By Almamo Kamaso
Addressing 67 ordinary session of the African Union (AU) Gambia’s Justice Minister Dawda A Jallow spoke on a range of under takings by Gambia Government as part of his government’s transition agenda.
Jallow inform the African body that in relation to the transitional justice processes and the transition to a fully-fledged democracy, a new draft Constitution was produced by the Constitutional Review Commission following extensive consultations nationwide and with Gambian nationals in the diaspora.
The draft which was subsequently submitted to the National Assembly in September couldn’t pass the threshold required to proceed to referendum. A process of dialogue with the leadership of all political parties has been initiated with a view to building consensus on all the contentious issues, with a view to re-submitting the draft to the National Assembly.
The Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission which is currently underway, has submitted its interim report in November 2019 and we await its final conclusion in the early part of 2021. The Government is already preparing in earnest for post TRRC activities and a multi-sectoral taskforce or working group will soon be constituted to coordinate this process.
“As part of our legislative reform agenda, a number of Bills have been introduced to the National Assembly for enactment. These include the criminal offences Bill and criminal procedure Bill, which seeks to radically transform our criminal justice system to bring it in line with modern criminal justice norms and practices” Jallow said.
In preparation for the next cycle of national elections from December, 2021, the Justice Minister told the AU, a review of the Elections Act has been carried out following consultations with the Independent Electoral Commission and stakeholder. The Elections Bill will be tabled before the National Assembly during the December session.
Justice Minister inform the gathering that Gambia inaugurated the NHRC for the first time in its history on 14 February 2018, The Commission is now fully operational and in April 2020, the Commission released its Annual Report, highlighting its Activities in 2019.
This reports highlighted the poor conditions of prison and detention facilities, the caste system in some parts of the country, sand mining, the right to freedom of assembly or protest, the freedom of the press and workplace policies protecting women were part of the activities detailed.
As part of efforts to prevent the spread of the Coronavirus in our prisons, the Government took proactive steps to decongest the prisons by pardoning more than one hundred and twenty prisoners and granting court bail to one hundred remand prisoners. Additionally, the Judiciary introduced a virtual court system to hear bail applications during the pandemic.
Commenting on the African continent, he told the delegates that “Our continent undoubtedly, continues to make steady progress and development in the promotion and protection of human rights. Some States have adopted laws to fulfil their human rights obligations under various regional and international instruments and others have adopted various strategies to implement the mechanisms for the establishment of institutions for the promotion and protection of human rights. Advances in democratic governance, significant reduction in armed conflicts and progress towards integration have also been made on the continent. These are all remarkable achievements that need to be encouraged for the benefit of the people of the continent”
However, Justice Minister told members that as a continent we continue to face challenges such as election violence resulting in internal conflicts in some parts of the continent; governance deficits, corruption; threats posed by terrorism, conflicts between herders and farmers, insurgencies, inadequate resources and capacity, among other challenges, continue to make our collective efforts in effectively addressing the human rights concerns of our peoples more difficult.
Minister Jallow called on members to remain vigilant and be open to new and innovative ways and ideas of addressing these difficult challenges. It is only by working together as states with the ultimate objective of lifting our peoples out of poverty and recognizing their inalienable rights to freedom, justice and the pursuit of happiness, that we shall become truly proud of ourselves as their servants.
He also encouraged Member States to take the reporting obligations to the Commission very seriously and act on their decisions and recommendations with speed.
Jallow concluded by saying their contributions as Governments, National Human Rights Institutions, Non-Governmental Organizations, and all other stakeholders working in the human rights arena are indeed very important towards ensuring the effective promotion and protection of the human rights of our peoples.
“This forum of the African Commission is therefore the right place to discuss fundamental issues of mutual concern to all the stakeholders” Jallow said.