Last Updated: Thursday, 19 October 2017, 08:52 GMT

Statutory Murder in Gambia: Time for AU and ECOWAS to Act

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 6 September 2012
Cite as Article 19, Statutory Murder in Gambia: Time for AU and ECOWAS to Act, 6 September 2012, available at: [accessed 19 October 2017]
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 recent execution of nine death row inmates in The Gambia on President Yahya Jammeh's orders can best be described as murder. The brazen nature of the President's pronouncement, the fact that at least one of the inmates still had a pending appeal and the obvious inadequacies of the Gambian judicial system reveal an unfair process that is akin to pre-meditated murder. This development is tragic and every pressure must be brought to bear to stop further reckless disregard for life in The Gambia. The world cannot stand and watch while such state sponsored killings play out. Jammeh has promised to execute all of the estimated 42 inmates on death row by mid-September.

What confronts us in The Gambia following these despicable actions is not whether The Gambia can implement the death penalty, but rather whether a judicial system fraught with errors and susceptible to blatant manipulations can make fair decisions on the question of death sentences. The facts here are glaring - even Gambia's inadequate constitutional guarantees were not followed. Mere compliance with letters of the law that fall short of international standards in the execution of a death sentence cannot stand. There are basic fundamental human rights that were brazenly abused. According to his lawyer, Lamin Darboe who was among those killed has a pending appeal. Reports also indicate that Buba Yarboe at the time of commission of the crime was clinically insane and was in a similar state at the time of his execution. There is a credible threat that these actions will continue. The AU, ECOWAS, and African leaders must express a sense of urgency and firmness – making Jammeh know that he has gone too far and the world is appalled.

The right to life as recognized under Article 4 of the African Charter is one of the most basic and sacrosanct of all rights. Any qualifications to this right must be viewed with utmost caution and the highest sense of responsibility. What is happening in Gambia assaults everything ECOWAS and the African Union (AU) represents. It is the height of executive callousness. It is no longer a matter of sovereignty - the principle many leaders hide under to allow dictatorship and impunity. It is an emergency situation that necessitates urgent action to prevent murder and place the protection of the lives of death row inmates in Gambia above all other considerations. This is why Jammeh must be stopped.

ECOWAS and the AU must tell President Jammeh to desist from the reprehensible acts of executing inmates on death row, especially when it is well documented that Gambia's justice sector and systems are flawed and subjected to executive pressure and presidential manipulation. If the AU and ECOWAS remain mute on this matter, it sends the wrong message that African leaders give tacit approval to tyranny and impunity.

This is the moment that ECOWAS and AU must dispel the growing notion that non-interference is increasingly giving way to a policy of indifference. They must demonstrate that the AU's human rights and governance commitments will be respected and adhered to. Silence on the part of ECOWAS, the AU, and individual African leaders suggest that Africa continues to collectively cover up for the reckless behavior of tyrants like Jammeh.

There are many options on the table to deal with the government of The Gambia. Travel bans, global freezing of financial and economic assets, suspension of budgetary, technical and capacity support to the security sector and the judiciary, suspension of military cooperation, diplomatic boycott of Gambian state functions and more support to civil society organizations including those in the Diaspora.

Some combination of these measures must now be imposed on Jammeh and his cronies.  International probes into torture, illegal detention, enforced disappearances and rampant corruption should also be considered. Gambia has now demonstrated that it can no longer host the Africa Commission on Human and People's Rights. The Commission should be moved as a clear sign that the AU respects human rights.

Condemnation alone is not enough. Africa needs to distance itself from this behavior and show by its reactions that this kind of recklessness cannot be tolerated neither in The Gambia nor anywhere else.

Signed by:

1. ARTICLE 19 West Africa

ARTICLE 19 monitors, researches, publishes, advocates, campaigns, sets standards and litigates on behalf of freedom of expression wherever it is threatened.

2. The Centre for Citizens' Participation on the African Union (CCP-AU)

CCP-AU is a network of national, regional and continental civil society organizations and activists that aspire to broaden and strengthen substantive engagement between the African Union, its organs and institutions and the citizens of Africa. We seek to bring African citizens to the AU and take the AU to the citizens of Africa.

3. Civil Society Associations Gambia (CSAG)

CSAG is a coalition of seven Gambian civil and human rights organizations whose objective is the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in The Gambia. The coalition is driven by an intense desire to maximize our effectiveness in dealing with the daunting problems of human rights abuses. Over the past seventeen years, violations of human rights have become a constant feature in the daily life of Gambians. CSAG is therefore, an endeavor to address the menace of human and civil rights violations and the restoration of democracy and the rule of law in The Gambia.

4. Federation of African Journalists (FAJ)

To defend freedom of expression, and the professional independence of journalists and to vigorously campaign for press freedom in Africa, if necessary in partnership with governments and other civil society organizations in relation with the pluralism in the media and independence from any form of political or economic interference;

5. Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA)

OSIWA is dedicated to the creation of open societies in West Africa. We seek to promote inclusive democratic governance, transparent and accountable institutions and active citizenship in West Africa.

6. West African Civil Society Institute (WACSI)

Our aim is to strengthen the institutional and operational capacity of Civil Society Organisations to engage in policy intervention and the promotion of democratic values and principles in West Africa.

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