The Gambia’s constitution enumerates a full range of provisions and assurances for a multiparty democratic republic. In 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 in January 2017 in Dakar, Senegal, amid security concerns due to his predecessor’s refusal to accept the election results. In February he was sworn into office again in Gambia after the political impasse with the former president was resolved. In the April 2017 parliamentary elections, the United Democratic Party (UDP) won 31 of the 53 seats contested. International and domestic observers considered the parliamentary elections 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.
Human rights issues included harsh and potentially life threatening prison conditions; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against women, including rape and female genital mutilation/cutting (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.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:
a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings
Unlike in prior years, there were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. On June 18, however, police officers in Faraba Banta village, Kombo East District shot and killed four stone-throwing protesters who attacked them during a protest that turned violent. According to media reports, the police officers in question panicked and failed to follow official procedures regarding the use of lethal force. On September 17, a commission of inquiry into the incident reported to the president but did not release its findings to the public. Three of the officers involved in the shootings were in detention but had not been charged by year’s end.
On June 6, charges against Yusupha Jammeh, one of nine former National Intelligence Agency officials charged with murder in the 2016 killing of UDP politician Solo Sandeng, were dropped for lack of evidence. Of the remaining eight charged, on October 10, Louis Gomez, former operations director of the National Intelligence Agency died in hospital, and the seven others remained in detention pending completion of their trial.
There were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities. Families of individuals detained during the Jammeh regime continued to demand information on their missing relatives. The whereabouts of U.S.-Gambian dual nationals Alhagie Ceesay and Ebrima Jobe, both of whom disappeared in 2013, remained unknown.
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, and there were no confirmed reports that government officials employed them during the year. The United Nations reported that it received one allegation of sexual exploitation (exploitative relationship) and abuse against a Gambian peacekeeper deployed with the UN Mission in Liberia. The incident in question dated from 2013-2015. Investigations by UN and Gambian authorities were pending at year’s end.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were harsh and potentially life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and inadequate sanitary conditions and medical care.
Physical Conditions: Gross overcrowding was a problem, particularly in the remand wing of the Mile 2 prison in Banjul, where detainees were held pending trial. Food quality and access to potable water, sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and medical care were inadequate.
Administration: Authorities did not conduct proper investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment. On September 5, however, authorities met with prisoners to discuss grievances and agreed to investigate them. By year’s end no information on specific complaints or follow-up action taken had been released.
Independent Monitoring: The government granted to the Office of the Ombudsman unrestricted access to all detention centers as well as to local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) with prior permission.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law prohibit arbitrary arrest and detention and provide for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of arrest or detention in court. Unlike in prior years, security forces did not arbitrarily arrest citizens and the government generally respected citizens’ rights.
ROLE OF THE POLICE AND SECURITY APPARATUS
The national police maintain internal security and report to the minister of interior. The army is responsible for external security but also has some domestic security responsibilities. It reports to the chief of defense staff who reports to the president in his role as commander in chief.
Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of impunity involving the security forces during the year.
Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the Gambia Police Force and the Gambia Armed Forces, and the government has effective mechanisms to investigate and punish abuse.
ARREST PROCEDURES AND TREATMENT OF DETAINEES
The law requires authorities to obtain a warrant before arresting a person, but police officers often arrested individuals without a warrant. Military decrees enacted prior to the adoption of the constitution in 1997 give the National Intelligence Agency and the interior minister broad powers to detain individuals indefinitely without charge “in the interest of national security.” Although these detention decrees are inconsistent with the constitution, they were not legally challenged. The government claimed it no longer enforced the decrees, but such detentions occasionally occurred.
Periods of detention generally ranged from two to 72 hours, the legal limit after which authorities are required by law to charge or release detainees; however, there were numerous instances of detentions exceeding the 72-hour limit. There was a functioning bail system that generally required at least two sureties in addition to cash.
Officials in some cases did not allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer or family members, although officials generally allowed convicted prisoners to meet privately with an attorney. The judiciary provided lawyers at public expense only to indigent persons charged with capital crimes such as murder, for which a conviction can include the death penalty.
Pretrial Detention: Backlogs and inefficiency in the justice system resulted in lengthy pretrial detentions. A large number of inmates in the remand wing of the state central prison awaited trail, in some instances for a number of years. According to the United Nations, approximately 60 percent of the total prison population was in pretrial detention.
In November 2017, 12 military personnel were charged with “mutinous acts, defamatory, scandalous, and unethical behavior.” Their trial by military court continued at year’s end.
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.
The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants were presumed innocent until proven guilty. Officials did not always properly inform defendants of the charges against them. The law provides for a trial without undue delay; however, case backlog hampered the right to a timely trial. Defendants enjoyed the right to be present at trial and to communicate with an attorney of their choice or if indigent and charged with a capital crime to have a lawyer at public expense. Defendants had adequate time and facilities to prepare a defense. Officials provided free interpretation in defendants’ local languages as necessary from the moment charged through all appeals. Defendants and their lawyers had the right to confront prosecution or plaintiff witnesses and present their own witnesses and evidence. Defendants may not be compelled to testify or confess guilt. They may appeal verdicts to a higher court.
The judicial system also recognizes customary law and sharia (Islamic law).
Customary law covers marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, inheritance, land tenure, tribal and clan leadership, and other traditional and social relations. District chiefs preside over local tribunals that administer customary law at the district level. Customary law recognizes the rights of all citizens regardless of age, gender, and religion; however, it requires women to show respect for their husbands and children for their parents.
Sharia applies in domestic matters, including Muslim marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Qadi courts and district tribunals do not offer standard legal representation to the parties in a case, since lawyers are not trained in Islamic or customary law.
POLITICAL PRISONERS AND DETAINEES
Unlike in prior years, there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.
CIVIL JUDICIAL PROCEDURES AND REMEDIES
The High Court hears civil and human rights cases. Individuals may also seek redress through the Office of the Ombudsman, which has the mandate to investigate such cases.
Individuals and organizations may appeal adverse domestic decisions to regional human rights bodies.
f. Arbitrary or Unlawful Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
The constitution prohibits such actions, and there were no reports that the government failed to respect those prohibitions.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press, and the government generally respected this right. An independent press, an effective judiciary, and a functioning democratic political system combined to promote freedom of expression, including for the press.
National Security: On May 9, the Supreme Court ruled the sedition law constitutional. The sedition law prohibits “exciting disaffection against the person of the President or the government.” Penalties for conviction include fines and a minimum prison sentence of one year.
Actions to Expand Freedom of Expression, Including for the Media: On May 9, the Supreme Court ruled the defamation laws unconstitutional.
The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports that the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority. According to the International Telecommunication Union, 19.8 percent of the population used the internet in 2017.
ACADEMIC FREEDOM AND CULTURAL EVENTS
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and the government generally respected these rights.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election in 2016, in which Adama Barrow, the candidate of an opposition coalition, defeated Yahya Jammeh, the incumbent. The election was largely peaceful and considered credible. The defeated incumbent initially accepted the results, before declaring them “null and void,” alleging irregularities in the process. This led to a six-week political impasse before Jammeh dropped his claims and went into exile, bowing to regional and international pressure and the threat of military force from ECOWAS, the member states of which massed soldiers on the Gambia’s borders. The country also held legislative elections in April 2017 that were described by domestic and international observers as mostly free and fair. Mama Kandeh, leader of the Gambia Democratic Congress rejected the results, claiming to have evidence that would expose the unfairness of the entire process. Kandeh, however, did not provide any evidence to substantiate his claim.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Evidence suggested cultural constraints limited women’s participation in the political process; men greatly outnumbered women in the cabinet and parliament.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, and the government generally implemented the law; however, officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: In August 2017 the Barrow administration set up a Commission of Inquiry to probe the financial dealings of former president Jammeh. The Commission had yet to report on its findings by year’s end.
Financial Disclosure: The law subjects both appointed and elected public officials to financial disclosure. The government seldom enforced these laws, and no agency was mandated to monitor and verify financial disclosures. Declarations are not released to the public.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
A number of domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights causes. Government officials were usually cooperative and responsive to issues raised by human rights groups during the year. Despite the Barrow administration’s 2017 pledge to create a more conducive environment for NGOs, the law continues to require NGOs to register with the National Advisory Council. It provides the council with the authority to deny, suspend, or cancel the right of any NGO to operate (including that of international NGOs) in the country. The council did not take actions against any NGO during the year.
Government Human Rights Bodies: The Office of the Ombudsman operates a National Human Rights Unit (NHRU) with a mandate of promoting and protecting human rights and supporting vulnerable groups. The office has unrestricted access to all places of detention, including prisons and police stations. During the year the NHRU addressed complaints regarding unlawful dismissal, termination of employment, unfair treatment, and illegal arrest and detention.
Section 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes the rape of individuals–without reference to gender–and domestic violence. The penalty for conviction of rape is life imprisonment. The maximum penalty for conviction of attempted rape is seven years’ imprisonment. Spousal rape was widespread and not illegal; police generally considered it a domestic issue outside its jurisdiction. Rape and domestic violence were widespread problems that often went unreported due to victims’ fear of reprisal, unequal power relations, stigma, discrimination, and pressure from family and friends not to report. Conviction of domestic violence carries a fine of 50,000 dalasi (D) ($1,055), two years’ imprisonment, or both.
Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law bans FGM/C of girls and women. The law stipulates imprisonment of not more than three years, a fine of D50,000 ($1,055), or both, for anyone convicted of circumcision of a female child; if the child dies, the penalty for conviction is life imprisonment. Failure to report the practice may lead to a fine of D10,000 ($211).
FGM/C is a deeply rooted practice in society. Many hesitated to report FGM/C cases, either because they did not agree with the law or because they were uncomfortable reporting family members or neighbors who engaged in the practice. According to NGOs, approximately 76 percent of girls and women between the ages of 15 and 49 were subjected to FGM/C. NGOs, including the Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children, Wassu Gambia Kafo, Safe Hands for Girls, and Think Young Women, were at the forefront of combatting FGM/C in the country. Following the departure of former president Jammeh, rumors circulated that the law banning FGM/C would no longer be enforced. Authorities responded that the ban remained in effect. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and conviction provides for a one-year mandatory prison sentence. Sexual harassment was prevalent but not commonly reported due to discrimination, social stigma, and unwillingness to challenge the offenders due to unequal power relationships and fear of reprisal.
Coercion in Population Control: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equality of all persons; no person shall be treated in a discriminatory manner because of race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, or other status. Legal provisions against discrimination do not apply to adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and inheritance of property. The law prohibits discrimination in employment, access to credit, owning and managing a business, or in housing or education. During the year there were no reports that the government failed to enforce the law.
Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship by birth in the country’s territory or through either parent. Not all parents registered births, but this did not preclude their children from receiving public health services. Birth certificates were easily obtained in most cases. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Education: The constitution and law mandate compulsory, tuition-free education through the secondary level. Under the tuition-free education plan, however, families often must pay fees for books, uniforms, lunches, school fund contributions, and examination fees. An estimated 75 percent of primary school-age children enrolled in primary schools. Girls comprised approximately half of primary school students but only one-third of high school students.
Early and Forced Marriage: By law children younger than age 18 may not marry; however, approximately 33 percent of girls younger than 18 were married, and 9 percent younger than 15 were married. Government sensitization campaigns in several areas of the country, particularly in remote villages, sought to create awareness of the act. For additional information, see Appendix C.
Sexual Exploitation of Children: The minimum age for consensual sex is 18. The law provides for 14 years’ imprisonment for conviction of commercial sexual exploitation of children and five years for involvement in child pornography. Local NGOs stated criminals exploited children who were often seeking to support their families in prostitution in brothels and in remote guesthouses and motels frequented by tourists. Authorities instructed security officers in the tourism development area to turn away all minors who approached the main resort areas without an acceptable reason. NGOs attributed many of the difficulties in reporting and prosecuting sexual abuse on a national culture of secrecy with regard to intimate family issues and a penchant for resolution of problems outside of the formal system.
International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. For information, see the Department of State’s Annual Report on International Parental Child Abduction at https://travel.state.gov/content/travel/en/International-Parental-Child-Abduction/for-providers/legal-reports-and-data.html.
There was no known Jewish community, and there were no reports of anti-Semitic acts.
Trafficking in Persons
See the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
Persons with Disabilities
The constitution prohibits discrimination against or exploitation of persons with disabilities, although it does not stipulate the kinds of disabilities protected, particularly as regards access to health services, education, and employment. Authorities effectively enforced these provisions. There is no explicit legal provision that requires access to transportation, nor any requirement to provide for access to buildings for persons with disabilities. No law or program provides for persons with disabilities to have access to information or communications.
There are three separate schools for students with visual, hearing, or learning disabilities respectively. Other students with disabilities may attend mainstream schools, but there are no programs or facilities to address special needs. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a lower rate than other children.
Acts of Violence, Discrimination, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
By law, “aggravated homosexuality” is a crime for which conviction is punishable by life imprisonment. It includes serial offenders or persons with a previous conviction for homosexual activity, persons having same-sex relations with someone younger than age 18 or with members of other vulnerable groups, or a person with HIV having same-sex relations.
Citing more pressing priorities, President Barrow dismissed homosexuality as a nonissue in the country. On July 5, the country’s delegation to the UN Human Rights Council stated that the government had no immediate plans to reverse or change the law. The law, however, was not enforced.
There was strong societal discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and intersex individuals.
HIV and AIDS Social Stigma
Although there were no reports to authorities of HIV-related stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, it existed. Societal discrimination against persons infected with HIV/AIDS and fear of rejection by partners and relatives sometimes hindered identification and treatment of persons with the disease. The government’s multisectoral national strategic plan provides for care, treatment, and support for persons with or affected by HIV/AIDS. The plan includes HIV-prevention programs for high-risk populations.
Section 7. Worker Rights
a. Freedom of Association and the Right to Collective Bargaining
The law provides that workers, except for civil servants, domestic workers, and certain other categories of workers excluded from the protection of the law, are free to form and join independent unions, bargain collectively, and conduct legal strikes. A broad range of essential service employees, including in the military, police, health, ambulance, prison, water and electricity services, and radio and telecommunication services sectors, are prohibited from forming unions or going on strike. Additionally, the law authorizes the minister responsible for labor matters to exclude any other category of workers from the protection of the law. Unions must register to be recognized. The law requires a minimum membership of 50 workers for the registration of a trade union, a threshold few workplaces could meet. The law also provides that the registrar of unions may examine without cause the financial accounts of workers’ associations.
The law restricts the right to strike by requiring unions to give the commissioner of labor written notice 14 days before beginning an industrial action (28 days for actions involving essential services). Police and military personnel had access to a complaints unit, and civil servants could take their complaints to the public service commission or the government’s personnel management office. An employer may apply to a court for an injunction to prohibit industrial action deemed to be in pursuit of a political objective. The court also may forbid action judged to be in breach of a collectively agreed procedure for settlement of industrial disputes. The law prohibits retribution against strikers who comply with the law regulating strikes. Employers may not fire or discriminate against members of registered unions for engaging in legal union activities, and the law provides for reinstatement of workers fired for union activity. The law also sets minimum contract standards for hiring, training, and terms of employment and provides that contracts may not prohibit union membership.
The government did not effectively enforce the law and there were persistent violations of freedom of association. Resources, inspections, and remediation were inadequate. Penalties did not serve as a deterrent, because they were rarely applied.
Although trade unions were small and fragmented, collective bargaining took place. Union members were able to negotiate without government interference; however, they lacked experience, organization, and professionalism and often turned to the government for assistance in negotiations. The Department of Labor registered most collective agreements, which remained valid for three years and were renewable.
There were no reports of violations of collective bargaining rights or of employers refusing to bargain, bargaining with unions not chosen by workers, or using other hiring practices to avoid hiring workers with bargaining rights.
b. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
The constitution and law prohibit all forms of forced or compulsory labor, including that of children, but the government did not effectively enforce the law. The law sets forth general employment protections, including contractual rights, freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and disciplinary procedures in the workplace, among other important labor regulations. Penalties were insufficient to deter violations.
Women and children were subjected to trafficking primarily for domestic labor and commercial sexual exploitation. Inadequate resources made enforcement difficult.
Although officials took part in a number of programs designed to increase their sensitivity to the problem and learn best practices regarding ways to investigate and combat it, forced labor continued to occur.
Also see the Department of State’s Trafficking in Persons Report at www.state.gov/j/tip/rls/tiprpt/.
c. Prohibition of Child Labor and Minimum Age for Employment
The constitution prohibits economic exploitation of children younger than age 16, and regulations prohibit children younger than 18 from engaging in exploitive labor or hazardous employment, including mining and quarrying, going to sea, carrying heavy loads, operating heavy machinery, and working in establishments serving alcohol. The law sets the minimum age at 16 for light work and at 12 for apprenticeship in the informal sector.
The penalties for conviction of child labor law violations are up to five years’ imprisonment and a fine of D100,000 ($2,110) for violations related to the employment of children. The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing child labor laws and conventions on the worst forms of child labor, but it did not effectively do so. The government took no action to prevent or combat child labor during the year. The labor commissioner registered employee labor cards, which include a person’s age; the law authorizes the commissioner to enforce child labor laws. Enforcement inspections rarely took place and when they took place, no one was prosecuted.
Child labor in the informal sector was largely unregulated. Rising school fees combined with stagnating incomes prevented some families from sending their children to school, contributing to the vulnerability of children to child labor. Additionally, many children completed nine years of compulsory schooling at age 14, rendering them vulnerable to child labor. In urban areas some children worked as street vendors, domestic laborers, or taxi and bus assistants. There were a few instances of children begging on the streets. Children between ages 14 and 17 also worked in carpentry, masonry, plumbing, tailoring, and auto repair. Children in rural areas worked on family farms.
d. Discrimination with Respect to Employment and Occupation
The constitution prohibits discrimination based on race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, disability, sex, property, birth, or other status. The law defines the criteria that prohibit discrimination with respect to employment and occupation, and the government effectively enforced the law in the formal sector. By law a person convicted of an offense may be fined up to D50,000 ($1,055). Penalties appeared to be sufficient to deter violations.
Employment in the formal sector was open to women at the same salary rates as men, and no statutory discrimination existed in other kinds of employment; however, societal discrimination lingered, and women generally worked in such low-wage pursuits as food vending and subsistence farming. The law also prohibits discrimination in private companies certified by the Department of Labor.
There were no official reports of discriminatory practices with respect to employment or occupation. The International Labor Organization reported the government generally supported elimination of employment discrimination.
e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Collective bargaining, arbitration, or agreements reached between unions and management determined union members’ wages, which generally exceeded legal minimums. The minimum wage in the formal sector was D50 ($1.05) per day, less than the World Bank’s international poverty line of $1.90 per day. The government considered the national poverty baseline to be D38 ($0.80) per person per day. Employers paid most workers above the minimum wage. Most citizens did not live on a single worker’s earnings and shared resources within extended families. The Department of Labor is responsible for enforcing the minimum wage; however, penalties for violation were ineffective and rarely enforced. Most workers were employed in the private sector or were self-employed, often in agriculture where labor laws were not enforced.
The basic legal workweek is 48 hours within a period not to exceed six consecutive days. The government’s workweek consists of four eight-hour workdays Monday through Thursday and a four-hour workday on Friday. The private sector typically operates from Monday through Saturday. Regulations mandate a 30-minute lunch break. Regulations entitle government employees to one month of paid annual leave after one year of service. The government does not pay most government employees overtime compensation. Government workers holding temporary positions and private-sector workers, however, receive overtime pay calculated at time and a half per hour. There is no exception for foreign or migrant workers.
The law specifies appropriate safety equipment an employer must provide to employees working in designated occupations. The law also authorizes the Department of Labor to regulate factory health and safety, accident prevention, and dangerous trades and to appoint inspectors to provide for compliance with occupational safety and health (OSH) standards. Workers may demand protective equipment and clothing for hazardous workplaces and have recourse to the Labor Department for violations of OSH standards. The law protects foreign workers employed by the government; however, it provides protection for privately employed foreigners only if they have a valid work permit.
The government did not effectively enforce the law. Penalties were seldom applied and did not deter violations particularly in the construction sector. Court remedies were lengthy, expensive, and generally ineffective. The number of labor inspectors was insufficient to enforce compliance. Wage and safety standards were not enforced in the informal sector, which included the majority of workers.