61st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the 30th Anniversary of the Establishment of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
Opening Statement by
His Excellency, Mr. Adama Barrow
President of the Republic of The Gambia
61st Ordinary Session of the
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
30th Anniversary of the Establishment of the
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights
1ST November, 2017, Kairaba Beach Hotel
Banjul, The Gambia
Your Excellency, the Vice President,
Honourable Speaker of the National Assembly,
His Lordship, Chief Justice,
Honourable members of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,
Excellencies, Members of the Diplomatic and Consular Corps,
Distinguished Delegates of African Union Member States,
Distinguished Representatives of National Human Rights Institutions,
Distinguished Representatives of Non-Governmental and Civil Society Organisations,
Members of the Press,
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
On behalf of the Government and People of The Gambia, and on my own behalf, I welcome you all to this historic opening ceremony. The Government of The Gambia is delighted to host the 61st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which also coincides with the 30th anniversary of the establishment of the Commission.
Without doubt, that the Commission has worked tirelessly towards the promotion and protection of human rights on the African continent for the past 30 years. I wish to recognise its excellent contributions and achievements in this regard. The establishment of the Commission continues to be a source of immense pride and hope for Africa - and in particular The Gambia as the host nation.
The people of The Gambia recognise the commitment and support of the African Commission in ensuring that human rights are protected in The Gambia despite the uncooperative attitude of the former government. The Commission never shied away from carrying out its mandate, even when it seemed impossible to do so in The Gambia, and for this we will remain forever grateful.
Allow me to also acknowledge the tremendous contributions of regional and international human rights organisations, human rights defenders and non-governmental organisations, who have worked tirelessly over the years to ensure that the unfortunate situation of our people remained on the regional and global political agenda. Thanks to their efforts, the people of this country were not forgotten by the international community.
Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
You will agree with me that the African continent has come a long way since the inception of the Banjul Charter. Although there have been many obstacles along the way, there have also been numerous achievements and milestones.
Since the establishment of the Commission, African states have made great strides in the promotion and protection of human rights in their respective countries through the adoption of laws and policies in fulfilment of their human rights obligations under the Charter. Although the level and extent of human rights protection varies from state to state, the commitment to advance human rights is steadily gaining ground throughout the continent.
The sessions of the Commission are therefore an important mechanism for all stakeholders to carry out an objective assessment of the levels of implementation of our individual obligations under the African Charter.
Excellences, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen.
On the home front, the Government of The Gambia has enacted numerous laws aimed at the protection and promotion of human rights. Most recently, in the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, I signed five international treaties. They included the Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, and the Convention Against Enforced Disappearances. In the next few months, we intend to ratify many human rights related treaties including the Convention Against Torture.
One of the key reforms of my administration is the adoption of a new Republican Constitution within the shortest time possible. Existing constitutional provisions on protection of human rights shall be strengthened in the new constitutional order.
However, it is important to note that human rights protection must not only be about enacting laws on paper. Concrete steps must be taken through the creation of institutions, policies and programmes for the full realisation and enjoyment of these rights.
Conscious of the fact that human rights are undeniable and interdependent, my government has been working towards enhancing the lives of our citizens and ensuring that our obligations under the African Charter are fulfilled.
My government has resolved to improve the country’s legal and institutional environment and to align the entire governance structure with international justice and human rights standards.
To this end, my government has developed a National Development Plan for the period 2018 to 2021. It will serve as a blueprint for the realisation of our goals in various areas of the public service. These include security sector reform, administration of justice, improvements in the health and education sectors, towards the empowerment of women, improving conditions for the Gambia’s youth, and addressing children’s issues.
We are focused on rebuilding a broken nation, and laying the foundation of an administration of justice system in the country capable of sustaining our democracy, and at the same time dealing with the past in a constructive manner.
As part of our transitional justice project, we are establishing a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. This Commission will document the widespread human rights violations of the previous government with a view to establishing an impartial historical record of the truth to foster social cohesion and encourage national reconciliation. Essentially, these initiatives aim to address impunity, and to recognise the rights and dignity of victims through the provision of appropriate reparations to ensure the country is able to move forward.
I am proud to inform you that since the inauguration of my government at the beginning of the year, a total number of 334 prisoners have now been released from prisons and other detention centres around the country, including all political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.
We reviewed 241 pending criminal cases involving 304 accused persons. Prosecutions in 36 cases involving 86 accused persons were discontinued on the basis of insufficient evidence. There are currently fewer people remanded in custody and awaiting trial or the conclusion of trial. Prisoners with medically certified mental disabilities have now been transferred from prisons to a psychiatric hospital for treatment.
There has been a considerable positive shift in the public space on the exercise of the right to freedom of speech and the media, which is vital in any genuine democracy. Presently, we are working closely with international human rights organisations for the total overhaul of media laws, to remove all repressive provisions that suppress the fundamental right to freedom of expression and opinion. Additionally, we have removed all censorship of the private and public media.
My government also recognises the need for the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission which has been delayed over the past few years. Efforts are currently underway to finalise the bill for the establishment of a National Human Rights Commission in compliance with the Paris Principles for the first time in the history of this country.
My government is aware of the obligation of The Gambia under the “Host State Agreement” to construct a permanent structure to house the Secretariat of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Accordingly, the Ministry of Justice, in consultation with the Secretariat of the Commission, has constituted a task force comprising all stakeholders mandated, among other things, to raise funds for the construction of the said Secretariat.
We will be making a Declaration pursuant to Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the establishment of an African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, to allow individuals and NGOs to have direct access to the Court.
The Government is equally conscious of its other treaty obligations, including the timely submission of reports to the Commission under the Charter.
The African dream that gave life to the establishment of the Commission 30 years ago is much alive today as it was then. I wish to reiterate the total commitment of the Government of The Gambia to the African Commission and its ideals. We stand ready and willing to work with you to champion the cause of respect for and protection of human rights of all peoples on the African continent.
We call upon all states on the continent to give their full support to the Commission.
I am certain that this session will open the platform for fruitful deliberations to assess and take stock of our achievements and challenges in the last 30 years.
I extend my appreciation to you all for traveling from far and wide to attend this celebratory session. While wishing you fruitful deliberations, it is my fervent hope that you will make time to explore and enjoy our smiling coast during your stay.
Finally, I extend my appreciation to the outgoing Commissioners for the excellent service rendered to the Commission over the years. We acknowledge your immense contributions, individually and collectively, to the promotion and protection of human rights in our continent. I am optimistic that your successors will continue the good work that you have all carried out during your respective tenures.
On that note, Your Excellencies, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, it is my singular honour and privilege to declare this 61st Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights officially open.
I thank you all for your kind attention.