The following information reports U.S. Government priorities and activities of the U.S. mission in the Gambia to promote democracy and human rights. For background on The Gambia's human rights conditions, please see the 2009 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices and the International Religious Freedom Reports at www.state.gov.
Part 1: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
The U.S. objectives for furthering democracy and human rights in the country focus on improving respect for democratic freedoms and the rule of law. This includes an emphasis on free and fair elections, building democratic institutions, and improving respect for human rights by security forces. The United States also focuses on strengthening civil society, including the media and NGOs, in order to increase respect for civil liberties such as freedom of the press. Supporting efforts to eliminate trafficking in persons is also an important U.S. priority.
Part 2: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
To promote the democratic political process, U.S. officials maintain an active dialogue with government officials, all political parties, and civil society representatives. This includes stressing the importance of free and fair elections and the development of democratic institutions. When the campaign manager of an opposition party, accused of holding a rally in a public place without permission, was convicted and sentenced to one year imprisonment in March 2010, the Embassy issued a public statement expressing grave concern over the verdict and harsh punishment. The Embassy has held workshops with members of parliament and conducted a week-long speakers series on democracy and human rights. The U.S. Government actively encourages regular dialogue and meetings among the donor community to avoid duplication of efforts and ensure effective allocation of resources in election support. The U.S. Government works with the military to conduct workshops on democracy and human rights.
To encourage freedom of the press in a restrictive media environment, U.S. officials stress that free speech and a free press are essential parts of a democratic society. The U.S. Ambassador emphasized the importance of freedom of the press in several newspaper interviews, including one that became the lead story. During the 2009 trial of seven journalists and newspaper publishers accused of sedition, U.S. officials attended the court proceedings to raise the profile of the case and highlight concern of the issue of a free press. Less than two weeks following meetings between government contacts and Embassy officials, the president pardoned the journalists.
The United States uses grants and a visitors program to support independent media. The United States provided a grant to a press union that subsidizes the cost of newsprint to allow local media to print daily. Additionally, the United States provided another NGO grant to establish a central database and establish a regulatory body for human rights concerns in the country. Both grants are still being implemented in 2010. U.S. officials maintain close relationships with journalists, and all media representatives, regardless of political affiliation, have access to U.S. officials for interviews and are invited to cover U.S. events. New U.S.-supported radio programming in the country has included broadcasts related to democracy and human rights. The United States has co-sponsored two seminars for local journalists on coverage of human rights cases and will continue to do so in 2010.
The United States continues to stress the importance of the rule of law and adherence to due process. The United States raises questions related to allegations of torture, disappearances, and other human rights abuses with members of the government, military, civil society, and other partners. The Ambassador discussed several human rights and press freedom issues with the government, including the arrest and trial of a journalist and newspaper publisher and the disappearance of another journalist. The United States continues to stress to government officials the importance of an independent judiciary in a democratic society. When a U.S.-based Gambian journalist and political activist was arrested and tried for sedition, the U.S. Ambassador raised the case with senior government officials and attended a number of the trial sessions. To support greater professionalism in the security forces and prevent human rights abuses by the military, the U.S. Government funds training for officers and civilian officials. For example, a seminar on human rights and international humanitarian law for naval officers was conducted in April 2009 and another is planned for 2010.
The United States actively supports civil society groups through grants, a visitors program, and representational events. U.S. officials also attend events hosted by NGOs and civil society organizations. The United States encourages the government to ensure greater respect for women's rights and to maintain harmony between the various ethnic groups. The United States provides support and guidance to the government to improve its record in combating human trafficking and to promote labor rights. The United States sponsored a seminar and hosted a visit by a Washington-based official on trafficking, and similar activities are planned for 2010. Additionally, the United States is funding the efforts of a local children's rights NGO to raise awareness of child trafficking through a media campaign. U.S. officials also have discussions with the government and local partners on child labor issues.
The U.S. Government discusses religious freedom with the government as part of its overall policy to promote human rights. To demonstrate respect for religious pluralism, the U.S. Government hosts annual Iftaar dinners that are attended by many Muslim leaders, members of the minority Christian clergy, and government officials. U.S. officials investigate any reports of religious tensions on the rare occasions such incidents arise. The Embassy has held several meetings and speaker discussions with Muslim leaders on democracy and human rights, using these forums to solicit their views on U.S. engagement with the Muslim world.