Last Updated: Tuesday, 31 May 2016, 12:25 GMT

U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Gambia

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Gambia, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 1 June 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


The Gambia is a parliamentary democracy with an elected President and Parliament. Except for a coup attempt in 1981, The Gambia has had a history of political stability under the leadership of its only President since independence in 1965, Sir Dawda Jawara. His ruling People's Progressive Party (PPP) has dominated the unicameral Parliament, but several opposition parties, as well as independent politicians, participate in the political process.

The Gambia police force is responsible for maintaining law and order. It is firmly under civilian control. There have been some reports of police beating prisoners or detainees, but abuse of prisoners is not systematic, and reported incidents are investigated swiftly, with perpetrators punished as appropriate.

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, has begun to flourish.

The Government has made particular efforts to promote observance of human rights, which are constitutionally protected and generally observed in practice. The primary human rights problems include pretrial detention for lengthy periods, due to administrative inefficiences, and societal discrimination against women.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reported political killings or extrajudicial killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearance.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading punishment. Although there is no systematic abuse of prisoners or detainees, beatings of detainees by police or prison officials have occurred. When they occur, government officials usually have responded swiftly, investigating the incident, and, if warranted, pressing charges.

Prison conditions are severe, even after the Government implemented reforms following the death of several inmates in 1988 from beri-beri. The press continued to report that inmates in local prisons received inadequate medical care and nutrition. In response to the newspaper articles, the Government commissioned a study of the health and nutrition of prisoners: the nongovernmental African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) found that medical care and food hygiene were unsatisfactory but that there was no malnutrition. The Government allows prison visits by local Red

Cross representatives and close family members.

Recognizing that some police officers abuse citizens' rights in the execution of their duties, the new Inspector General of Police (IGP) initiated a training program to improve the quality of service provided by his officers and to raise police awareness of human rights, especially the rights of the accused. The IGP also formed a community affairs unit to review and act on complaints about police behavior.

Parliament in April voted to abolish the use of capital punishment.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Based on British legal practice, well-developed constitutional and legal procedures govern the arrest, detention, and public trial of persons accused of crimes. Under these procedures, an arrested person must not be held more than 24 hours before being presented to a magistrate or granted bail and must be promptly informed of charges. A detained person must be brought to trial within 1 week of arrest, but this waiting period may be extended twice, making 21 days the maximum period of detention without bail before trial. If released on bail, an accused person may face charges indefinitely since there is no maximum time limit for completing the investigation and bringing the case to trial.

In practice, because of overcrowded court schedules and administrative inefficiencies, the detention period before trial can be prolonged. The press reported several incidents in 1993 in which arrested Gambians were denied their rights under the Constitution. In one instance, the Gambian Supreme Court freed a man, suspected of murder but never formally charged, who had been detained in Mile Two Prison for 17 months. He was subsequently rearrested and remanded for custody at Mile Two Prison. In another case, the Supreme Court granted bail to a man charged with murder who had been held without trial at Mile Two Prison for almost 4 years. A third case came to light in which a young man had been detained for 20 days without charge.

To help guard against a reccurence of such cases, the Inspector General has delegated to the arresting officer the authority to grant bail or order the release of an arrested person who cannot be charged.

As far as is known, there were no political or security detainees or prisoners held by the Government at year's end.

The Government does not practice political exile. The leader of the failed 1981 coup, Kukoi Samba Sanyang, remained abroad.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

There are three kinds of law in the Gambia: general, customary, and Shari'a (Islamic). Shari'a law is observed in Muslim marriage and divorce proceedings. Customary law covers marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, inheritance, land tenure and utilization, local tribal government, and all other traditional civil and social relations. General law, based on the English system but modified by Gambian practice, governs criminal cases and trials and most organized business practices. If there is a conflict between general law and Shari'a, general law prevails.

Appeals normally proceed from the Supreme (trial) Court to the Court of Appeals, the country's highest tribunal. Judges are appointed by the Government, but the judiciary operates independently and is free of government interference.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

The Constitution contains provisions (which are generally respected) against arbitrary search of person and property. It does permit a search to which a suspect submits voluntarily or if the search is reasonably required in the interest of national defense or public welfare. Under the Criminal Code, search warrants based on probable cause are issued by magistrates upon application by the police.

The Code also specifies that police may conduct a search of a private residence while a crime is in progress. There are a few checkpoints in the country where the police and military periodically stop and search drivers and vehicles.

The rights of family are of great importance in the Gambia's conservative Muslim society. Marriage, the rearing of children, and religious instruction are regulated primarily by personal preference and ethnic and religious tradition; the Government does not normally intrude in family matters. There is no effort to censor or control personal correspondence or communications.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press. Ordinary citizens openly criticize government policies during public meetings or in private conversations. During the 1992 election, opposition political parties freely criticized the Government's record. In 1993 a third major newspaper, a monthly, began publication.

There is no television in the Gambia, although Senegalese broadcasts can be received with standard television antennas, and international broadcasts can be received via satellite dishes, which are becoming more common. The government radio station, Radio Gambia, provides the only daily local news coverage, which is also broadcast by the two commercial radio stations. During the 1992 elections and 1993 by-elections, opposition parties had access to Radio Gambia, although there were some complaints in this respect. Foreign magazines and newspapers are available in the capital. There is no university in the Gambia.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government does not interfere with freedom of assembly and association, which is provided for in the Constitution. The Government almost always grants permits for peaceful assembly but requires that these meetings be open to the public. Permits for assembly are issued by the police and are not denied for political reasons. No organization is currently proscribed in the Gambia. The law on proscribed organizations has been amended so that future bans will require a judicial decision rather than a presidential decree. The State must now apply to a court for a proscription order, citing specific grounds for the request.

c. Freedom of Religion

Constitutional provisions of freedom of conscience, thought, and religion are observed in practice. The State is secular, although Muslims constitute over 90 percent of the population. The schools provide instruction in the Koran for Muslim students. Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, freely practice their religion. There is a small Baha'i community in Banjul. Missionaries are permitted to carry out their activities freely.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for freedom of movement, subject to conditions protecting public safety, health, and morals. There is no restriction on freedom of emigration or freedom of return. Because of historic and ethnic ties with the inhabitants of Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Sierra Leone, and Mauritania, people tend to move freely across borders, which are poorly marked and difficult to police.

The Gambia continued to host refugees from Liberia and Senegal. However, during 1993 the arrival of Liberian refugees into the Gambia virtually ceased, and many Liberians living in the Gambia departed voluntarily. At year's end, some 250 Liberians remained in The Gambia. Refugees from southern Senegal's Casamance region also began returning home in 1993, following the July cease-fire between the Casamance separatist group and the Government of Senegal. The Casamancais refugee population in The Gambia decreased from some 3,500 at the beginning of 1993 to 2,000 by the end of the year. The Gambia maintained its tradition of hospitality towards refugees and worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the Gambian Red Cross, and other nongovernmental organizations to provide assistance and protection to refugees.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Citizens have the right to change their government through peaceful means. The President and Members of Parliament are popularly elected, as are the district councils and the chiefs who exercise traditional authority in the villages and compounds. Presidential and parliamentary elections are held every 5 years. Citizens must be at least 18 years of age to vote. Balloting is secret, and measures are employed to assure that illiterate voters understand the choices and voting procedure.

A functioning multiparty system exists, even though the Peoples' Progressive Party (PPP) under the leadership of President Jawara has been in power since independence. All opposition parties contest general elections, and some contest district elections. In the April 1992 presidential and parliamentary elections, candidates from the five political parties as well as independent candidates campaigned vigorously. Observers as well as most participants declared the election free and fair. President Jawara was reelected President, but his PPP lost six seats in Parliament. The overall distribution of elected parliamentary seats was 25 for the PPP, 6 for the National Convention Party (NCP), 2 for the Gambian People's Party (GPP), and 3 independents.

In accordance with election law, seven defeated parliamentary candidates filed petitions at the Supreme Court challenging the results in their districts. The Court dismissed petitions of two NCP candidates, but the Chief Justice heard five petitions from PPP candidates. Of the five cases, the Chief Justice heard one in 1992, ruling against the petitioner, and four in 1993, ruling against the petitioners in two cases and for the petitioners in the other two. In the latter cases he declared the parliamentary seats vacant and ordered by-elections. In the June by-elections, citizens overwhelmingly elected the same candidates they had chosen in the general election. Again, independent press observers deemed the elections free and fair.

While women are represented in the political process, there are no women in the 14-person Cabinet, and only 4 women in the 51-seat Parliament.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

In 1989 the Government established an independent, nongovernmental organization, the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), to promote greater respect for human rights in Africa. The Centre publishes a newsletter and relevant international human rights materials, organizes regional human rights forums and workshops, conducts research on human rights and democracy in Africa, and sustains a training and internship program for local and international participants. The ACDHRS was also active in inspecting prison conditions in 1993 (see Section 1.c.) There are no other local human rights organizations active in the Gambia.

International human rights organizations may visit to observe the condition of detainees and the trial process. The Gambia is also home to the Organization of African Unity's Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, the organization charged with protecting and promoting human rights in member countries under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution states that all persons in the Gambia are entitled to "fundamental rights and freedoms," regardless of "race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed, or sex." There is no officially sanctioned discrimination based on race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status.


Despite Constitutional provisions, women face extensive discrimination. Traditional views, especially about the role of women in society, are changing but very slowly. Marriages are usually "arranged," and Muslim tradition allows for polygyny. Women are disadvantaged educationally, with females comprising one-third of primary students and one-fourth of high school students. The Government has encouraged parents to send their daughters to school. The Women's Bureau in the Office of the Vice President conducts an ongoing campaign in both the rural and urban areas to make women aware of their legal rights in respect to divorce and custody of children, property matters, and in cases of assault. It also publishes a quarterly magazine on women's issues, which it distributes throughout the country.

Domestic violence, including wife beating, occurs but is rare, according to health officials. Police intervene when they receive reports of beatings, and the authorities prosecute when the victim or others file complaints. The media covers such court cases, reporting newsworthy incidents.


The Government of The Gambia is committed to the human rights and welfare of all Gambians. Care and welfare of The Gambia's children are considered to be primarily familial, rather than governmental, responsibilities, but authorities intervene when cases of abuse or maltreatment of children arise and are reported.

Female genital mutilation (circumcision) which has been condemned by health experts as damaging to physical and psychological health, is practiced, usually at an early age. According to an independent expert, the percentage of Gambian females who have undergone this procedure may be as high as 60 percent. The Womens Bureau holds workshops on female mutilation to inform women of its negative effects and to discuss the religious and traditional ties to the practice.

Some young boys, known as almudos, experience severe hardship, deprivation, and degradation. They are given by their parents to Koranic scholars to learn the Islamic holy book. In return for their education, they must work for their scholars, almost always by begging in the street. Reports indicate that these boys often sleep 20 or 30 to a room, have hardly any clothing, eat barely enough to survive, and endure serious health problems. Many are beaten by their teachers if they do not bring home enough money and by other adults they encounter on the streets. Reports indicate that as many as 60 percent of almudos are not Gambian. The Government has recognized the problem, and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, assisted by the United Nations Children's Fund, is conducting a study into the plight of the almudos and other street children in the Gambia. The study, begun in 1993, was still in progress at year's end.

People with Disabilities

There are no statutes or regulations currently in force requiring accessibility for the disabled.

No legal discrimination against the physically disabled exists in employment, education, and other state services. Most severely handicapped individuals subsist through private charity; less severely handicapped persons are fully accepted in society and encounter no discrimination in employment for which they are physically capable.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Labor Act of 1990 applies to all workers except civil servants. The Act specifies that workers are free to form associations, including trade unions, and provides for their registration with the Government. Police officers and military personnel, as well as other civil service employees, are specifically prohibited from forming unions and going on strike.

Approximately 20 percent of the work force is employed in the modern wage sector of the economy, where unions are normally active. The Gambian Workers' Confederation (GWC) and the Gambian Workers' Union (GWU) are the two main independent and competing umbrella organizations. Both are recognized by, and have good working relationships with, the Government but are independent of the Government and political parties.

The Labor Act of 1990 authorizes strikes, but it specifies that a union must give the Commissioner of Labor 14 days' written notice before beginning an industrial action (28 days for essential services). Retribution is not permitted against strikers who comply with the law regulating strikes. However, upon application by an employer to the Supreme Court, that body may prohibit an industrial action that is ruled to be in pursuit of a political objective. The Court may also forbid an action that is in breach of a collectively agreed procedure for the settlement of industrial disputes that has not been exhausted.

Because of these provisions, government conciliation efforts, and the weak bargaining position of the unions, few strikes actually occur. In June the Gambia suffered its only minor industrial action of the year. In a wildcat action, sanitation workers stopped work for 24 hours because they had not been paid on time. The strikers were successful in obtaining payment of salary arrears.

Unions exercise the right to affiliate internationally, and there are no restrictions on their members' ability to participate in international activities.

b. The Right To Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Act of 1990 provides workers the right to organize and bargain collectively. Although trade unions are small and fragmented, collective bargaining does take place. Each recognized union has specified guidelines for its activities. Prevailing wages exceed minimum wages and are determined by collective bargaining, arbitration, or market forces. The Labor Department registers the collective bargaining agreements reached between the unions and management, after ensuring that the agreements do not violate the Labor Act. There are no reports of denial of registration. The Act also sets minimum standards for contracts in the areas of hiring, training, terms of employment, wages, and termination of employment. The Act states that "any term of a contract of employment prohibiting an employee from becoming or remaining a member of any trade union or other organization representing workers...shall be null and void." Employers are not permitted to fire or otherwise discriminate against members of legal unions engaged in legally permitted union activities. Otherwise, the Government does not interfere in the bargaining process.

There are no export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Criminal Code prohibits compulsory labor, and it is not practiced.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum legal working age is 16. There is no compulsory education legislation, and, because of the paucity of secondary school opportunities, most children complete their formal education by age 14 and informally enter the work force. Employee labor cards, which include a person's age, are registered with the Labor Commissioner, but enforcement inspections rarely take place because of lack of funding and inspectors. Children at early ages perform customary chores on family farms or engage in street trading.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

By law, minimum wages and hours of work are determined by six Joint Industrial Councils (commerce, artisans, transport, the port industry, agriculture, and fisheries), which have representation from employees, employers, and government. The lowest minimum wage is $0.95 (9 dalasi) per day for unskilled labor. Minimum wages do not provide for a decent standard of living for a worker and his family. Moreover, only that 20 percent of the total labor force, i.e. those in the wage sector, are covered by minimum wage legislation. The remainder are privately employed, chiefly in subsistence agriculture. Most Gambians do not live on one worker's earnings and rely on the extended family system, usually including some subsistence farming.

The standard legal workweek is 48 hours within a period not to exceed 6 consecutive days. Allowance is made for half-hour lunch breaks. For the private sector, the 6-day, 40-hour workweek includes 4 8-hour days with half days on Fridays and Saturdays. Government employees are entitled to 1 month's paid annual leave after 1 year of service; private sector employees receive between 14 and 30 days of paid annual leave, depending on their length of service.

The Labor Act provides a list of occupational categories and specifies safety equipment that an employer must supply to employees working in these categories. The Factory Act gives the Minister of Labor authority to regulate factory health and safety, accident prevention, and dangerous trades and to appoint inspectors to ensure compliance. However, enforcement is less than fully satisfactory because there are too few trained inspectors. Workers may refuse to work in dangerous work situations. Workers in hazardous working environments are entitled to protective equipment and clothing.

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