REPUBLIC OF THE GAMBIA: Executions giant leap backwards

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3 Sep 2012
[International Secretariat]
Topic: Abolition of the Death Penalty

Amnesty International has received credible reports that nine persons were executed last night in Gambia, and that more persons are under threat of imminent executions today and in the coming days.

According to reliable sources nine persons, including one woman, were removed from their prison cells last night and executed. Two of those said to have  been executed are supposed to have been Senegalese.

In Gambia, capital punishment can be imposed for murder and treason. Three of the reportedly executed have been sentenced for treason.

“The decision of the Gambian president Yahya Jammeh to execute nine prisoners after more than a quarter of a century without execution would be a giant leap backwards”, said Paule Rigaud, Amnesty International’s Africa deputy director.

“If confirmed the reported executions are a hugely retrograde step ? they would bring The Gambia back into the minority of countries which are still executing, and we are urging the authorities to immediately halt any further possible executions” said Rigaud.

The last execution in the country took place in 1985, 27 years ago. Amnesty International had classified Gambia as abolitionist in practice, and therefore as one of the more than two thirds of states worldwide which have abolished the death penalty either in law or practice.

In Africa, 22 of the 54 member states of the African Union are abolitionist in practice, and 16 are abolitionist in law for all crimes.

On both 19 and 20 August, in a television address broadcast to mark the Muslim feast of Eid-al-Fitrt, President Jammeh had announced to the nation that by the middle of September all existing death sentences would be “carried out to the letter”.

According to The Gambian government, there were 42 men and two women on death row as of 31 December 2011, 13 of whom had been sentenced during that year. This year, three men have reportedly also received the death sentence, making a total of 47 people currently on death row.

“President Jammeh should establish an immediate moratorium on the death penalty, in line with resolutions of the UN General Assembly and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights,” said Rigaud.

Amnesty International opposes the death penalty in all cases as a violation of the right to life and the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.

No West African country has executed prisoners in recent years and thedeath penalty for all crimes has been abolished in Togo in West Africa,as well as in Burundi, Gabon and Rwanda in the last five years.

In July, Benin became the 75th state worldwide to join the Second OptionalProtocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of1989, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.

Gambia is a party to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.In 2008, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the bodymonitoring this regional treaty, adopted a resolution calling on StatesParty to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights to observe amoratorium on the execution of death sentences with a view to abolishingcapital punishment.

During a session of the Commission in Banjul, Gambia, in May 2011, theChairperson of the African Commission’s Working Group on the Death Penaltyin Africa, stated that “capital punishment… represents a most grave violationof… the right to life under Article 4 of the African Charter”.

Under international standards, the death penalty can only be imposed forcrimes where there is an intention to kill which results in the loss oflife. According to the United Nations, this excludes the possibility ofimposing death sentences for activities of a political nature, includingtreason, espionage and other vaguely defined acts described as 'crimesagainst the State'.

24 August 2012

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