The Gambia is a multiparty, democratic republic. In September 2006 President Alhaji Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh was re-elected for a five-year term in an election that international observers considered partially free and fair with some irregularities. President Jammeh's party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, continued to dominate after the National Assembly elections held in January 2007, which were also considered partially free and fair. The government's respect for the human rights of its citizens generally declined in recent years. Security forces frequently harassed and mistreated detainees, prisoners, opposition members, and journalists with impunity. Prisoners were often held incommunicado, faced prolonged pretrial detention, and were frequently denied due process. Prison conditions were poor. The government restricted freedom of speech and press. Women experienced violence and discrimination, and female genital mutilation remained a problem. Child labor and trafficking in persons also were problems.
The U.S. priorities remain tied to the endorsement of good governance, democracy, and respect for human rights. The U.S. strategy and goals for furthering human rights and democratic institutions include diplomacy and training to promote respect for democratic freedoms; the rule of law; the promotion of human dignity; and training for political parties, the military, and the police. The United States also provides opportunities for vital sectors of civil society, such as the media, and NGOs, to enhance their awareness of and respect for press freedom, civil liberties, and political rights.
The embassy uses the full array of tools at its disposal to enable these goals by maintaining close dialogue with the government and civil society and undertaking public diplomacy initiatives such as hosting workshops for journalists. Additionally, a 2006 failed coup plot underscored the need to strengthen attachment to democratic values within the armed forces, and as such, the United States continues to organize training opportunities for the military while fostering understanding between members of the military and civilians.
To promote the political process and democracy, U.S. officials maintain an active dialogue with all political parties and with civil society representatives, stressing the importance of free and fair elections. The U.S. government actively encourages regular dialogue and meetings among the donor community to avoid duplication of effort and to ensure effective allocation of resources in election support. U.S. personnel served with other donors on a steering committee headed by the country's electoral commission. In addition, U.S. officials conducted observation missions for the recent round of legislative and local government elections, and reported their findings to the donor community and the electoral commission.
To encourage press freedom in a restrictive media environment, U.S. officials consistently stress that freedom of speech and the press are essential parts of a democratic society. The United States uses grants and the international visitors program to support independent media. U.S. officials maintain close relationships with many journalists. All media representatives, regardless of political affiliation, have access to U.S. officials for interviews and reports, and are invited to cover U.S. events. U.S. officials commemmorated International Press Freedom Day and attended other public events to mark the occasion at a time when freedom of the press was a very contentious issue in the country.
Following the coup attempt in 2006, politically motivated prosecutions increased, and due process suffered as a result of several cases of lengthy pretrial detention, incommunicado detentions, and detentions without charge. The U.S. government continues to stress frequently the importance of the rule of law and adherence to due process. The U.S. gity to stress to government officials the importance of an independent judiciary in a democratic society.
The United States raises questions related to allegations of torture, disappearances, and other human rights abuses in discussions with members of the government, military, civil society, and other partners. The United States encourages the government to ensure greater respect for women's rights, and to maintain harmony between the various ethnic groups. To support greater professionalism in the security forces and prevent human rights abuses by the military, the U.S. government provides funding for several officers and civilian officials to attend military and education trainings in the United States. The United States also funds regional training and workshops for military officials and civilian officials. A successful civil-military seminar in 2007 brought together divergent views to produce a fruitful dialogue between these sectors of society.
The United States actively supports NGOs and civil society groups through grants, the international visitors program, and representational events. Through the visitors program, one of the founders of a legal aid organization recently received an in-depth look at American civil society and the non-profit world. U.S. officials also attended events hosted by NGOs and civil society organizations. To promote labor rights and combat trafficking, a U.S. official spoke both at a national conference on trafficking and on a local radio show to discuss the problem of child trafficking. The United States provides support and guidance to the government to improve its record in combating trafficking. The United States is funding a local child rights NGO to assist efforts to protect and promote children's rights through a popular media campaign encouraging awareness of child trafficking. U.S. officials also have discussions with the government and local partners on child labor issues.
Religious harmony is the norm in the country. To reinforce the country's religious freedom and understanding, the U.S. government hosts annual Iftaar dinners during Ramadan that are attended by many Muslim spiritual leaders, members of the minority Christian clergy, and host government officials. U.S. personnel immediately investigate any reports of religious tensions on the rare occasions such incidents arise.