief or to have no religious belief at all. Apart from Article 18, freedom of religion or belief is enshrined in the major human rights treaties and is key to building a secure and prosperous society,” he quoted.

He further says as the world faces a period of political turmoil and economic uncertainty, rising inequalities and social discontent, freedom of religion or belief is coming under pressure from various sources and for a multitude of reasons.

Mr Jatta said the world is grappling with the problem of how to safeguard religious freedom while at the same time protecting other rights and interests, including free speech and gender equality.

“Here in The Gambia, the issues relating to the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion are guaranteed in Section 17 (2) of the 1997 Constitution which states that Every person in The, whatever his or her race, colour, gender, language, religion, political or another opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or another status, shall be entitled to the fundamental human rights and freedom of the individual contained in this chapter, but subject to respect for the rights and freedom of others and the public interest. These rights are further guaranteed in Section 25 (1b&c),” he explained.

He said the Gambia has been blessed with inter-faith and inter-religious harmony, adding that the harmony needs to be nurtured and jealously protected.

He continued saying “As such, it is vitally important to recognise the fact that in practice, there are still hurdles that need to be overcome in The Gambia to ensure that religious discrimination against minority groups is eradicated.

He concluded that the launch of the Parliamentary Caucus on Freedom of Religion or Belief Leadership Network (FoRBLN) is indeed a laudable effort to nurture the religious harmony that we enjoy as a people.

“The National Assembly of The Gambia owes a debt of gratitude to the Foreign Development Office of the United Kingdom for funding Commonwealth and this initiative. We also salute the efforts of the African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA), the Centre for the Study of Social Cohesion, the University of Oxford; the Church of England and other partners for this important initiative.

The Member of the Nianija Amadou Camara who is the Interim Chair, of the FoRB Parliamentary Caucus, on his part explained a brief history of the Network saying that it took them a series of dialogues with leaders and Parliamentarians.

He said article 18 of the universal declaration of human rights is very clear on the fundamental principles and equally the law of the Gambian on freedom of religion.

He said the Parliamentarian their role is oversight, law-making and advocacy and this is what they are doing today.

He thanked the partners for making this possible and assured them of their commitment.

On the side of the British Commissioner, he said freedom of religious belief is a sign of a thriving democracy, adding that if you look at anywhere in the world where people are persecuted for their religion or for having no religion.

Those countries are not democratic, if you look, for example, during the league that the Gambia is taking Myanma to the International Court of Justice for that persecution of library governments,”

He further stated that this is an essential part of actually supporting thriving democracies, certainly supporting the democratic gains that the Gambia has made over recent years.

“I would just like to give you my heartfelt congratulations, that the first country on the continent of Africa to establish a parliamentary caucus.

The event rap up with the signing of the declaration and prayers from both faiths.