Friday, September 25, 2009



24 September 2009

Activists have launched a campaign to have the headquarters of a top African human rights body moved from the Gambia after the country's president reportedly threatened to kill human rights defenders.

The online Gambian news service, Freedom Newspaper, reported this week that President Yahya Jammeh had said in a television broadcast that he would kill "anyone who wants to destablise this country."

The newspaper said Jammeh's "exact words" in a television broadcast had been: "If you think that you can collaborate with so-called human rights defenders, and get away with it, you must be living in a dream world. I will kill you, and nothing will come out of it.

"We are not going to condone people posing as human rights defenders to the detriment of the country. If you are affiliated with any human rights group, be rest assured that your security, and personal safety would not be guaranteed by my Government. We are ready to kill saboteurs."

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights is headquartered in the Gambian capital, Banjul. The commission reports to the AU, its members are elected by the AU Assembly and it is tasked with interpreting the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights and dealing with complaints about violations of the Charter.

In response to Jammeh's reported remarks, campaigners from non-governmental organizations, including the Coalition for an Effective African Court on Human and Peoples Rights and the Open Society Institute, are circulating a petition to the AU asking that the commission stop holding meetings in the Gambia and that its headquarters be removed from the country.

Jammeh's threat "leads us to fear for the safety, security, and lives of ourselves and our colleagues who have to work with the... Commission," the petition says.

"Quite apart from violating the right to life in Article 4 of the... African charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, the assurance by President Jammeh that his Government will not guarantee the security and personal safety of human rights defenders visiting the country clearly and unilaterally repudiates the basic obligation assumed by The Gambia... to guarantee the safety and security of the members and personnel of the... as well as all users of the Commission."