Gambia's president should retract threat to execute all death row prisoners by next month

‘President Jammeh’s comments are deeply troubling’ - Audrey Gaughran

Amnesty International has called on Gambia’s president Yahya Jammeh to retract his reported threat that all death row prisoners in Gambia will be executed by next month and to ensure that it is not acted on.

President Jammeh made the comments in a televised address broadcast on Sunday evening and again on Monday to mark the Muslim feast of Eid-al-Fitr.

If executions are carried out in Gambia it will mark an end of a 27-year period without executions - the last execution in the country took place in 1985. Amnesty currently classifies Gambia as abolitionist, one of the 141 countries worldwide (ie two-thirds) to have abolished the death penalty either in law or practice.
Amnesty International Africa Director Audrey Gaughran said:

“President Jammeh’s comments are deeply troubling and will undoubtedly cause severe anguish to those on death row and their families.

“Any attempt to carry out this threat would be both deeply shocking and a major setback for human rights in Gambia.

“The President’s statement is in stark contrast to the trend, both in West Africa and globally, towards ending the use of the death penalty.

"Unfair trials are commonplace in the country, where death sentences are known to be used as a tool against the political opposition and international standards on fair trials are not respected.

“The number of grossly unfair trials is shocking and an especially serious concern in cases where the death penalty is handed down.”

This is not the first time President Jammeh has made such threats. In September 2009, he announced that executions would resume to counter rising crime. In October of that year, the Director of Public Prosecutions was reported as saying that all prisoners sentenced to death would be executed by hanging as soon as possible. While no executions were carried out following those statements, the current threat remains a matter for serious concern.

According to the Gambian government, there were 42 men and two Women's rights's rightss rights's rights's rights's rights on death row as of 31 December 2011, 13 of whom had been sentenced during that year. In Gambia, capital punishment can be imposed for murder and treason.

No West African country has executed prisoners in recent years and the death penalty for all crimes has been abolished in Togo in west Africa, as well as in Burundi, Gabon and Rwanda in the last five years. In July, Benin became the 75th state worldwide to join the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1989, aimed at abolishing the death penalty. Across Africa 38 of the 54 member states of the African Union are abolitionist in law (16) or practice (22), more than two-thirds.

Thirteen new death sentences were handed down for murder and treason in Gambia in 2011, often after grossly unfair trials - although no executions were carried out.

Amendments were also made to the Criminal Code Act and the Trafficking in Persons Act 2007, to make them compatible with the 1997 Constitution which contains Article 17(2), prohibiting the death penalty for offences not involving violence, or the administration of a toxic substance, resulting in the death of another person.

Gambia is a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In 2008, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the body monitoring this regional treaty, adopted a resolution calling on States Party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to observe a moratorium on the execution of death sentences with a view to abolishing capital punishment. During a session of the Commission in Banjul, Gambia, in May 2011, the Chairperson of the African Commission’s Working Group on the Death Penalty in Africa, stated that “capital punishment… represents a most grave violation of … the right to life under Article 4 of the African Charter”.

Under international standards, the death penalty can only be imposed for crimes where there is an intention to kill which results in the loss of life. According to the United Nations, this excludes the possibility of imposing death sentences for activities of a political nature, including treason, espionage and other vaguely defined acts described as “crimes against the State”.

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