By Omar Bah
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has recommended to the government to amend Section 5 of the Public Order Act and move away from the requirement of police ‘permit’ to ‘notification’ in order to fully guarantee the enjoyment of the right to association and peaceful assembly.
In its 2019 report submitted to the National Assembly last Friday and seen by The Standard, NHRC urged the government “to review the Public Order Act in its entirety and align the provisions therein with The Gambia’s regional and international obligations, popularise the Public Order Act Amendment Bill and engage all the relevant stakeholders and ensure the Bill is tabled before the National Assembly”.
The NHRC said it recognised government’s commitment to protect the right to association and assembly despite its shortcomings but raised concern that the Public Order Act Amendment Bill 2019 “is yet to be tabled before the National Assembly and adequately popularised”.
“The right to freedom of association and assembly are fundamental human rights that underpin a democratic society in which individuals can freely express their views on issues concerning the governance of their society. The demand to exercise these rights and freedoms in The Gambia has increased in frequency largely due to the emerging conducive democratic space since 2017. However, the enjoyment of these rights is often threatened by the application of the Public Order Act,” the NHRC said.
Section 25 (d) and (e) of the 1997 Constitution provides for freedom of association and assembly. However, government authorities particularly the Inspector General Police often restricts or denies this right on the basis of powers conferred on him by Section 5 of the Public Order Act.
“In a participatory democracy, the right to freedom of association and assembly remain an indispensable avenue for critical engagement between citizens and government. These rights draw attention to issues of critical national concerns and therefore the need to safeguard them at all times, since its arbitrary application as was the case in the past, will not only undermine the basic foundations of democracy but also erodes the importance of the rights as a form of political dialogue,” the NHRC added.
Meanwhile, in reaction to our lead story of Friday, 5 June, the commission issued a statement on their Facebook page stating: “The NHRC learns with concern the publishing of an article on The Standard newspaper on Friday, 5th June with the title, “Human Rights Commission Urges Government to Protect Gays”, which has since been carried on social media conveying an incorrect statement on behalf of the NHRC.
The Commission is mandated by law to promote and protect the rights of all Gambians and non-Gambians residing in The Gambia. When one’s human rights are violated, the Commission addresses the violation of that individual.
NHRC does not discriminate against any individual. Its primary focus is to protect and promote the fundamental human rights of all including social and economic rights, the right to life and liberty, among others.”
The Standard acting editor, Sheriff Bojang reacted: “Our reporter faithfully reproduced what the NHRC put in its report. What is it we reported that they are concerned about and which is an incorrect statement? Issues of sexuality, like tribe and religion are emotive and always engender spirited exchanges. Let the commission get used to that.”