The Gambia’s constitution enumerates a full range of provisions and assurances for a multiparty democratic republic. On December 1, 2016, Adama Barrow, the candidate of a coalition of seven political parties, defeated incumbent president Yahya Jammeh in what international observers deemed a peaceful and credible election. After initial acceptance of the results, the former president subsequently rejected them, claiming voter fraud and irregularities. This led to a six-week political impasse that was resolved largely through peaceful regional and international intervention, including by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member countries. President Barrow was officially sworn into office on January 20 in Dakar, Senegal, amid security concerns due to his predecessor’s refusal to accept the election results. President Barrow was sworn into office again on Gambian soil after the political impasse with former president Jammeh was resolved. In the April 6 parliamentary elections, the United Democratic Party (UDP) won 31 of the 53 seats contested. The parliamentary elections were considered by international and domestic observers to be free and fair.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces. ECOWAS military personnel remained in the country at the invitation of the president.
The democratic transfer of power resulted in significant positive changes in the human rights climate. Among President Barrow’s first acts was the release of 171 prisoners from the state central prison, a majority of whom were political prisoners. National Assembly members repealed the state of emergency declared by former president Jammeh during the political impasse, a few days after Jammeh flew into exile on January 21. The new administration made several significant efforts to create a more conducive environment for freedom of expression. The Justice Department conceded that the country’s sedition law and some provisions (pertaining to criminal defamation and false publication on the internet) of the country’s internet law were unconstitutional. The country previously enacted legislation making both female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C) and child marriage illegal, although deep-seated cultural norms made the full eradication of these practices difficult. Several nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and government agencies actively publicized the newly introduced laws in local communities.
Proceedings continued against nine former officials of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) charged with the torture of protesters arrested in May and April 2016 and the subsequent killing of Solo Sandeng, an official of the UDP party; as of November their trials were underway. The government took steps towards establishing a Truth, Reconciliation, and Repatriations Commission (TRRC), led by the Ministry of Justice, to probe human rights abuses that occurred during President Jammeh’s administration. The National Assembly unanimously passed a bill in December that formally established the nine-member TRRC and outlined its composition, objectives, and functions. Also in December, the National Assembly passed a bill establishing an independent National Human Rights Commission.
The most significant human rights issues included: harsh and potentially life threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrests; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape and FGM/C; trafficking in persons; and child labor.
The government took steps to prosecute or punish some individuals who committed abuses. Nevertheless, impunity and the lack of consistent enforcement remained problems.