NGOs seek abolition before African human rights body, The Gambia bucks the trend
During the opening session of the 48th ordinary session of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR), World Coalition member organisations International Federation of ACAT, Foundation for Human Rights Initiative, International Harm Reduction Association, World Organisation Against Torture and Penal Reform International read a joint statement to the ACHPR.
The statement congratulated Burundi and Togo for joining the world’s abolitionist community in 2009 and also Burkina Faso, Benin and Mali which have shown political will to move towards the abolition of the death penalty. According to the joint statement, “this is a strong indication that abolition of the death penalty is gaining ground within the African Union.”
However, the joint statement expressed its regret that The Gambia’s National Assembly increased the number of crimes punishable by death to include drug trafficking, theft and human trafficking. These new provisions for the death penalty violate international law which allows for the use of the death penalty but strictly for the most serious of crimes. The joint statement urged the Gambian President Yahya Jammeh not to promulgate this law.
“Humanity is better off without capital punishment”
In a separate statement, Leo Igwe, the director of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, also a member of the World Coalition, urged the Gambian President to join other nations in abolishing the death penalty. He asserted that “capital punishment casts a long shadow on the democracy of any country” and that the “justice system in The Gambia is better off without it. Humanity is better off without capital punishment”.
The Gambia’s Justice Minister, Edward Gomez, defended the use of the death penalty in his country and supported the taking up of the executions once again despite the last one taking place in 1981. He argued that NGOs should not meddle in the affairs of a small state like The Gambia when larger states such as the United States still maintain the death penalty.
The ACHPR’s working group on the death penalty presented a resolution which seeks the abolition of the death penalty in Africa and which was modeled on the UN resolution for a moratorium on executions. The resolution was not adopted. The same working group has recommended that the ACHPR supports the work of abolitionist NGOs.