The Gambia’s constitution enumerates a full range of provisions and assurances for a multiparty democratic republic. In 2016 Adama Barrow, the consensus candidate of a coalition of seven opposition political parties, defeated incumbent president Yahya Jammeh in what international observers deemed a peaceful and credible election. Barrow was initially sworn into office in January 2017 in Dakar, Senegal, during a six-week political impasse when Jammeh refused to cede power. President Barrow was sworn into office again in the Gambia the following month after a peaceful regional and international intervention, led by Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) member countries, resulted in the former president departing for exile. In the 2017 parliamentary elections, the United Democratic Party won 31 of the 53 seats contested. International and domestic observers considered these elections to be free and fair.
The Gambia Police Force maintains internal security and reports to the minister of interior. The Gambia Armed Forces (GAF) consist of four branches: the Gambia National Army, the Gambia Navy, the Republican National Guard, and the Gambia Air Force. The GAF’s principal responsibilities are to defend the territorial integrity of the country, to aid civil authorities in emergencies, and to provide natural disaster relief assistance in agriculture, engineering, health and education. The chief of the defense staff administers the GAF and reports through the minister of defense to the president as commander in chief. Civilian authorities maintained effective control over the security forces.
Significant human rights issues included: harsh and potentially life-threatening prison conditions; lack of accountability in cases involving violence against girls and women, including rape and widespread female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C); trafficking in persons; and criminalization of consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults, although the law was not enforced.
The government took steps to investigate, prosecute, or otherwise hold accountable some officials who committed abuses. Nevertheless, impunity and a lack of consistent enforcement continued to occur.
Section 2. Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
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.
Press and Media, Including Online Media: Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction.
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.
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 the government generally respected these rights.
Freedom of Peaceful Assembly
By law the Gambia Police Force must grant a permit for all public meetings and gatherings. 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. Requests are generally approved unless there is concern regarding the peaceful nature of a proposed protest. Security forces lacked the capability to employ effective, nonviolent crowd-control techniques.
On July 24, residents of Brikama gathered to protest poor delivery of community services by the Brikama Area Council despite having been denied a legally required permit from police. In the days leading to the protest, police denied a permit to hold the protest on “public safety” grounds and attempted to dissuade residents from holding it. According to media reports, the protest began with a “few dozen” individuals gathered near the Brikama main market that police attempted to disperse by firing tear gas rounds. In response the number of protesters increased, and protesters began throwing stones at police and started a fire in the market. Several protesters and police were injured. Several protesters were arrested but released on bail; all charges were subsequently dropped. The ECOWAS military intervention unit was eventually deployed to protect key infrastructure in Brikama from further attacks.
c. Freedom of Religion
See the Department of State’s International Religious Freedom Report at https://www.state.gov/religiousfreedomreport/.
d. Freedom of Movement
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.
Access to Asylum: The law provides for granting refugee status. The Gambia Commission for Refugees worked with the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees on protection of refugees.
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 in Equatorial Guinea, bowing to regional and international pressure and the threat of military force from the ECOWAS, the member states of which had massed soldiers on the Gambia’s borders.
The country also held legislative elections in 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 6. Discrimination, Societal Abuses, and Trafficking in Persons
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.
There were no reports the government failed to enforce the law.
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 relationships, stigma, discrimination, and pressure from family and friends not to report abuses. Conviction of domestic violence carries a fine of up to 50,000 dalasi (D) ($998), two years’ imprisonment, or both.
On July 4, women marched under the social media hashtag #IamToufah as part of the country’s #MeToo movement to demonstrate solidarity with Fatou Toufah Jallow–a young woman who went public with sexual assault and rape allegations against former president Jammeh–and to raise public awareness of the prevalence of sexual violence in Gambian society. In October Jallow was among several women who testified at the TRRC regarding Jammeh-era sexual abuse and gender-based violence.
FGM/C is a deeply rooted practice in society. FGM/C cases are very seldom reported, either because individuals do not agree with the law or because they are uncomfortable reporting family or community members engaged in the practice to authorities. According to NGOs 76 percent of girls and women between ages 15 and 49 had been 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 the law banning FGM/C would no longer be enforced. Authorities responded the ban remained in effect; however, no FGM/C arrests were made during the year. 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, including with regard to race, color, 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, or in housing or education. Nevertheless, the law does not provide for the same legal status and rights for women regarding adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, and inheritance of property. During the year there were no reports the government failed to enforce the law effectively.
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 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 constituted approximately one 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, 34.2 percent of girls younger than 18 were married, and 9.5 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.
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/reported-cases.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 https://www.state.gov/trafficking-in-persons-report/.
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. 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
Citing more pressing priorities, the president dismissed homosexuality as a nonissue in the country. In July 2018 the country’s delegation to the UN Human Rights Council stated the government did not plan 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.