By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Gambia’s National Assembly’s Business Committee (ABC) has suspended eleven (11) Agenda items from the National Assembly’s original agenda dated 7th January 2022. According to the Speaker’s Communication, the ABC’s decision to suspend the Justice Minister’s Bill was to sanction him for failing to attend a National Assembly sitting on 8th February 2022.
However, the eleven agenda items include crucial Bills such as the Anti-Corruption Bill 2019 which is crucial in combating corruption and the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Bill which is important for the transitional justice process.
The Hon Attorney General and Minister of Justice was compelled to send a written apology to the National Assembly followed by an oral apology to the Plenary on 14th February 2022, the same day that the Anti-Corruption Bill 2019 was scheduled to be tabled for its consideration stage. This never happened because a total of three Bills were removed from the National Assembly Agenda that day and they include the Elections Bill, 2021 and the Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Bill, 2020.
In addition to these, another four (4) Bills have also been removed making it a total of seven (7) Bills which have been removed that relate to the Justice Minister. The additional four Bills removed are the Labour (Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Forced Labour (Amendment) Bill, 2020, the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill, 2019 and the Criminal Offences Bill, 2020.
Anti-Corruption Civil Society Organisation, Gambia Participates was scheduled to stage a march to show support for the Anti-Corruption Bill 2019 on Monday 14th February 2022, however, they were denied a permit to proceed coupled with the Bills removal from the National Assembly’s Agenda.
We ask Gambia Participates Executive Director Mr Marr Nyang to give us his reaction to the National Assembly’s decision to remove the Anti-Corruption Bill from the Agenda. In his view, the fifth legislature is “not showing the urgency and seriousness in curtailing corruption”. “We’re talking about a National Assembly that have little political will in prioritising this Anti-Corruption Bill,” he said.
Speaking about the Justice Minister’s failure to attend a National Assembly sitting Mr Nyang believes that “to punish him that is between [the Justice Minister] and the National Assembly, they can actually punish the Minister but the bigger question is, should Government business be retarded because of one person’s individual mistake?” he asked.
According to Mr Nyang, the National Assembly has not manifested the will to pass the Anti-Corruption Bill and he would award them a zero out of ten score for their efforts towards fighting corruption and prioritising the Anti-Corruption Bill. He compared their failure to Parliament’s decision to reject the Constitution Bill.
One Legal expert involved in the development of the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture Bill 2020 is Mr Gaye Sowe who is the Executive Director of the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA). We asked him the importance of some of these Bills towards the Gambia’s Transitional Justice Process.
According to Mr Sowe the National Assembly’s decision to remove the Bill is unfortunate, “we have no time to waste”. In his view “one would have expected us to have a law criminalising torture as required by the said treaties but that is not the case”.
Mr Sowe explains that “this means The Gambia doesn’t have a law criminalising torture as I write this. We would have expected the enactment of a law criminalising torture to be a priority in the New Gambia bearing in mind how common it was, especially from 1994 to 2016”.
Speaking about the Gambia’s Transitional Justice process Mr Sowe notes that “the TRRC found torture was widespread during this period and recommended the prosecution of the perpetrators”. “The question is how we would go ahead with the recommended prosecutions in the absence of a law criminalising torture?” he asked.
“Not saying we can’t proceed against the perpetrators of torture but the absence of a specific law makes it more difficult, a difficulty we could have avoided by enacting a law soon after the 2016 elections,” said Mr Sowe.
However, Mr Sowe explains that “torture is prohibited in regional and international treaties The Gambia ratified many decades ago. The prohibition of torture is also a customary principle of international law which means The Gambia would still be bound by the principle even if we didn’t ratify the treaties prohibiting torture. Our constitution also in section 21 prohibits torture. Note that the prohibition is absolute which means there are no exceptions to the rule prohibiting torture”.