By Arfang M.S. Camara
The Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) tasked by an act of parliament to review the 1997 constitution and draft a new constitution for The Gambia has disregard the much talked about secularism in the final draft constitution of the Republic of The Gambia.
The Gambia will remain a sovereign state if Gambians adopt the final draft constitution through referendum.
However, Chapter 1 (in sections 1 to 6) recognises that The Gambia is a Sovereign Republic and a multi-party democratic State. A new provision has been added to declare that The Gambia comprises people of different faiths, and each faith is to be respected and treated fairly, without any discrimination.
Last November, the CRC released the draft constitution in order to afford Gambians another opportunity to propose recommendations for incorporation into the final draft constitution of which ‘secularism’ was not included and it sparked a huge controversy, especially on social media.
CRC boss, Justice Cherno Sulayman Jallow, who was speaking today during an online press conference said in essence, section 1 of the draft constitution, retains section 1 of both the 1970 and 1997 Constitutions by simply declaring The Gambia as a Sovereign Republic.
“It also retains section 100 (2) (b) of the 1997 Constitution which prohibits the National Assembly, amongst other things, from enacting any law establishing any religion in The Gambia as a State religion. Furthermore, section 12 declares that culture and respect for ethnic and religious diversity is the foundation of the nation and the cumulative effect of the Gambian people and nation.”
He added: “Accordingly, the provision (amongst other things) obligates the State to “recognise and protect ethnic and religious diversity of The Gambia in which all faiths are treated fairly to ensure peaceful co-existence between all ethnic and religious groups”.
The draft constitution, he explained, contains 319 sections divided into 20 Chapters and several Parts. In the assessment of the CRC, the draft constitution represents the generality of the wishes and aspirations of the Gambian people.
He said: “Each Chapter addresses a different issue, although in some instances certain Chapters have a correlation with provisions contained in other Chapters. In order to ensure clarity and prevent inconsistencies, appropriate sectional and cross references are made. The Draft Constitution is an embodiment of the hopes and aspirations of the people of The Gambia.”
Justice Cherno Jallow maintained that Section 49 (under Chapter VI) of the Draft Constitution guarantees freedom of conscience, religion, thought, belief and opinion. “It has been modified to ensure that an individual’s manifestation or practise of his or her religion is not subject to interference by the State or any other person or authority. Under section 88 (5) (b) (Chapter VIII), provision is made that the President cannot exercise any power to establish any religion as a State religion.”
He added: “We have also inserted a new section 4 on National Symbols, comprising the National Flag, National Anthem, Coat of Arms and the Public Seal. These are considered to be very important symbols that all Gambians should identify with. With respect to the National Days, we have identified the specific dates to ensure clarity.”
According to him, Chapter VI addresses the protection of Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms which is a key feature of any democracy.
“This Chapter provides for fundamental human rights and freedoms in sections 31 to 73. On the freedom of expression, the previous provision that effectively removed from protection the uttering of abusive or threatening speech or writing causing feelings of ill-will, disaffection or hostility has been removed.”
The CRC, he added, upon reflection and carefully considering representations received, formed the view that it was not necessary to curtail the freedom of expression in that regard.