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Rights Groups Criticize Gambia Hosting AU Rights Conference

Rights Groups Criticize Gambia Hosting AU Rights Conference

Rights Groups Criticize Gambia Hosting AU Rights Conference

The third conference of African National Human rights Institutions is scheduled to take place in The Gambian capital Banjul from this Sunday November 8 to the 10th.

The African Union said the conference is expected to come up with a road map for facilitating collaboration between the African Union organs with human rights mandate and the African National Human Rights Institutions.

The International Federation for Human Rights earlier this week called on the African Union to move the headquarters of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights from Banjul because it feared for the safety of its delegates due to what it called ‘hostile climate in The Gambia.

Professor Kwame Karikari, executive director for the Media Foundation for West Africa said the call to move the headquarters of the AU Commission on Peoples’ and Human Rights from Banjul is a laudable one.

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“The call to move the headquarters from Banjul is in response to (President) Yahya Jammeh’s recent threats to kill human rights people in The Gambia because of his own madness…in that sense, I think we all support the principle that the commission must be seated where human rights activists, organizations and their representatives can operate without the interference and threats of the host government,” he said.

During a television speech on September 21, President Jammeh reportedly threatened those he said were seeking to sabotage or destabilize his government, including defenders of human rights and all their supporters.

Karikari said even the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has had to condemn The Gambian president’s remarks.

“I do know that the commission itself is not happy operating from Banjul because NGOs are pressuring that they cannot come to work with them (the commission) there. And if they cannot come and work with them, then the work of the commission is made invalid,” Karikari said.

Still he said he does not believe that by having the conference of African National Human Rights Institutions in Banjul the African Union is endorsing Gambia’s dismal human rights practices.

“I don’t think they are endorsing it. Some governments have not been happy with Yahya Jammeh’s treatment of human rights in his own country. But I think that as far as the AU is concerned, Yahya Jammeh has not issued threats against the commission,” he said.

Karikari described as complicated the problem of African human rights in particular countries.

For example, he said even though successive governments in Ethiopia have shown no respect for human rights, yet the African Union continues to have its headquarters in Addis Ababa.

A growing number of journalists and human rights activists in The Gambia have recently been imprisoned, tortured or even killed.

Karikari said even though President Jammeh in August granted amnesty and released a number of journalists from prison, the situation of journalists has not improved.

“It is not improving. The laws that cripple media and freedom of expression are intact, the security force that he uses to intimidate and harass and torture people are still there, the press still operates under self-censorship, those newspapers that have been banned, the radio stations that have been closed down by force have not been reopened; those who have run away under persecution cannot go back,” Karikari said.

The Media Foundation for West Africa had filed a number of cases with the West Africa Community Court in Abuja, Nigeria against Gambia’s treatment of journalists.

Karikari said attempts by President Jammeh to change the protocol establishing the community court were rejected by the Council of Justice Ministers from the Economic Community of West African States.

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