Climate of fear amongst the community of human rights defenders

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Publication of an international fact-finding mission report

The report is available in English on the following web link: FIDH.

Geneva-Paris, July 22, 2011. As The Gambia celebrates today its national holiday, called “Freedom Day” by President Jammeh, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), publishes an international fact-finding mission report on the situation of human rights defenders in The Gambia. On this occasion, a press conference is organised in Dakar.

Following allegations of human rights violations against Gambian human rights defenders and public statement made by President Jammeh in September 2009 threatening to kill anyone who sought to sabotage and destabilise his Government, in particular human rights defenders and those who support them, the Observatory decided to send a fact-finding mission to The Gambia from May 2 to 11, 2010.

On the basis of elements collected during the mission, the mission report shows that there is a general climate of fear amongst Gambian human rights defenders, notably following the still unsolved assassination of Mr. Deyda Hydara, the Editor and co-founder of the private newspaper The Point, in 2004, the enforced disappearance of Mr. Ebrima Manneh, a journalist at the Daily Observer, in 2006, the continuing campaign of harassment by the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) against journalists, the 2009 presidential threat and, today, the multiplication of cases of prolonged judicial harassment, which seems to be the new technique to impede the peaceful activities of defenders. In addition, the restrictive legal and institutional framework hampers the promotion and defence of human rights. In this context, the State institutions have failed to guarantee effective protection to defenders.

As a consequence, the civil society movement in The Gambia cannot operate freely, organise itself and speak out. The media has therefore stepped up to fill the void. But journalists in turn face unlawful arrests, arbitrary detention and prosecution, forcing some of them to flee or to exercise self-censorship.

Today, although there are less acts of physical violence against human rights defenders, the Observatory is concerned about the recurrence of arrests and prolonged trials of defenders on baseless charges, which reveals State tendency to “legalise” repression against human rights defenders. The Observatory is concerned that attacks against human rights activists may rise as the presidential elections of September 2011 will get closer.

In view of the conclusions of its report, the Observatory formulates recommendations to the Gambian authorities, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the European Union. Furthermore, the Observatory calls upon the authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of human rights defenders and to put an end to all form of harassment against them, in conformity with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders and other international and regional instruments ratified by The Gambia.

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