Human Rights

US joins global call for a free Gambia

By Kemo Cham
The United States government has added its voice to the growing global call for the Gambia government to soften its attitude towards a free society by taking the necessary steps to honour international conventions it subscribes to.
As part of its message to the Gambian authorities, the US delegation to the just concluded United Nations Human rights Council Universal Periodic Review told Justice Minister Marie Saine-Firdaus and delegation that a free press is one of the cornerstones of democracy, and that it is an institution without which freedom cannot be assured.
‘‘The United States was deeply saddened and disappointed by the arrest in 2009 of seven Gambian journalists and the harsh sentencing of the six journalists charged with sedition and defamation,’’ the statement of the United States delegation to the session, delivered by John C. Mariz, said.
In reference to the Gambian government’s unappealing record of intolerance to dissent, the US government said that it was vital to the health of any democracy that opposition politicians, human rights activists, non-governmental organizations and ordinary citizens be allowed to express their opinions freely in the press, without fear of retaliation.
‘‘This is especially true with regard to criticism of a country’s government and leaders,’’ the statement said. ‘‘In a democratic society, one of our most treasured rights is the ability to disagree with the policies or actions of our government.’’
Acknowledging the fact that criticisms are hard to accept by every government, the US delegation however made it clear that every democratic government must realize that criticism, even harsh ones, of the actions and policies of governments constitutes a fundamental right of the people. The statement condemned libellous and seditious laws as having no place in a democratic society, and that they ‘‘should never be used to suppress this right’’ of the people.
‘‘We recommend that The Gambia take all necessary steps to ensure freedom of speech is guaranteed by international conventions to which The Gambia is a signatory,’’ the delegation said.
The US government, through the statement, also presented the Gambian authorities a number of recommends that include repealing of all provisions of its laws criminalizing sexual activity between consenting adults. It also called on the Gambian authorities to ensure non-discrimination in access to adequate housing, and to prevent forced evictions, ‘‘as well as the threat of forced evictions, on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.’’
But there were areas were the Gambian government appears to have done well, which obviously attracted a fear amount of praises from the US government. The statement highlighted Gambia’s increasing effort towards trafficking in persons in the course of last year as been commendable, expressing rejoice at the fact that two trafficking offenders were prosecuted, and one of them eventually convicted.
The delegation however said that the US remains concerned that women and girls continue to be trafficked from neighbouring countries for domestic servitude, and it recommended that The Gambia continues to intensify its law enforcement efforts against traffickers. It suggested that the country incorporated anti-trafficking training into its standard police curriculum, increase its efforts to rescuing trafficking victims, and provide appropriate care to affected individuals.

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