Al Hadji Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, President of the Gambia, addresses the general debate of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly.
24/Sep/2009. United Nations, New York. UN Photo/Erin Siegal.

UN General Assembly opens; Gambia’s President Jammeh is absent again

World leaders are gathering in New York starting Monday for the United Nations General Assembly but Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh is absent again.

A total of 135 heads of state and governments and more than 50 ministers are expected to attend the General Assembly with 545 meetings requested by the United Nations Chief Ban ki-moon who is said to be taking part in 62 events according to the UN.

The Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh delegated his Vice President Aja Isatou Njie-Saidy accompanied by some cabinet ministers to attend the 193-member world body’s General Assembly. The Gambian delegation arrived in New York late Sunday and are lodged at the Royal Regency Hotel, located in Yonkers Westchester County in New York.

The presidency did not give any reason(s) for Mr Jammeh’s absence, which is the second in two years.

Mr Jammeh had in the past survived several military coups while been out of the country, the latest of which was in 2014 when he was almost unseated by a group former Gambian soldiers and dissidents in the U.S.

Due to his poor human rights record and international condemnations, Mr Jammeh might also be avoiding what was awaiting him from Diaspora Gambians in United States, where he is faced with protests all over from welcoming him at the airport, to his hotel and at the UN Building to further expose his brutal regime, the poor human rights record and atrocities committed under his rule.

Mr Jammeh frequently absents himself from regional and continental summits of ECOWAS and African Union calling the bodies Western-controlled.

His earlier encounter with the UN Chief Ban ki-Moon is also another issue believed by many as the cause of his absent after saying Mr. Moon and Amnesty International “can go to hell.”

In May, during an interview with French-based Jeune Afrique Magazine, Mr Jammeh slammed UN chief and Amnesty International for demanding an investigation into the death in custody of an opposition activist.

At the time, the government Information Minister Sheriff Bojang said he was unaware of his death but later Mr Jammeh struck a defiant note.

“I don’t see the point. People die in custody or during interrogations, it’s really common. This time, there is only one dead and they want investigations? I will not. No one can tell me what to do in my country,” Jammeh said.

Mr Jammeh who has ruled The Gambia with a rod of iron since 1994 said he would remain president “as long as God and the people wish.” He has been elected in 1996 and since then has been repeatedly reelected for five-year terms and will stand for a fifth term again in presidential polls slated for December.

Starting the week-long highlights at the UNGA, the U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon who steps down on December 31, and U.S. President Barack Obama who will leave office in January, will be addressing the 193-member world body for the last time. British Prime Minister Theresa May will be making her debut on the world stage less than three months after the vote to leave the European Union.

In UN corridors and at private meetings, the question of Ban’s successor will be a hot topic.

Portugal’s former Prime Minister Antonio Guterres has topped all four informal polls in the Security Council but he could be vetoed, possibly by Russia, and there are constant rumors of new candidates throwing their hats in the ring.

The secretary general has also invited leaders to a first-ever UN Summit on Refugees and Migrants on Monday. According to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, an “unprecedented” 65.3 million people were displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of more than 5 million from a year earlier and the highest number since World War II. They include 21.3 million refugees, 3.2 million asylum seekers, and 40.8 million people internally displaced within their own countries.

The Security Council is holding a ministerial meeting Thursday on improving aviation security, and it could meet again if agreement is reached on a resolution to support the nuclear test ban treaty which will likely single out North Korea, the only country to conduct tests in the 21st century.

The parties to the Iran nuclear deal are also scheduled to meet Thursday as well as the Quartet of Mideast mediators — the U.S.,  UN, EU and Russia — who are trying to get Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table.

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