By Alagie Manneh
The National Human Rights Commission has recommended for the amendment of section 5 of the Public Order Act “from requirement of a permit to only notification”.
The 1963 Act requires every person or group to obtain a permit or licence for public procession or protest from the Inspector General of Police or Governor of a region.
But according to the NHRC in their annual report, this has continued to restrict the rights of Gambians to freedom of association and assembly, which is guaranteed under Section 25 (d) and (e) of the 1997 Constitution.
“There have been instances when these requests were denied by the Inspector General of Police,” the rights commission noted in its annual State of Human Rights report published last week. “A challenge to the constitutionality of this section vis a viz section 25 of the Constitution failed on the grounds that the limitations are in line with section 25 of the Constitution and international human rights standards.”
Solidifying its position, the rights commission detailed incidents of the past undermining freedom of assembly and association.
“At a meeting with the Serere community at State House, held on 15th August 2021, the president threatened to restrict political activities after the 4th December 2021 Presidential elections and instructed the Inspector General of police not to grant permits. The President’s speech was condemned by CSOs who reminded the President of the right to peaceful assembly. While a Statement from the Government’s Spokesperson tried to assure the public of the President’s strong stance on democracy and freedom of expression, the utterances were roundly condemned by CSOs and human rights defenders.
“On 6 December 2021, a day after the official announcement of the results of the presidential election, officers of the Police Intervention Unit used tear gas and batons to violently disperse a group of UDP supporters who had gathered at their party leader’s premises to protest the outcome of the polls. A video of PIU officers rejoicing at how they handled the protesters was later circulated on social media. The action of the police was condemned by the NHRC and all political party supporters and leaders were urged to maintain the peace and to seek redress through the courts. Despite calls for disciplinary measures against those officers.”
In response to the long-standing crusade regarding the enjoyment of the right to protest, the NHRC said it has developed an advisory note on the right to freedom of association and assemblies vis-à-vis the Public Order Act, and that it has also adapted the Guidelines on Policing Public Assemblies in The Gambia and held a discussion with the GPF.
“Even though these Guidelines are available for reference, the above incidents underline the need for the police to adhere to the Guidelines and international standards,” it said.
It recommended for government to “review, amend or revise the entire Public Order Act to align its provisions with Gambia’s international human rights obligations. Encourage civic engagement around the issue of the right to freedom of association and assembly, [and] enhance the capacity of the law enforcement agencies on crowd control and management of public assemblies. Integrate the ‘Guidelines on Policing Public Assemblies in The Gambia’ in the training curricula of all the law enforcement agencies.”