By Omar Bah
The Gambia Government has categorically stated in its submission to the 34th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council Working Group that it has no plan to decriminalise same-sex marriage, LGBTQ.
The Universal Periodic Review is a mechanism of the UN Human Rights Council, responsible for periodic review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states.
Several human rights groups including the National Human Rights Commission and the Gambia Press Union have made submissions to the UN body over the human rights situation in the country. Among the concerns The Gambia has been facing is the criminalisation of same-sex marriages.
But according to the government, homosexuality is not largely accepted in The Gambia and it does not plan to decriminalise it. However, the government said the “aggravated homosexuality law” is only “partially implemented”.
In 2014, the former president, Yahya Jammeh, signed a bill into law that called for life imprisonment for some homosexual acts.
However, the government said through the transitional justice process, all repressive and discriminatory laws will be reviewed and repealed, thereby creating an enabling environment for human right defenders.
In its submissions on prison conditions in the country, the government said the “Prisons Act, Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Codes are under review to align them with best practices”.
The government also revealed its plans to relocate Mile II Central Prison from its present location to Jambur, Kombo South in the West Coast Region.
According to the government, a skills training centre has been established at the Mile 2 prisons where electrical installation, sewing, information technology and carpentry courses are taught.
“There is also a library for prisoners at Mile II and Janjangbureh prisons. Recreational facilities such as volleyball and football areas are available to prisoners at Mile II and Janjangbureh prison, enabling prisoners to engage in leisure activities,” the government said.
The government further stated in the report that a Prison Visiting Committee under the auspices of the Ministry for the Interior has been constituted and, among others, to monitor the feeding, health and sanitation facilities at the prisons.
“All prisoners are entitled to three meals daily. There is a system for isolation of persons with communicable diseases. There is a clinic facility and a nurse within the prison for the treatment of minor ailments of prisoners,” the report stated.
The government said despite the above measures to improve conditions, more needed to be done to effectively address conditions in the penitentiaries.
On inter-state cooperation and development assistance, the government said it is making all efforts through its engagement with development partners to make sure that life-saving treatment and drugs are provided to the people in need of such services.
The government said it takes all allegations of torture “very seriously” and had employed a series of measures proportionate to allegations of torture such as disciplinary proceedings and criminal prosecution. The government said the National Mechanism for Reporting and Follow-up (Inter-Ministerial Taskforce), the National Human Rights Commission and the Transitional Justice Process are challenges requiring the support of international communities.
With regard to the Faraba incident, the government only said “a commission of inquiry was established to investigate the loss of lives and causes of incident and it has submitted its report for consideration by the Government.
Critics have accused the government of being silent on a number of alleged violations in its submissions. These include the shooting of Haruna Jatta in Kanilai by Ecomig soldiers; the killing of Kebba Secka, a UTG student; the alleged torture and death of Ousman Darboe by Anti-Crime Unit personnel and allegations of police brutality.