Gambia Democracy and Rights

Democracy and rights

Since Yahya Jammeh, who had ruled the Gambia with authoritarian methods for over two decades, lost the 2016 presidential election, citizens’ freedoms and rights have been strengthened. The new government under Adama Barrow has set up a Truth Commission to deal with the human rights violations committed under Jammeh’s rule.

When Jammeh took power in a bloodless coup in 1994, a three-decade-long democratic tradition in Gambia was broken. A civilian government was reintroduced two years later, but all opposition was suppressed, and the opposition parties did not in practice appear to have the opportunity to threaten President Jammeh’s and his party’s power holdings. The fact that Adama Barrow from the opposition Democratic Party (UDP) could win the presidential election was due to the fact that a large part of the opposition was able to agree on a common candidate, but it was only after neighboring countries in Gambia with troops that the change of power was confirmed (see Current policy).

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Despite problems such as low turnout and shortages in voting lengths, the Gambian election in 2016 was conducted in relatively orderly forms.

Since then, parliamentary and local elections have also been held. Prior to the local elections, there were unrest where supporters of the former ruling party Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Reconstruction (APRC) and Barrow’s UDP rallied (see Calendar).

There are about 10 political parties that can operate relatively freely. Anyone wishing to form a party must pay a fee of $ 21,000. Political parties may not, according to the constitution, be formed on ethnic religious or ethnic grounds, but in practice APRC has its main support among the Christmas people and the UDP among mandinkas (see also Political system). The National Assembly has been dominated since 2017 by the UDP, which has its own majority in the House.

The military is still a factor of power in the Gambia which is abbreviated as WAG by Abbreviationfinder.

Women are under-represented in politics. Two of the 58 members of the National Assembly are women, both of whom have been nominated by President Barrow. In addition, the country’s vice president, Isatou Touraym, is a woman. ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bom Bensouda is a Gambian lawyer.

Barrow has ruled that Gambia should be a secular state, but there is some discrimination against non-Sunni Muslims.

Corruption is a problem, at all levels of society. Barrow has promised to address this, but so far progress has been poor. All members of the government are required to declare their financial assets, but this information has not been made public. An inquest into corruption under Jammeh’s government in March 2019 stated that the ex-president personally seized $ 362 million. He should also have brought a number of luxury cars and other valuables. Jammeh has been in exile in Equatorial Guinea since 2016. The Barrow government has said that it should try to get the money back.

According to the organization Transparency International’s index list of perceived corruption in the countries of the world, Gambia in 2019 ranked 96 out of 180 countries, three places lower than the year before.

Freedom of expression and media

After the change of power in 2017, conditions for the media have improved, but there is still much to be done when it comes to respect for freedom of the press and opinion. Journalists are still at risk of being arrested and beaten by police.

The Gambians’ ability to openly criticize the government has also increased. But the Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the legislation requiring police permits for public meetings still applies. The law was used the same year to stop a meeting planned by an opposition leader. At the same time, many of the restrictions that previously existed for NGOs appear to have been abolished.

Under Yahya Jammeh’s rule (1994–2017), advocacy laws and prohibitions on publishing “fake news” imposed severe restrictions on all critical scrutiny of power. Media that nevertheless criticized could be exposed to direct threats from government teams. Two journalists were murdered during the 1990s, according to the CPJ press freedom organization.

One internationally well-known case is the journalist Ebrima Manneh, who “disappeared” in 2006 since the security service removed him. According to information in the Gambian media, he died in 2008, on his way to hospital. Another well-known case is the 2004 murder of regime critic Deyda Hydara, who was the editor-in-chief of The Point newspaper, correspondent of the French news agency AFP and chairman of the Gambian journalist association. No one has been charged with the murder, which many believe was politically motivated. In 2009, six journalists were sentenced to prison for having, in an open letter, urged the government to admit their involvement in the murder. They were pardoned a month later, following pressure from, among others, the EU.

Self-censorship has diminished after Adama Barrow took power in early 2017 and just under a third of the roughly 100 journalists who had fled the country had returned to their home country by 2018. The Supreme Court has annulled parts of the prosecution law, citing its contravention of the Constitution, but the ban on the ban on publishing “fake news” was maintained. In 2017, the authorities forced the Daily Observer magazine to shut down for two weeks, citing that the magazine had tax liabilities. In June 2018, Pa Modou Bojang, head of a radio station, was beaten when he reported on unrest in the village of Faraba Banta (see below).

On Reporters Without Borders index of freedom of the press in the world, Gambia in 2019 ranked 92 out of 180 countries, which was more than 30 placements better than 2013.

At about the same time, several signs emerged that the media climate was getting tougher, as several journalists were arrested and radio stations were shut down for arbitrary reasons in connection with protests against President Barrow (see Calendar).

Radio and TV are the most important sources of information for most Gambians. The state broadcaster’s monopoly on broadcasting news has been abolished. Today there are several privately owned radio and TV channels. Television broadcasts first began in 1996.

Judicial system and legal security

The legislation in The Gambia is based on a mixture of British laws and domestic customary law. Islamic Sharia law is applied in family law matters for Muslims.

The legal system is formally independent and human rights are guaranteed in the constitution. The government is responsible for appointing judges. During Jammeh, it was common for foreign judges to be hired, which could easily be dismissed if they made decisions that went against the regime. President Barrow has chosen, to the extent possible, to replace them with Gambian judges.

Under Jammeh’s rule, violations of human rights were numerous. The security service committed abuses, torture and extrajudicial executions. Opposition politicians, journalists and human rights activists risked “disappearing”. After the change of power, the situation has improved, but arbitrary arrests still exist, although in many cases the detainees are released after some time without any explanation as to why they were taken into custody. The dreaded security service Nia has been shut down. The Truth Commission to investigate murders, tortures and other abuses committed under Jammeh’s 22-year rule began its work in early 2019 (see Calendar).

The conditions in the country’s prisons are poor.

The Gambia has the death penalty. However, as far as is known, no prisoners were executed between 1981 and August 2012, when nine executions were executed. However, Adama Barrow is about to completely abolish the death penalty (see Calendar). In May 2019, Barrow pardoned 22 convicted prisoners who had their sentences converted to life imprisonment.

However, in the summer of 2018, three people were shot dead by security forces in connection with environmental protests in the village of Faraba Banta (see Calendar). As a result, the head of the national police was forced to resign. An investigation recommended that five police officers be indicted for the murders, but the indictment was dropped, according to Gambian media, in early 2019 since villagers should have turned to the president for this to happen.

In the fall of 2016, Gambia announced that the country would leave the ICC but the exit process was halted after the change of power in 2017 (see Calendar).