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Gambia: Government must stop using security forces to repress its citizens

Gambia’s national army, National Intelligence Agency and police force have been used as tools of repression for the government, Amnesty International said as it launched its new report, entitled ‘Gambia: fear rules’.

The organisation has called on African leaders and the international community to urge Gambian authorities to stop security forces committing human rights violations to stifle dissent.

The report launch coincides with the meeting of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights being held in Abuja, Nigeria, between 10 and 24 November.

Amnesty International’s Gambia Researcher, Tania Bernath said:

“We urge the African Commission to address the human rights situation in Gambia as a priority and adopt a resolution that would help end torture, arrests and killings by the local security forces.

“We urge all African leaders to put pressure on Gambia to end the long-standing culture of impunity for human rights violations in the country.”

In the 14 years that President Yahya Jammeh has been in power, six foiled coup attempts have been reported. The most recent one was in March 2006 and led to the arrest of at least 59 people, many of whom were subjected to unlawful detention and unfair trials, some tortured or even unlawfully killed.

In its report Amnesty International highlights how at least 30 people have been detained without charge; many of whom do not have access to their families or lawyers and are exposed to poor prison conditions.

The government’s disrespect for the rule of law and the judiciary makes the fight against impunity an uphill battle in Gambia, claims Amnesty.

Lawyers are reluctant to take on human rights cases for fear of reprisals and families of victims are afraid to speak out. The media, for the most part, censors itself in the face of arrests, fines, threats and physical attacks on those accused of criticising the government. All public protests have ceased.

One human rights defender told Amnesty International:

“Once you are arrested [in Gambia], you are out of the protection of the law and are subject to all kinds of human rights violations from the police, the army, and the National Intelligence Agency.”

Tania Bernath continued:

“Fear now reigns in Gambia where any person considered to be a perceived enemy of the government is at risk of being arrested, tortured and even killed.

“We urge the Gambian government to incorporate international human rights law and standards into national law, to stop the use of torture and extrajudicial executions and to release all those detained without charge.”

Amnesty International is also urging the Gambian government to investigate allegations of torture, ill-treatment, illegal detentions and disappearances, make the findings public and bring those suspected of being responsible to justice.

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