Doublespeak in country of the abused

The Gambia’s justice minister is set to address African parliamentarians on human rights, despite serious allegations of abuses in her own country.

According to the Pan-African Parliament’s programme, Mama Fatima Singhateh will talk about “human rights with a particular focus on the rights of the woman” during its Wednesday sitting.

Singhateh will speak just after African Union Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma’s address on the state of the AU.

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights recently expressed concern over the Gambian government’s violent suppression in Banjul last week of what has been described as peaceful opposition protests. This led to deaths in detention.

Pansy Tlakula, chairperson of the African human rights commission, said she had met Singhateh to ask about the Gambia’s situation, because events there took place during the 58th session of the commission.

“By the time the session ended, we had not received a response from the minister,” she said.

Singhateh attended the commission’s closing ceremony on April 20 and in her speech said she would investigate the matter, Tlakula said.

Singhateh told the commission that “unlawful assemblies” were held two weeks ago and “the security forces tried to manage the situation and a number of people were arrested”, according to a commission press release.

Tlakula said: “We are expecting her to respond as soon as the investigation has been concluded. If she does not, we will make a follow-up.”

The commission wrote a letter to the government of the Gambia to say that, if the allegations were true, they could constitute violations of certain articles of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, said Tlakula. But this does not constitute a formal complaint, which results in a finding and recommendations.

“At the moment, we don’t have a formal complaint before us against the government. Depending on the response we get from the government, we will engage with them as we have done in the past.” She said the Gambia’s response would be included in the commission’s report to July’s AU summit.

The University of Pretoria’s Centre for Human Rights has called for the headquarters of the African human rights commission, the 25th African Human Rights Moot Court Competition and the AU celebrations of the African Year of Human Rights in October to be moved out of, and not be held in, the Gambia.

This week 37 opposition activists accused of rioting, illegal protest and other offences, including the secretary general of the main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), Ousainou Darboe, appeared in court in the Gambia. Four of the activists were absent without explanation.

The UDP said its national organising secretary, Ebrima Solo Sandeng, had died under suspicious circumstances while in custody.

Amnesty International said there has been no response from the government about what happened to Sandeng. The organisation has called for an investigation and the release of all the other protesters, adding that it was “deeply concerned” for the welfare of another UDP member, Fatoumata Jawara, who is believed to be seriously injured.

The Gambia is ruled with an iron fist by President Yahya Jammeh, who took power in a coup in 1994.

The Pan-African Parliament did not respond to a request for comment by the time of going to press.

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