The Female Lawyers’ Association of The Gambia (FLAG) expresses profound concern in response to recent news reports of presidential pardons granted to inmates convicted of rape and other SGBV-related offences.
FLAG recognises that the power to pardon inmates is vested in the President of the Republic of The Gambia through section 82 Prerogative of Mercy of the Constitution of the Republic of The Gambia 1997. Section 82 (1) (a) empowers the President to, among other things, “grant to any person convicted of any offence a pardon either free or subject to lawful conditions” after consulting with the Committee on the Exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy established under the same section.
FLAG also recognises that presidential pardons are often used as a tool for rewarding good behaviour or rehabilitation among inmates and as a means of reducing overcrowding within prisons. However, the inclusion of inmates convicted of rape and murder of women and children is concerning due to the
gravity of the offences. Their pardon also neglects the principles of ‘do no harm’ and implementing a victim-centred approach in cases of SGBV.
SGBV cases in The Gambia are still severely underreported leading to low prosecution and conviction rates. The Demographic and Health Survey 2019 20 reveals that 65% of women and children who experienced physical or sexual violence “never sought help nor told anyone”. Therefore, it is crucial that the State ensures the proper handling of SGBV cases throughout the justice delivery process to encourage reporting and prosecution of such cases. We believe that granting pardons to inmates convicted of SGBV offences
diminishes trust in the State’s ability to provide the relevant protections to SGBV survivors.
It is worth noting that aside from media reports, FLAG is yet to obtain official information confirming the names and offences of the now ex-convicts, particularly those who had been convicted of rape. Consequently, FLAG has formally written to the Ministry of Justice seeking further information regarding the presidential pardons through the committee on the Exercise of the Prerogative of Mercy’s report. FLAG has also requested information about the composition of the Committee, the criteria for membership, and the criteria employed in the evaluation of pardon requests.
This information will aid the Association in understanding its potential role in such processes in the future, especially in relation to pardons granted to persons convicted of committing heinous acts against women and children in The Gambia. It would also assist the Association in providing appropriate recommendations to the President of the Republic, Minister of Interior, and the Minister of Justice on factors that should be put into consideration when granting pardon to persons convicted of rape and other SGBV-related offences.
We conclude this statement by reaffirming our commitment to protecting women and children from all forms of violence and reminding ourselves of our duty as legal practitioners to ensure that justice always prevails.