Friday, September 25, 2009

Gambia: African leaders must stand up to Jammeh after threats to kill human rights defenders

Lawyers and rights activists are calling on the African Union's human rights body to move its headquarters out of The Gambia after President Yahya Jammeh on national television threatened human rights defenders and said he would kill anyone collaborating with them.

“African leaders must stand up and draw a line and say this is unacceptable," Chidi Odinkalu, legal adviser with the Africa Open Society Justice Initiative, told IRIN. "We cannot defend human rights internationally if our leaders are going around threatening people [with death]."

In a speech televised on 21 September President Jammeh said: “If you think you can collaborate with so-called human rights defenders and get away with it, you must be living in a dream world. I will kill you and nothing will come of it.”

He continued: “We are not going to condone people posing as human rights defenders to the detriment of our country. If you are affiliated with any human rights group, rest assured your security and personal safety will not be guaranteed by my government. We are ready to kill saboteurs.”

The Gambia hosts the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, which hears cases brought by human rights defenders from across the continent.

“It is extraordinary," Odinkalu told IRIN. "When presidents begin to threaten death and killing on people who defend human life and human rights it reflects a system with a total absence of accountability.”

“This is not the first, second or third time he has issued threats [but] there is a chilling dimension to this threat. It is indiscriminate and it is directed at the whole world...The human rights situation in intolerable.”

Lawyers from the Open Society Institute and the Coalition for an Effective African Court on Human and People’s Rights have signed a petition to be sent to the African Union on 28 September, calling on the Commission to stop holding sessions in The Gambia until the matter is resolved, and for civil society organizations to refrain from attending any sessions.

“Such comments by a public official are simply contemptible, as well as in violation of the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights," said a communiqué accompanying the petition. "But Jammeh’s threat is even more cynical considering that the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights maintains its headquarters in the Gambian capital city, Banjul."

The Commission, charged with promoting and protecting human rights throughout the continent, was established in 1986 by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and set up its headquarters in Banjul in 1989.

Disclaimer:This material comes to you via IRIN, the humanitarian news and analysis service of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of the United Nations or its Member States.

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