(JollofNews) – Amnesty International has called on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC), its members and observer states to establish an investigation into human rights violations by the Gambian regime of President Yahya Jammeh.
In a statement issued ahead of the 28th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva where a report by the Special Rapporteurs on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment in the Gambia will be discussed, the rights group said it has over the years documented numerous cases of intimidation, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, enforced disappearance and unlawful killings of journalists, human rights defenders and political activists in Gambia.
The London-based organisation said although the Jammeh regime had in November 2014 denied the Rapporteurs access to the Security Wing of Mile 2 prison, where death row prisoners and others sentenced to long prison terms are held, their preliminary findings have revealed that torture is prevalent in the small West African country.
It added that their reports on the deteriorating human rights situation including torture and other ill-treatment of people in the Gambia are similar to the findings of the Rapporteurs.
It said the Rapporteurs have noted in their report that “the nature of the torture is brutal and includes very severe beatings with hard objects or electrical wires; electrocution, asphyxiation by placing a plastic bag over the head and filling it with water and burning with hot liquid. These methods of torture generally occurred over a period of days or even weeks.”
The rights group added that the Rapporteurs have also expressed concerns about prison conditions in the Gambia and the lack of an effective complaints mechanism to address allegations of torture and other ill-treatment.
Amnesty International said it has received information of recent arrests and torture of a homophobic nature and it has recorded that at least eight people, including three women and a 17-year-old boy, were arrested by the Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and Presidential Guards in November 2014 and threatened with torture because of their presumed sexual orientation.
“All those arrested were detained under investigation for “homosexuality” and were subjected to ill-treatment, such as beating, sensory deprivation and the threat of rape to force them to confess their “crimes”, it added.
“Amnesty International received information that a further six individuals were reportedly arrested in November and December 2014 on the same grounds; three of the men arrested are currently facing trial in the High Court of Banjul.”
The right group added that it has also received information that Gambian law enforcement agencies including the NIA and Presidential Guard have arrested at least 30 persons, including a 16-year-old boy, since the beginning of January after a failed alleged coup attempt in the capital Banjul on 30 December 2014.
It said the detainees are being held incommunicado and without charge and security forces have threatened to arrest anyone demanding the release or whereabouts of those arbitrarily detained.
“Amnesty International is concerned about the use of arbitrary detention and torture and other ill-treatment against human rights defenders or opponents of the regime,” the right group said.
“It is also concerned about restrictions to the right to freedom of expression, in particular through successive legislation passed in recent years unnecessarily restricting this right and imposing increased punishments.”
It added that recent amendments to the Criminal Code in May 2013, which include the charge of providing “false information to a public servant” is broad and subject to abuse by law enforcement authorities, in particular the NIA. It added that the new law is also likely to result in the detention and interrogation of persons, in particular, journalists and human rights defenders and others who express dissent, all of whom are at risk of torture or ill-treatment during interrogation.
Amnesty International added: “The shrinking space allowed for human rights activism and any form of political dissent is a major obstacle to exposing, preventing and addressing the use of torture and other ill-treatment in Gambia.”
The rights group said although the Gambia has put in place a conditional moratorium on the death penalty since the execution of nine death row inmates in August 2012, prisoners continue to be exposed to “death row phenomenon”, which is “a combination of circumstances that produce severe mental trauma and physical deterioration in prisoners under sentence of death”.
It added that the executions in 2012, which took place after a 27-year-long moratorium, were carried out without informing the prisoners, their lawyers or families in advance, and the authorities did not return the bodies of the executed to their families for burial.
The right group called on the Jammeh regime to desist from reprisals and intimidation against persons cooperating with the UN in the field of human rights, improve the conditions of detention in all places of detention and ensure that prisoners and detainees have access to medical care, adequate and appropriate food, hygiene and exercise.
It also called on the regime to investigate all allegations of torture or other ill-treatment and hold to account the individuals responsible, establish an independent mechanism that promptly and effectively investigates all allegations of torture or ill-treatment, establish a permanent moratorium on executions, with a view to abolition, commute all death sentences, and ensure that prisoners on death row enjoy fully their right to seek clemency.
It further called on the regime to immediately end the policy of continued harassment, intimidation, arbitrary arrest and torture of people due to their perceived sexual orientation and of human rights defenders, journalists, political activists, and their families, repeal legislation that restricts freedom of expression inconsistently with human rights standards and ratify human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol, the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.