By Omar Bah
The office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) has stressed the importance of national dialogue and the involvement of different ethnic groups, non-governmental organisations and relatives of forcibly disappeared persons in the pursuit of truth, justice, reparations and recollection.
The recommendations were entailed in the UNHCHR Report at the 34th session of the UN Human Rights Council Working Group which is being held in Geneva, Switzerland.
The report is a compilation of information contained in reports of treaty bodies and special procedures and other relevant UN documents, presented in a summarised manner owing to word-limit constraints.
The Human Rights Committee expressed its concern at the high incidence of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials and members of security forces, including the incident on 18 June, 2018 during a protest in Faraba Banta, which resulted in two deaths and eight injuries.
The committee also raised concern that Article 18 of the Constitution and Sections 15 (A) and 72 of the Criminal Code allowed for wide discretion in the use of force by law enforcement officials, and that Section 2 (a) and (b) of the Indemnity Act (as amended in 2001) exonerated all public officials from civil or criminal liability for the exercise of their duties with respect to unlawful assemblies, riotous situations or public emergencies.
The committee said all allegations of excessive use of force should be investigated.
The UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions urged The Gambia to ensure that all norms and regulations on the use of force by law enforcement officials comply with international standards and ensure that any use of force by law enforcement officials is proportionate and necessary in view of the threat posed, and that lethal force is used only when absolutely necessary in order to protect life against an immediate threat.
The committee also expressed its concern that child marriage and female genital mutilation remain widespread, despite the criminalisation of those practices.
It called on The Gambia to strengthen the enforcement of the Children’s (Amendment) Act of 2016 and the Women’s (Amendment) Act of 2015, which criminalised child marriage and FGM, respectively, and to enhance public awareness, particularly among traditional and religious leaders, of the lifelong negative consequences of such practices.
The committee also expressed its concern about the “harsh and life-threatening conditions” in prisons, particularly overcrowding, the poor food, living conditions, sanitation and medical care, and numerous reports of deaths in custody.
According to the report, the Special Rapporteur on Summary Executions had received reports of cases of excessive use of force and cases of denial of medical care by prison officials.
On the administration of justice, including impunity, and the rule of law, the committee noted that the independence of the judiciary had been seriously eroded.
It stated that The Gambia should intensify its efforts to strengthen the independence of the judiciary and to prevent the executive and the legislature from interfering in its work.
The Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances also recommended strengthening the independence and impartiality of the judiciary.