By Omar Bah
Tension erupted yesterday at the National Assembly human rights committee meeting with security institutions as the Inspector General of Police and the Latrikunda lawmaker exchanged heated comments on the teargas thrown into Ousainu Darboe’s residence by PIU officers.
Abdoulie Sanyang and other security institution representatives were at the Assembly to respond to deputies’ questions on human rights compliance and security situation in The Gambia.
“In our quest for compliance to HR, the police renamed the Unit Complaint and Discipline to Human Rights and Professional Standard Unit to reflect, receive and handle complaints against police in their official capacities.
This is deliberately to ensure less interference, swiftness regardless of the name, rank of officer so alleged or complained against. Further to our compliance, the IGP directive N. 05/2021 was developed to reinforce and empower investigations against police issuing punitive measures; reprimand, transfer, CB, demotion, discharge, dismissal etc.,” IGP Sanyang told deputies.
Despite poor equipment, logistics, IGP Sanyang added, the unit is mostly on field patrols, unannounced visits, spot check with a view to confirming compliance but also to rectify and or undo excesses and wrongs by the police.
But shortly taking the floor after the IGP’s submissions, the Latrikunda NAM, Honourable Yaya Sanyang, who felt the IGP was economical with the truth, said officials coming to the National Assembly to answer deputies’ queries should be compelled to swear to the Qur’an or the Bible.
“When it comes to police brutality, I think this country has the highest police brutality in West Africa in my opinion and I want to hold the IGP accountable for this because for me, there is nobody in the Gambia Police Force that has more experience than him, so we have to look at this issue very seriously.
“You (IGP) were the one who sent the police to Ousainu Darboe’s house to spray teargas. Whether the directive came from you or not, you didn’t do anything about it because as far as I know, nobody is going to be arrested or detained in this country without your knowledge. The police attacked and threw teargas into Ousainu Darboe’s house and you refused to say anything about it. Now you want to come here and tell us you have a serious human rights unit. That is very disappointing,” he added.
The NAM also raised issues about the UDP supporter, Fatou Mboge, who was seen on video being kicked and arrested by the Police Intervention Unit during clashes with security in Pipeline on December 5. “This lady called Fatou Mboge, this lady can die at any time, because of police brutality. You see, we should not have the notion that if we are appointed by somebody, if we don’t do this or that we will be dismissed, no. Let us sacrifice for this nation and that includes ensuring that people’s rights are protected.”
Reacting to the concerns raised by NAM, IGP Sanyang tensely said: “Honourable, I think the National Assembly is an honourable office and I also think the Office of the IGP is a very respectable office. I think decorum is also very important – you cannot just sit and say the IGP is lying outright.
I also want to say that if honourable members have issues with a particular case, they should raise it so that we can provide them with answers but if you make comments on the teargas that was thrown at Ousainu Darboe’s house, we don’t take that as a human rights issue because when officers are sent to the ground, they have a procedure to follow before they throw teargas. So if they follow those procedures according to the laws and they don’t violate those procedures, there is nothing you can hold them accountable for.”
He said unless the NAM can provide other facts that are not known to the police concerning the incident, then his officers acted legally.
“Do you know I have been talking with someone. I don’t want to mention his name at that house for almost six hours to plead with him for people to disperse but he continuously kept asking me to give him time until 7PM before we forced them to disperse and rightfully so, because for whatever reason you are gathered there, if the police ask you to disperse, you should disperse. But if you refuse to disperse, they have to use the means they have to disperse you and that is the teargas. So, all that the police did there on that day was done in accordance with the law,” IGP Sanyang said.
He said all those who were affected by the teargas and under the custody of the police were taken to hospital.
IGP Sanyang said the police cannot afford to punish their personnel for every mistake they made.