U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Gambia
|Publisher||United States Department of State|
|Publication Date||30 January 1998|
|Cite as||United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1997 - Gambia, 30 January 1998, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa4110.html [accessed 26 January 2015]|
Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, January 30, 1998.
THE GAMBIAThe Gambia is ruled by President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, the former chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) that seized power in a coup d'etat in 1994, deposing the democratically elected government of Sir Dawda Jawara. Jammeh became President following controversial elections in September 1996, which observers considered neither free nor fair. Following his election, Jammeh dissolved the AFPRC and declared the Cabinet to be the sole ruling body until the election of the National Assembly and the adoption of a new Constitution. Four of the 13 Cabinet members are retired army officers who were Jammeh's allies during or immediately following the coup, and the armed forces strongly support the Government. In January the Constitution of the Second Republic came into effect, restoring formal constitutional government, and citizens chose a new National Assembly in elections whose results generally were accepted by the opposition. Jammeh's party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) won 33 of the 45 Assembly seats filled by-election. Although formal constitutional rule was restored, key constitutional provisions have not been tested in the courts and opposition forces continue to encounter official interference. The judiciary reportedly has been at times subject to executive branch pressure, but courts demonstrated their independence in 1997 in a number of cases. The Gambian National Army (GNA) reports to the Minister of Defense (who is now the President). The police report to the Minister of Interior. The National Intelligence Agency (NIA), established in 1995 by government decree, reports directly to the President but is otherwise autonomous. Members of the security forces committed serious human rights abuses. The Gambia's population of just over 1 million consists largely of subsistence farmers growing rice, millet, maize, and groundnuts (peanuts), the country's primary export crop. The private sector, led by reexporting, fisheries, horticulture, and tourism, contracted after the 1994 coup but is regaining strength. However, cuts in international economic assistance coupled with high population growth and a poor harvest have hampered any rapid economic growth. Per capita gross domestic product is estimated to be $360. The Government's human rights record improved somewhat, but serious problems remain. President Jammeh's dominance and restrictions on opposition parties continued, and in practice citizens still do not have an effective right to change their government, however, legislative elections held in January were accepted by the opposition; presidential elections are scheduled for 2001. Security forces beat detainees and, in one serious incident, security officials detained and tortured eight opposition party supporters. Prison conditions remained poor. On occasion security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained citizens, and the courts are traditionally responsive to executive branch pressure, although they demonstrated their independence. The Constitution declares illegal the prosecution of any member of the AFRC for any official act or omission in the performance of official duties following the 1994 coup. The Government limited freedom of assembly and association. Although opposition forces were active and vocal in the National Assembly, decrees limiting certain political and other human rights remained in effect. Government intimidation of the press continued, and the independent press practiced self-censorship. The right to travel and the right to transfer funds or assets remained restricted for some senior officials of the former Jawara government facing corruption charges. Discrimination and violence against women persists. While government health professionals have focused greater attention on the dangers of female genital mutilation, the practice is widespread and entrenched.