Global union federation the ITF (International Transport Workers’ Federation) has demanded justice following the death in custody this week of Gambian trade union leader Sheriff Dibba. The ITF has challenged President Yahya Jammeh Babili Mansa to take action over the affair, which began earlier this month when Gambian trade unions asked him to lower fuel retail prices in line with the fall in wholesale prices. In response he banned union activities and arrested several union leaders. Shockingly, one of them, Sheriff Diba, died in prison – reportedly after receiving brutal treatment at the hands of the National Intelligence Agency.
In a letter to the Gambian president, ITF general secretary Steve Cotton stated:
I am writing to you to express the Federation’s grave concerns following the arrest of several trade union leaders of the Gambian National Transport Control Association (GNTCA) and the death of one of its leaders, Sheriff Diba, on 21 February 2016 while in detention at the ‘2 Mile’ prison . According to several sources, Sheriff Diba’s death was reportedly as a result of abuse and torture received in the offices of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA).
The ITF understands that the leaders of the GNTCA were arrested and a Presidential order was made to prohibit activities by the union after it submitted a legitimate claim to the authorities for a reduction in the price of fuel. The union had also been campaigning after the failure of negotiations with the Gambian authorities. All detained trade unionists were released following the death of Sheriff Diba.
Such harsh reprisals in response to legitimate trade union activity seriously violate fundamental workers’ rights, which I am sure you know, are enshrined in the Conventions of the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The ITF and its affiliated unions worldwide strongly condemn the dissolution and prohibition of GNTCA activities, the arbitrary and illegal arrests of its leaders and in particular the death of Sheriff Diba, and request that your office makes an urgent intervention to ensure that:
- All arbitrary and illegal measures concerning the dissolution of the GNTCA and the prohibition of all its activities at national and international levels are lifted;
- All legal proceedings against the leaders and members of the GNTCA are dropped; and
- A national commission of inquiry, including members of the GNTCA, is established in order to determine the exact circumstances of the death of Sheriff Dibba.
The ITF is also preparing a case regarding Sheriff Diba’s death and the government’s punitive measures against the GNTCA for hearing at the International Labour Organization (ILO) in Geneva. It has, along with the Syndicat des Travailleurs des Transports Routiers du Sénégal – Forces du Changement (STTRS – FC), also launched a LabourStart appeal by which trade unionists internationally can write to the Gambian president demanding an investigation into Sheriff Diba’s death. See www.labourstart.org/go/gambia