Suppressing dissent: The Gambian reality

satang_nabanehAuthor: Satang Nabaneh
Gambian Reporter to the Oxford Constitutions Online Project

The right to freedom of assembly as guaranteed by the 1997 Constitution includes the right to take part in peaceful demonstrations. However, people are deterred from organising and participating in such demonstrations. Section 18(4)(C) allows for the use of force and the deprivation of life in the ‘suppression of a riot, insurrection or mutiny’. This gives law enforcement officials with immunity when a person dies under circumstances in which reasonable force was used.

On Thursday, 14 April 2016, Mr. Solo Sandeng, National Organising Secretary and other members of the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) were arrested for leading a peaceful protest for electoral reforms and demanding for the resignation of President Jammeh. Two days after the arrest, senior members of the UDP, including the leader Ousainou Darboe, confirmed in a press conference the death of Solo Sandeng while in detention.  Lawyer Darboe also stated that two detained female protesters were also in a coma following their arrest and alleged brutal torture by the security agents. Angered by the harsh treatment meted on the detainees, Darboe and a group of UPD stalwarts led began a protest march but were swiftly rounded up by Gambia’s security force and arrested. Eyewitnesses said the security agents fired tear gas at the crowd to disperse it.

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Banning female circumcision in The Gambia through legislative change: The next steps

satang_nabanehAuthor: Satang Nabaneh
Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of The Gambia.

There is nothing more powerful than a decision made at the right time, especially one which is a desideratum. So it was with the ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) in The Gambia. From the coastal village of Brufut, on the chilly night of 24 November 2015, President Jammeh declared a ban on FGM stating that it was a cultural and not a religious practice (that is not to say that the practice would have been justifiable if it was a religious practice, given its well documented harmful effects). The news was as unexpected as it was music to the ear. It was every campaigner’s wish, to see an end to FGM in The Gambia. This was swiftly followed by the passing of the Women’s (Amendment) Bill 2015 by the National Assembly on 2 December 2015 to prohibit female circumcision. The amendment addresses one of the key deficiencies of the Women’s Act 2010 which was the absence of a provision on eliminating harmful traditional practices. The Amendment Act added sections 32A and 32B in the Women’s Act. With the enactment, The Gambia joined a number of African countries in adopting legislation as a reform strategy for ending FGM.

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Crusade to root out homosexuality like malaria

satang_nabanehAuthor: Satang Nabaneh
Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of The Gambia.

The Gambia is largely Muslim-dominated, with about 95 per cent of the population being Muslims. It is also highly traditional. Thus, Islam significantly influences people’s ways of lives. In the recent years, there has been much discussion, in the media and political fora, about homosexuality and homosexual rights in The Gambia. The attitude of the ordinary Gambian towards homosexuals is outright hostile, fanned by the extreme condemnation from both political and religious leaders. People are made to believe that homosexuals are cursed and support for homosexual rights would spell doom for Islam and Gambian culture, whatever that means. Due to this charged hostility towards homosexuals, there are only few lone voices that dare to challenge current beliefs about and hostility towards homosexuality or campaign to hold the state accountable for the respect, protection and fulfillment of the sexuality rights. The criminalisation of homosexuality provides the state with an opportunity to violate the rights of homosexual with impunity and absolute disregard for the rule of law.

The arch opponent of homosexuals and their rights is the president of The Gambia. During the recent celebration s to mark The Gambia’s independence celebration, on 18 February 2014, President Yahya Jammeh stated that his government “will fight these vermin called homosexuals or gays the same way we are fighting malaria-causing mosquitoes; if not more aggressively”. He further noted that The Gambia would not spare any homosexual, and that no diplomatic immunity would be respected for any diplomat found guilty or accused of being a homosexual. The next day, United States’ Secretary of State John Kerry denounced the President Jammeh’s comments, calling on the international community to send a clear signal that statements of this nature are unacceptable and have no place in the public dialogue.

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