By Omar Bah
The National Human Rights Commission chairperson Emmanuel Joof has observed that although there is still room for improvement, the country’s human rights records have improved significantly.
“Things like arrests, enforced disappearance, unlawful arrest and detention have definitely improved – you cannot definitely compare what used to be and what obtains now but much has to be done,” he told journalists at a press conference organised to popularise its 2019 report that contained 91 recommendations.
Chairperson Joof added: “We also looked at LGBT rights, in the past there has been violence – you remember the former head of state even saying he will decapitate heads of LGBT people and they were actually subjected to violence but things have significantly changed”.
He said the NHRC stands for non-discrimination: “The laws are very clear, nobody should be subject to inhumane treatment or punishment. Yes, Gambia may have laws punishing acts of homosexuality but even if you suspect somebody, due process must be followed. It is the obligation of the government to protect everybody in this country. It is as simple as that. This is our position as a human rights commission”. He disclosed that the NHRC had mediated between the justice ministry and GPU for the reopening of King FM and Home Digital FM.
Njundu Drammeh, a commissioner, said the commission only called for the protection of LGBT rights and not necessarily the decriminalisation of laws on LGBT.
The commission said the Brikamaba, Bansang, Banjul, Kairaba and Serekunda police stations cells need urgent improvement.
“The cells were dark, not spacious and with very poor ventilation. Due to the conditions of the two cells of Brikamaba Police station, detainees are taken to Bansang Police Station where they await trial. The toilets for the detainees at Banjul, Kairaba and Serekunda stations were smelly and extremely unclean for human use. There were no toilets for detainees within both Brikamaba and Janjangbureh police stations,” the NHRC said.
NHRC said Janjangbureh, Kairaba, Serekunda and Brikamaba police stations have only one main cell, with no separate cells for children or women detainees.
“According to the officers interviewed, women and children detainees are usually kept behind the counters. All the police stations complained about the insufficiency of operational vehicles and office equipment like computers, printers and fingerprint and machines,” the NHRC added.
The rights commission has also recommended to the government to renovate all existing prisons and construct a new prison of international standard.
“Due to overcrowding in all the prisons, there is a need for the Ministry of Justice to coordinate a committee to consider this issue and come up with recommendations to decongest prisons. There is also the need for the judiciary to ensure the expeditious disposition of cases,” the NHRC added.