Gambia was the subject of a round table discussion at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office this week. Instigated by Labour MP Anas Sarwar at the request of the Glasgow based Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia, it saw journalists, campaigners, civil servants and politicians share knowledge of the current state of life in that sunny, West African country.
Among the concerns voiced were the lack of independence in the judiciary, the disappearance of working journalist Ebrima Manneh in 2006, the murder of newspaper publisher Deyda Hydara in 2004, the blocking of some websites critical to the present regime and the scewered dissemination of information.
The major issue of the election in November was also raised. Opinions expressed included: – registration of voters was a farce. Opposition parties were hobbled by rules which permit them to promote their cause only ten days before the election date. Concern was expressed that Femi Peters, campaign manager for the United Democratic Party (UDP), an opposition party to President Jammeh, was recently sentenced to one year hard labour for holding a public rally without permission; and that Kanyiba Kanyia, a supporter of the UDP disappeared in 2006.
It was acknowledged that President Jammeh was likely to win the election which would reinforce his position since his coup in 1994.
Said one participant: ‘There are no quick fixes.’
But through the European Union, pressure is being brought to bear on the Gambian Government to adhere to international laws on human rights and freedom of speech that the country has signed up to.
In Glasgow, Gambian exiled journalist, Alieu B. Ceesay, told this website: ‘This was a very successful meeting. It gave the Campaign for Human Rights in the Gambia and other organisations, a forum to engage with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office about the situation in The Gambia. We hope to build on that momentum to continue to engage with the international community to prioritise the Gambia situation. More must be done urgently to address the wave of terror that has swept that country in the last 16 years.’
The Campaign recently held a rally in Glasgow City Centre to mark Freedom Day in the Gambia. Among the speakers was Labour MP Anas Sarwar for Glasgow Central who initiated meetings with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office; Patrick Harvie, Green Party MSP in Glasgow who has gained cross party support in the Scottish Parliament for human rights in the Gambia; Kate Temple of Amnesty International whose organisation has published an update to their report on ‘Climate of Fear’ in the Gambia which details enforced disappearances, killings and torture of journalists, politicians and anyone who displeases the regime; and Austin Sheridan an elected Member of the Scottish Youth Parliament who said his Party, SNP, had united with the others on the human rights issue in the Gambia and would fight ‘shoulder to shoulder’ with people there. The Campaign is also strongly supported by the National Union of Journalists which is working through the STUC and the TUC to encourage other unions to do the same.
A video of the rally can be seen and heard on:
Glasgow is one of 16 centres around the world which will highlight human rights abuse in the Gambia on Thursday 22 July.
Gambian born journalist, Alieu Ceesay, is leading the Glasgow campaign through the National Union of Journalists and Amnesty International.
Said Alieu: ‘We will hold a vigil at the Donald Dewar statue in Buchanan Street and invite passers -by to sign a petition,’
Added Alieu: ‘Currently, there is a harrowing human rights situation for Gambian people. Citizens are arrested daily. People disappear. There are summary executions, detention without trial, curtailment of civil liberties and a compromised judiciary. Ebrima Manneh, a journalist who worked with me on the same daily newspaper was arrested by security agents in July 2006 and has never been seen again. Deyda Hydara, the editor and co-proprietor of another daily paper was shot dead and in July of last year, six of my colleagues were jailed on charges of sedition for simply criticising the President in print ‘
The well-documented facts are listed in reports by Amnesty International and other human rights organisations.
Already, newly elected Westminster MP Anas Sarwar, has taken an interest in Alieu’s campaign. Last year, when the NUJ held a similar vigil, he attended the event and subsequently, when he was campaigning to be elected, he promised to help. Said Mr Sarwar: ‘I will raise this in Westminster and will bring it before the International Development Select Committee.’ Elected by Labour MPs as one of the dozen people on the influential cross-party committee, Mr Sarwar will have a powerful say in its work of scrutinising expenditure, administration and policy of the Department for International Development. That Department has an office in Gambia and recently invested £3million in development projects there. The situation has also been recognised by the Commonwealth of which Gambia is a member. At the last Heads of Commonwealth meeting – in Trinidad earlier this year – a synchronised campaign by its Human Rights committee, successfully embarrassed Gambian President Yaya Jammeh into not attending but sending his Foreign Minister,Ousman Jammeh, instead.