Gambia’s President Adama Barrow has signed at least five UN treaties, including one that would see the death penalty abolished and bring an end to enforced disappearance.
The signing is an ostensible show of the West African nation’s political will and commitment to uphold human rights and dignity after 22 years of repressive rule.
Gambia’s former regime of Yahya Jammeh arbitrarily detained, forcefully disappeared, and tortured those who voiced opposition to the government inciting a climate of fear.
In August 2012, the regime executed at least nine inmates, who were on death row without following due process, causing an international cry. Activists say the remains of the inmates, including two foreigners, are still nowhere to be found.
In January 2015, shortly after a botched coup, Gambian authorities forcibly disappeared dozens of friends and relatives of the alleged coup plotters, including elderly parents and a 16-year-old boy. They were held incommunicado, deprived of contact with family, and denied access to lawyers for up to seven months.
Barrow defeated Jammeh in last year’s elections after the torture-killing of opposition activists Solo Sandeng. President Barrow released tens political prisoners upon assuming power, some of whom had disappeared for years.
However, tens more remain missing, feared to be dead and buried in unmarked graves dotted around the country. Several of such graves have been unearthed in the southern West Coast Region.
Gambian authorities have temporarily halted exhumations facing challenges in identifying the bodies due to lack of forensics experts and equipment in an effort to keep evidence intact.
The UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances met with Mr. Barrow in June to study the measures adopted by his administration to prevent and eradicate enforced disappearances, including issues related to truth, justice, and reparation for the victims of enforced disappearances.
Activists say the death penalty violates the right to life, which happens to be the most basic of all human rights. It also violates the right not to be subjected to torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment.
President Barrow agrees that the death penalty undermines human dignity, which is inherent to every Gambian and human being. He seeks to make his country the champion of human rights in Africa.