Gambia, The

Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person

a. Arbitrary Deprivation of Life and Other Unlawful or Politically Motivated Killings

There were no reports the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings.

b. Disappearance

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 and ask that those responsible for killings, disappearances, and other serious crimes be held accountable.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The constitution and the law prohibit such practices, but there were reports security personnel engaged in degrading treatment of citizens.

In July 2020 Commander Gorgi Mboob of the Police Anti-Crime Unit assaulted Ebrima Sanneh, an arrestee, at the unit’s headquarters in Bijilo. In October 2020 the inspector general of police demoted Mboob at the recommendation of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC). On July 26, the inspector general reappointed Mboob to his position. The NHRC requested an explanation from the inspector general concerning Mboob’s return, but at year’s end had not received an answer.

According to the online portal Conduct in UN Field Missions, there was one open allegation (submitted in 2018) of sexual exploitation and abuse by one of the country’s peacekeepers deployed to a UN peacekeeping mission, allegedly involving an exploitative relationship with an adult from 2013 to 2015. The United Nations completed its investigation and awaited additional information from the government. Authorities did not provide the additional information or accountability measures taken.

Impunity remained a problem in the security forces, including in the prison service, police, and military. Factors contributing to impunity included corruption, inadequate training, and lack of oversight and accountability mechanisms. Offices charged with investigation abuses included the NHRC, the Office of the Ombudsman, and the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission (TRRC). The Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission Report, finalized in November and published December 24, provided recommendations to hold alleged wrongdoers from the Jammeh era accountable.

Prison and Detention Center Conditions

Prison conditions were harsh and life threatening due to food shortages, gross overcrowding, physical abuse, and poor sanitary conditions.

Physical Conditions: Overcrowding was a problem in some facilities, particularly in the remand (pretrial detainee) wing of the state central prison, Mile 2 Prison in Banjul, where police held detainees pending trial. Food quality and access to potable water, sanitation, ventilation, lighting, and medical care remained inadequate. In 2019 Amnesty International reported teenagers as young as age 15 being held with adults in pretrial detention facilities.

Administration: Authorities conducted investigations of credible allegations of mistreatment.

Independent Monitoring: The government granted unrestricted access to all prisons to the Office of the Ombudsman, the TRRC, and local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).

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. The government generally observed these requirements.

Military decrees enacted prior to the adoption of the constitution in 1997 give the National Intelligence Agency and the Interior Ministry broad powers to detain individuals indefinitely without charge “in the interest of national security.” Although these detention decrees are inconsistent with the constitution, no one challenged their legality. The government no longer enforced the decrees.

Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees

The law requires a detainee be charged or released within 72 hours. There were numerous instances of detentions exceeding the 72-hour limit. There was a functioning bail system.

In some cases officials did not allow detainees prompt access to a lawyer or family members. The judiciary provided lawyers at public expense only to indigent persons charged with capital crimes such as murder, which impose the death penalty.

Pretrial Detention: Backlogs and inefficiency in the justice system resulted in lengthy pretrial detentions. In some instances inmates in the remand wing of Mile 2 Prison awaited trail for several years. According to the Gambia Prison Services and World Prison Brief, 55.6 percent of the prison population was in pretrial detention as of April. The introduction of virtual courts, created in June 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, worked to reduce overcrowding, particularly among the remand population. Quicker case processing significantly reduced crowding in the remand wing and limited unnecessarily long pretrial detention.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary, and the government generally respected judicial independence and impartiality.

Trial Procedures

The law provides for the right to a fair and public trial, and an independent judiciary generally enforced this right. Criminal defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty. Officials did not always promptly inform defendants of the charges against them. The law provides for a fair, timely, and public trial without undue delay; however, case backlogs 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 Gambia Bar Association continued to provide free legal services to some prisoners, including to defendants incarcerated in the country’s three prisons and to remand and juvenile inmates.

Political Prisoners and Detainees

There were no reports of political prisoners or detainees.

Civil Judicial Procedures and Remedies

The High Court hears civil and human rights cases, including appeals from customary and sharia (Islamic) courts. Individuals may also seek assistance concerning abuses of human rights from the Office of the Ombudsman, which investigates such cases and recommends remedies for judicial consideration.

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 the government failed to respect those prohibitions.

Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties

a. Freedom of Expression, Including for Members of the Press and Other Media

The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, 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 members of media.

Internet Freedom

The government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority.

Academic Freedom and Cultural Events

There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.

b. Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The law provides for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and association, and although government generally respected the right of peaceful association, it placed minor administrative limitations on the right of peaceful assembly.

Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

By law the Gambia Police Force must grant a permit for all public meetings and gatherings of large groups. The inspector general of police has the authority to approve or disapprove permits and is required to communicate his decision to the requester in writing. Police generally approved requests unless there was concern regarding the peaceful nature of a proposed gathering or protest. Following training from the governments of France, Spain, and Germany, security forces’ capability to employ effective, nonviolent crowd-control techniques improved.

In the days after the December 4 presidential election, demonstrators favoring United Democratic Party (UDP) opposition candidate Ousainou Darboe took to the streets. After a crowd outside Darboe’s residence began interfering with traffic and damaging passing vehicles, police moved to disperse the protesters with tear gas. After compelling the crowd to leave the area, riot police continued to deploy tear gas against fleeing protesters, then returned to the area outside Darboe’s residence to deploy more tear gas. UDP representatives claimed the crowd outside Darboe’s residence had already dispersed when police returned; authorities stated additional tear gas was necessary to disperse an unlawful assembly. Independent observers asserted police use of tear gas at Darboe’s residence was excessive and called for police to hold accountable those who deployed the additional tear gas.

In January 2020 police arrested 137 demonstrators during a violent protest by the Three Years Jotna Movement. Protesters called for the president to honor his commitment to step down after three years, and other protesters affiliated with the movement called for the president to be forcibly removed from office. Police used tear gas against stone-throwing protesters, and some protesters and police sustained serious injuries. Police charged protest organizers with unlawful assembly and rioting. In February 2020 authorities released the organizers on bail. On February 10, the High Court dismissed the case against them after authorities withdrew the charges. Police re-arrested the group when they left the court building, purportedly based on new information. Ministry of Justice officials subsequently dropped a second set of charges.

c. Freedom of Religion

See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.

d. Freedom of Movement and the Right to Leave the Country

The law provides for freedom of internal movement, foreign travel, emigration, and repatriation, and the government generally respected these rights.

In-country Movement: Police and immigration personnel frequently set up security checkpoints. Individuals found to be without proper identification documentation were subject to detention or forced to pay bribes.

e. Status and Treatment of Internally Displaced Persons

Not applicable.

f. Protection of Refugees

The government cooperated with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and other organizations in providing protection and assistance to refugees, returning refugees, or asylum seekers, as well as other persons of concern.

Access to Asylum: The law provides for the granting of asylum or refugee status, and the government has established a system for providing protection to refugees. UNHCR did not have an office in the country but covered refugee matters from its mission in Senegal and through a partnership with the NGO The Gambia Food and Nutrition Association. Some refugees found it challenging to acquire civil documentation, leaving them at risk of statelessness.

Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses

Women

Rape and Domestic Violence: The law criminalizes rape without reference to gender and criminalizes domestic violence. The penalty for rape is life imprisonment. The maximum penalty for attempted rape is seven years’ imprisonment. Spousal and intimate partner rape, which are not illegal, was reportedly widespread, although there were no recent studies or reports; police officers generally considered it a domestic matter outside of their jurisdiction. Rape and domestic violence were widespread problems that often went unreported due to survivors’ fear of reprisal, unequal power relationships, stigma, discrimination, and pressure from family and friends not to report abuses. The penalty for domestic violence is two years’ imprisonment, a substantial monetary fine, or both.

The Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Children, and Social Welfare operated a shelter and cooperated with UN agencies and civil society organizations to address sexual- and gender-based violence.

Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting (FGM/C): The law bans FGM/C of girls and women; however, the practice had widespread and deeply rooted popular support. Authorities did not always enforce the law. Survivors and witnesses rarely reported abuses because they were uncomfortable implicating family or community members. According to UNICEF and NGOs, 76 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 had been subjected to FGM/C as of 2020. Authorities made no FGM/C arrests during the year.

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.

Sexual Harassment: The law prohibits sexual harassment and stipulates a one-year mandatory prison sentence for abuses. Sexual harassment was prevalent but not commonly reported due to discrimination, social stigma, and unwillingness to challenge the offenders. The government did not enforce the law effectively.

Reproductive Rights: There were no reports of coerced abortion or involuntary sterilization on the part of government authorities.

Barriers that impeded access to sexual and reproductive health services included cultural taboos, limited formal education with high illiteracy rates, low wages, and poor infrastructure, particularly in more rural areas of the country. Access to both routine and emergency health care was limited due to lack of capacity in all sectors of the health-care field.

The government attempted to provide access to sexual and reproductive health services for survivors of sexual violence, but residents in rural areas had very limited access to basic health care. Emergency contraception was available as part of the clinical management of rape cases, but limited to urban areas, with inconsistent supply at pharmacies and medical centers.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the country’s maternal mortality rate in 2020 was 597 per 100,000 live births. The WHO identified hemorrhage, anemia, early pregnancy, and obstructed labor as the main causes of maternal mortality. FGM/C negatively impacted reproductive and maternal morbidity (see the Female Genital Mutilation/Cutting subsection for additional information).

According to UN Population Fund data from 2020, 41 percent of married or in-union girls and women ages 15 to 49 made their own decisions regarding sexual and reproductive health, including decisions regarding their health care, the use of contraception, and whether to have sex. According to UNICEF, a skilled health-care professional attended 88 percent of births in 2020.

Discrimination: The constitution and law provide for equality of all persons, including with regard to race, color, gender, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, and birth. The law prohibits discrimination in employment, access to credit, owning and managing a business, housing or education. Nevertheless, the law does not provide the same legal status and rights for women regarding adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and inheritance of property. The government enforced the law effectively.

Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination

In addition to providing equality before the law and prohibiting discrimination, additional provisions in the law prohibit specific types of racial and ethnic discrimination. Political candidates are forbidden from stoking tribal or ethnic tensions. The government evenly and effectively administered these laws.

Children

Birth Registration: Children derive citizenship from a citizen parent. Due to lack of access, parents in rural areas typically do not register births, but this did not preclude their children from receiving public health and education services.

Education: The constitution and law mandate compulsory, tuition-free primary- and lower-secondary-level education. 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 one-half of primary school students but only one-third of high school students.

Child, Early, and Forced Marriage: By law children younger than age 18 may not marry. According to UNICEF, however, 34.2 percent of girls younger than 18 were married, and 9.5 percent younger than 15. Although government campaigns in several areas of the country, particularly in remote villages, sought to create awareness of the law, there were no reports of the government enforcing it.

Sexual Exploitation of Children: The law prohibits commercial sexual exploitation, sale, offering, or using children for commercial sexual exploitation, and practices related to child pornography. NGOs attributed difficulties in enforcement of the law to a culture of secrecy regarding intimate family matters and a penchant for resolution of problems outside of the formal legal system. The minimum age for consensual sex is 18.

International Child Abductions: The country is not a party to the 1980 Hague Convention on the Civil Aspects of International Child Abduction. 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/reported-cases.html.

Anti-Semitism

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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.

Persons with Disabilities

Persons with disabilities cannot access education, health services, public buildings, and transportation on an equal basis with others. The constitution prohibits discrimination against or exploitation of persons with disabilities, although it does not stipulate the kinds of disabilities protected, particularly regarding access to health services, education, and employment. There are no legal provisions that require access to transportation, buildings, and information or communications for persons with disabilities.

There were three schools for students with visual, hearing, or learning disabilities. Students with physical disabilities may attend mainstream schools, but there were no programs or facilities to address specific needs. Children with disabilities attended school through secondary education at a lower rate than other children.

An NHRC report in August detailed access problems for persons with disabilities trying to register to vote. There were no sign language interpreters present and documentation was not available in braille, but commission observers saw registration officials assisting a blind woman. Many of the registration sites were not at ground level and did not have ramps for persons with crutches or wheelchairs. Persons with disabilities found it very difficult to vote in the December elections, although some were seen navigating crowds and uneven ground to do so.

HIV and AIDS Social Stigma

Although there were no documented incidents of HIV-related stigma and discrimination in employment, housing, or access to education or health care, stigma and discrimination existed. Societal discrimination against persons with HIV and AIDS and fear of rejection by partners and relatives sometimes hindered identification and treatment. The government response was unclear.

Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

The law criminalizes consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults by punishing acts “against the order of nature” and acts of “gross indecency.” The law also punishes “aggravated homosexuality.” The government did not actively enforce these laws.

Citing more “pressing” priorities, the president in 2018 dismissed homosexuality as a nonissue in the country.

The law does not address discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) persons regarding essential goods and services such as housing, employment, and access to government services, including health care. There was strong societal discrimination against LGBTQI+ persons.

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