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Amnesty Criticizes Gambian Leader on Rights Violations

FILE - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh
FILE - Gambian President Yahya Jammeh

Comment comes after President Jammeh responded negatively to calls for an investigation into the death of an opposition activist while in police custody.

Gambian President Yahya Jammeh is blind to what international groups see as a deterioration of human rights in Gambia, an Amnesty International official says.

Adotei Akwei, managing director for government relations at Amnesty International USA, said his organization and other civil society groups will continue to publicize human rights abuses by the Jammeh government.

This comes after Jammeh responded negatively to calls by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Amnesty International for an investigation into the death of opposition activist Solo Sandeng while in police custody.

In an interview with Jeune Afrique -- a French language weekly news magazine published in Paris -- Jammeh said no one can tell him what to do in his country.

The Gambian leader told the magazine he saw no point of launching an investigation over the death of one person.

Urges others to speak out

Akwei said he hopes other West African leaders will speak out against what he sees as abuses in Gambia because stability and good governance in a neighboring country is beneficial to all in the subregion.

“One of the real frustrations and criticisms that you hear from the Gambian diaspora is that no one is paying attention to what’s going on in Gambia. And it’s really time for ECOWAS [Economic Community of West African States] to reiterate that their standard of governance, international and regional human rights standard that all of the governments in West need to respect and live by and that Gambia can no longer get a free ride or just decide to ignore them,” he said.

Gambian security forces Saturday arrested Ousainu Darboe, leader of the country’s main opposition United Democratic Party (UDP), and some of his supporters.

There were reports that Sandeng, UDP's national organizing secretary, had been tortured to death while in police detention.

Sheriff Bojan, Gambia’s information minister, said last month he knew of nothing about anyone being killed. But he said opposition leader Darboe and his “cohorts” broke Gambian law by holding a demonstration without permission from the police.

President Jammeh told Jeune Afrique it was common for people to die in custody or during interrogations and so there was no point of launching an investigation because of the death of one person.

'Missing the point'

However, AIUSA's Akwei said, “I think people dying all the time is completely missing the point. The government of Gambia is obligated to protect the rights, livelihood and health of the Gambian people. What you have here is the Gambian authorities detaining people, restricting freedom of expression, freedom of association, targeting members of the opposition or even civil society.”

Akwei said by refusing to launch an independent investigation to either prove there was misconduct by the government or there was an accidental death shows the Gambian government is losing its legitimacy.

He said he’s not surprised that some people have begun demanding for Gambia to be sent to the International Criminal Court.

“I think human rights and other members of civil society are going to continue to push for increased pressure from the AU [African Union] and from the donor countries that work with the Gambian government ... to call for an independent investigation,” Akwei said.

Jammeh also said in the interview with Jeune Afrique he was “proud" to be labeled as a “dictator,” but he said, “I am just a dictator of development."

“When I took power, this country was one of the poorest countries in the world. This is no longer the case. There is an opposition, an elected parliament, we have one of the best public health systems,” Jammeh said.