The Human Rights Watch (HRW), a non-governmental organization based in the United States of America has published an extensive report detailing numerous human rights abuses attributed to the administration of the current Gambian president- Yahya Jemmah.
The report “State of Fear. Arbitrary arrests, torture and killings” is based on interviews conducted with over 30 victims, witnesses, and former members of safekeeping and paramilitary groups in Gambia. The report exposes the numerous torture techniques used to punish those who have opposed the president’s rule.
The Gambia, a small West African country of about 1.8 million people, gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1965. Since the country’s independence, it has been ruled by just two leaders. Dawda Jawara ruled from 1970 to 1994, before Jammah, the current president seized power in a military coup that took place in 1994.
Since taking Jammeh took over as president, there have been reports of extrajudicial killings, disappearances of political critics, opponents, human rights defenders and journalists.
Jammeh has also been outspoken against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights in his country. In 2014, Jammeh declared that he would kill anyone engaging in non-heterosexual sex. In response to international criticism of Gambia’s poor human rights record, President Jammeh announced the country’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth in 2013, declaring the institution as ‘neo-colonial’.
With a GDP of only $900 million, the Gambia still relies on international funding to boost its developmental growth. The European Union was a primary sponsor for its Millennium Development Goals and Vision 2020, which includes poverty alleviation, reduction of maternal mortality rates in the country. These project funds are released through the European Development Fund (EDF) in exchange for human rights protections.
So far, the Gambia has enjoyed over £70 million in assistance from the EU. The EU has sponsored various projects in the Gambia in areas such as waste management, transport and power generation. The EU has also invested in governance to improve the country’s judicial system, civil societies, media and financial sectors. However, the EU has withdrawn its funding since 2014, due to the increasing frequency of human rights abuses in the country.
However, the EU funding withdrawal and the impact of the recently released Human Rights Watch report may not affect President Jammeh’s reign of terror, as he is seeking assistance from some Middle Eastern countries. In November 2014, he secured funds for transport and agricultural expansion from Qatar while he also signed agreements on policing and health assistance with Turkey. It was also reported that he has been receiving funds from Kuwait over his 20 year reign.