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Gambia's New President Commits to End Human Rights Abuses

In this photo taken Feb. 18, 2017, Gambia President Adama Barrow, left, signs a document during his inauguration ceremony in Banjul, Gambia.

As Gambia enters a new era of democracy, President Adama Barrow has reiterated his commitment to ending human rights abuses in the country.

"Orders have already been given for all those detained without trial to be released," he said Saturday before thousands of Gambians who gathered at Independence Stadium Saturday to witness his official inauguration and celebrate Gambia's independence anniversary.

This tiny West African nation has been in the spotlight for gross violation of human rights for more than two decades. The 22-year rule of former President Yahya Jammeh was marred by clampdowns on dissenting views, enforced disappearances and detention without trial, creating a climate of fear. Rights groups have called for the release of political prisoners, many of whom have already been freed since Barrow won December elections. Jammeh clung to power, creating a political crisis that forced Barrow to be inaugurated in January in Senegal, which surrounds Gambia except for its coast.

International pressure, including the threat of a regional military intervention, led Jammeh on Jan. 21 to finally accept his election loss and fly into exile in Equatorial Guinea. Hundreds of thousands welcomed Barrow's return to Gambia days later.

Barrow has pledged to reverse Jammeh's repressive policies and promised to keep Gambia in the International Criminal Court, rejoin the Commonwealth, and free political prisoners. At Saturday's ceremony, Barrow said his government will undertake key constitutional and legal reforms and said he would highlight them in his first address to the National Assembly.

"It [the legal reform] intends to enforce constitutional provisions that are entrenched to protect the fundamental rights of the citizens," he said.

Barrow said the Attorney General and Minister of Justice will receive information regarding all those who were arrested without being found. "An appropriate commission would be established to conduct inquiries into their disappearances," he said.

Barrow has also promised to establish a truth and reconciliation commission.