Jailing of political opposition leaders in The Gambia challenged in ECOWAS Court- plaintiffs seek restorative justice and financial compensation
Abuja, 6 August, 2016 a suit challenging the arbitrary arrest, assault, torture, unfair trial and conviction of Ousainou Darboe and 30 members of the United Democratic Party (UDP) was filed at the ECOWAS Court. The lawyers for the UDP 30 are opposing the judgement handed down on 20th July 2016, which imposed a three year prison sentence on the accused. The lawyers are also seeking financial compensation totaling 310 million Dalasi (7, 238, 906million USD) for the UDP 30.
The case presided over by Hon. Justice Eunice Oshim Dada, was fraught with procedural challenges, fundamental amongst which included the right of the 30 accused, which included women, who had narrated incidents of rape in their affidavits, to be defended by a counsel of their choice. The detainees were severely beaten, tortured and assaulted while in detention. Some of the detainees had to be hospitalized before they could appear in court. The detainees were all in bad physical condition when they were brought to court. Several of them had injuries on various parts of their bodies. Some had difficulty walking.
The entire court proceedings witnessed a blatant disregard of the fundamental right to fair hearing. The Gambia’s justice system has been severely compromised by persistent political interference, especially in high profile political cases such as this one. The leader of the UDP, who is also a lawyer by profession, stated in court that: “Our arrest, continued detention and trial are all politically motivated so therefore we will not partake in this trial to qualify it as a serious one.”
The UDP 30’s lawyer, fling the case at the EOCWAS Court, Mr Obiagwu, said that his clients were denied access to family, lawyers or any third parties during their detention. “Many of them were held in solitary confinement from time of arrest and detention until presentation in court in The Gambia,” he said. Mr Obiagwu, on behalf of Ousainou Darboe and other members of the United Democratic Party is also challenging the legality of their arrest, detention, and conviction and has submitted to the ECOWAS court that the above acts were violations of Articles 4, 5, 6, 7, and 11 of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights; the rights to life, integrity, and dignity of the human person, to liberty and security, to a fair trial, and to assemble freely.
Gambia’s record as a government that promotes the principles of rule of law, and access to justice has been appalling. This is not the first time The Gambia has been hauled before the ECOWAS Court, which has found the Gambia government culpable in each instance. It found the Gambia culpable of torture in the Musa Saidykhan case, it also found the Gambia government culpable in both cases of a journalist that was disappeared in 2006 (Chief Ebrima Manneh) and one that was murdered in 2005 (Deyda Hydara), yet the Gambia government has ignored all rulings.