Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh attends the plenary session of the Africa-South America Summit on Margarita Island September 27, 2009. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins/File Photo

UN Rights Chief warns Jammeh, his forces will be held responsible for rights violations

Gambia’s defeated President Yahya Jammeh has been warned by UN’s Human Rights Chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein that Jammeh with forces loyal to him would be held responsible for human rights violations in small West African nation for refusing to step down.

The political crisis in The Gambia escalated after President Jammeh increased military presence around the capital after rejecting the election results.

Forces loyal to Jammeh sealed the electoral commission office last week and the UN said the move risks heightening the current climate of intimidation and harassment in the country.

Jammeh refusal to step down is deeply worrying, given the record of human rights violations in The Gambia, including excessive use of force against demonstrators, arbitrary detention, and deaths in custody, as well as allegations of torture and ill-treatment of detainees.

“We remind the Gambian authorities that people should be able to exercise their rights to peaceful assembly, association, and freedom of expression. The security forces must exercise restraint in the use of force and uphold international human rights standards,” Zeid said. “All those responsible for human rights violations must be held accountable,” he added.

Gambian authorities recently released opposition detainees who were arrested for taking part in peaceful protests in April and May, including opposition leader Ousainou Darboe. Two opposition activists died, one tortured in detention and the other denied medical care, according to rights campaigners.

Riot police used excessive force including live rounds to disperse protesters. Human rights groups said protesters were beaten, kicked and slapped by law enforcement officers then thrown into waiting trucks.

President Jammeh, who has been in power for more than 22 years, initially accepted that Adama Barrow had won. However, on December 9, Mr. Jammeh rejected the results published by the Independent Electoral Commission (IEC) and called for fresh elections. His APRC party filed a petition challenging the results with the Supreme Court.

“There is currently no sitting Supreme Court in The Gambia and the way President Jammeh appointed and dismissed judges without following the constitutional provisions has undermined the independence and credibility of the judiciary,” Zeid said.

The UN’s Human Rights Commission, which had been denied permission by Jammeh’s government to conduct a fact-finding mission is urging the Jammeh and all political leaders to respect the result of the elections, the democratic process and the rule of law.

ECOWAS said it will enforce the outcome of The Gambia’s presidential polls and its leaders that left Banjul last week said political leaders reaffirmed their commitment to maintaining peace and order.

The UN is now urging Gambian leaders to commit to democracy and to work to ensure that there is a peaceful handover of the presidency by January 18 when Jammeh’s term legally expires in line with the freely expressed desire and will of the Gambian people.

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