This statement was issued by a Legal Counsel from the Ministry of Justice on 23rd February 2023 at the launching of the Gambia’s National Human Rights Commission’s Advisory Note on the Abolition of the Death Penalty. Today 14th October 2023 is “World Day Against Death Penalty”, a day set aside to advocate for the abolishment of the Death Penalty across the globe.
This statement is published to provide more context on the Death Penalty and The Gambia Government’s efforts to review it in line with International Standards and Best Practices.
Hon. Vice Chair and Commission Members of the National Human Rights Commission, Your Excellency the British High Commissioner, Hon. Commissioner Janet Sallah Njie, the UN Representatives, EU Delegation Representative, Hon. Members of the National Assembly here present, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, good morning.
I bring you greetings from the Hon. AG who could not join us due to other pressing national matters. On behalf of the Attorney General & Minister of Justice, Hon. Dawda A Jallow, and on my behalf, I wish to congratulate the National Human Rights Commission on the launching of the advisory note on the Abolition of the Death Penalty in The Gambia. Being part of this important event is a great pleasure and a singular honour.
The Gambian legislations such as The Criminal Code, The Gambia Armed Forces Act and the Anti-Terrorism Act set out a number of offences that are punishable by death. This includes offences such as murder, treason, aiding the enemy, mutiny with violence, acts of terrorism etc.
Section 18 of the 1997 Constitution provides for the protection of the right to life and it states that no person shall be deprived of their life intentionally except in the execution of a sentence of death imposed by a court of competent jurisdiction in respect of a criminal offence for which the penalty is death under the Laws of The Gambia.
Subsection (2) went further to state, “As from the coming into force of this Constitution, no court in The Gambia shall be competent to impose a sentence of death for any offence unless the sentence is prescribed by law and the offence involves violence, or the administration of any toxic substance, resulting in the death of another person.”
Subsection 3 also states that:
(3) “The National Assembly shall, within ten years from the date of the coming into force of this Constitution, review the desirability or otherwise of the total abolition of the death penalty in The Gambia.”
The Parliament was given ten years from 1997 to review this legislation, and today, twenty-six (26) years later, we still have the death penalty in our laws.
As of today, 23rd February 2023, we have twenty-nine (29) inmates sentenced to death, all on murder charges.
The Gambia signed and ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty. On 7th August 2018, the President of the Republic, Mr. Adama Barrow, commuted the sentences of all persons currently sentenced to death into life imprisonment. The Barrow administration has not enforced the death penalty from 2017 to date and has also placed a moratorium on the death penalty. These actions of the Government show our commitment to eliminating the death penalty.
Despite the efforts made by The Gambia Government, it is evident that there are still lacunas, and the complete removal of the death sentence in our legislations will go a long way to demonstrate The Gambia’s commitment in the realization and protection of fundamental rights in line with International standards.
It is, therefore, essential to note that when the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) submitted the Draft Constitution in 2020, the death penalty provision was removed. The death penalty has also been removed in the Criminal Code Bill before Parliament. I believe that once these legislations are in place, the death penalty will be a thing of the past.
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have seen in the report of the CRC accompanying the Draft Constitution that the issue of the death penalty has attracted divergent views from the public during their consultation process. The CRC reported that some Gambians request to retain the death penalty in our laws. And that the citizens believe that ‘a life for a life’ is the only way the right of the innocent can be respected and also serve as a deterrence.
This report demonstrates the need for citizens’ sensitization and education. We need to engage our citizens in respect for the right to life the public need to be at the same level of understanding as the decision-makers in abolishing this law. If the gap between the public and decision-makers is not closed on this issue, we will face challenges when the new Constitution and Criminal Code become effective.
I encourage the National Human Rights Commission, the Media, and the National Council for Civil Education (NCCE) to start the sensitization, the outreaches and the effective engagement of the citizen in making this human rights violation a thing of the past.
We have been given a unique opportunity to change the trajectory of our dear nation, and as a Ministry, we will deliver. We wish to reassure you that the Government is fully committed to good governance and respect for human rights, a peaceful Gambia with a solid cultural identity whose development is people-driven. I appeal to all Gambians, including our vibrant youth, to maintain the nation’s peace, stability and security, as there cannot be development in the Gambia without the respect and protection of the fundamental human rights of all.