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Urgent Interventions

Preliminary findings of a fact-finding mission confirm the existence of a climate of fear for human rights defenders

Geneva-Paris, May 18, 2010. An international fact-finding mission of 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), which was carried out last week in Dakar (Senegal) and Banjul (The Gambia), confirm the existence of a climate of fear for human rights defenders in The Gambia.

The mission, composed of Mr. Dougan Beaca, OMCT Vice-President (Equatorial Guinea), and Mr. Mohamed Suma, Executive Director of the Centre for Accountability and the Rule of Law (Sierra Leone), was carried out from May 4 to 11, 2010.

Concerned by the bad records of The Gambia regarding the respect of the right to freedom of expression, a country which host the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), the mission aimed at assessing the situation of Gambian human rights defenders by, in particular, drawing a panorama of the key civil society actors and the environment in which they operate, as well as by evaluating the position of the Gambian authorities vis-à-vis the defenders’ legitimate activities, focusing on the political will (or lack of) of Gambian institutions to offer them a safe environment to conduct their legitimate activities. The mission therefore met a large number of representatives of the Gambian civil society in Dakar and Banjul, of the international community as well as with the Gambian Minister of Justice.

Following the mission, a report will be drafted by the mission delegates, which shall be issued in the coming months and will present detailed conclusions and recommendations to the Government of The Gambia, the African Union, the ACHPR, the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN).

Although direct reprisals seem to have decreased since the harsh repression that hit human rights defenders in 2009, the mission found that there is an obvious climate of fear prevailing in the country and among the community of human rights defenders, who are seen as enemies by the authorities, which explains why people seem to exercise self censorship. The mission further regrets that more representatives of the authorities did not respond positively to the delegation's requests for meetings in spite of recurrent requests.

In view of this situation, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders recommend to the authorities of The Gambia:

  • to guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in The Gambia;
  • to put an end to all acts of harassment, including at the judicial level, against them;
  • to comply with the Gambian Constitution and the international and regional instruments ratified by The Gambia as well as with the provisions of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998;
  • to issue a standing invitation to the Special Rapporteurs of the ACHPR and of the UN on the situation of human rights defenders so that they visit the country.

For further information, please contact:

  • OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: + 41 22 809 49 39
  • FIDH: Karine Appy / Fabien Maitre: + 33 1 43 55 25 18
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