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“Are human rights defenders still safe in the Gambia?” question human rights experts

 

GENEVA and BANJUL (9 October 2009) – Three Special Rapporteurs from the United

Nations and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights* are deeply concerned for the security of human rights defenders in the Gambia and hundreds of those who will attend the forthcoming session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, from 11 to 25 November 2009, in the Gambian capital, Banjul, headquarters of the Commission.

The human rights experts are deeply disturbed by statements attributed to President Jammeh made on 21 September 2009, where he publicly threatened to kill human rights defenders in the Gambia and all people cooperating with them.

"Such alleged public statements by a Head of State are unacceptable and in contradiction with all human rights instruments ratified by the Gambia," stress the Special Rapporteurs. "They contribute to the stigmatization of human rights defenders in the country, raise grave concern about the protection and promotion of human rights in the Gambia; and set a very negative example regionally and internationally."

"Hundreds of national and international human rights defenders will gather next month in the Gambia; will they be really safe?", question the human rights experts. "We call on the President of the Gambia to issue another public statement in which he highlights the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders, and their essential contributions to the strengthening of democracy and the rule of law in contradiction to what may have been reported."

The Special Rapporteurs urge the Gambian authorities to take all necessary steps to ensure the protection by all relevant authorities of everyone, individually and in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The three experts are further concerned that the right to freedom of opinion and expression is being stifled in the Gambia and that all persons who voice criticism of the Government are now exposed to heighted risk to their physical and psychological integrity.

"We urge the Gambian government to take all necessary steps to secure the right to freedom of opinion and expression of all persons, including human rights defenders in the Gambia, in accordance with fundamental principles as set forth in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and reiterated in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights," stressed the Special Rapporteurs.

(*) Ms. Margaret Sekaggya, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Mr. Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Ms. Reine Alapini-Gansou, Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders from the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.