By Mustapha Ceesay
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recommended the Gambia to repeal the death penalty provisions in the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code.
NHRC made this and other recommendations in its 2021 state of human rights in The Gambia, under ‘Respect for the Integrity of the Person including deprivation of life’ theme.
The commission’s recommendations aim to make the matter in line with the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Gambia has ratified.
“Enact legislation to repeal the death penalty from the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Code in line with the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the State has ratified;
“Commute the death sentences imposed on all inmates to life imprisonment.
“Include in the next Periodic report to the Human Rights Committee information on the measures adopted by the State to give effect to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
“Expedite the enactment of the Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Bills that are currently before the National Assembly,” the NHRC recommendations read.
The right to life, except in the lawful execution of a death sentence imposed by a court of law is guaranteed in Section 18 of the 1997 Constitution; and President Adama Barrow declared a moratorium on the use of the death penalty at the 53rd independence anniversary in 2017, which is still being observed.
Meanwhile, in 2018, The Gambia ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights aimed at the abolition of the death penalty; and accepted the recommendation to abolish it in the 2019 Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
Despite the ratification of the Second Optional Protocol, the death penalty remains in the statute books of The Gambia and it continues to be used in judgments where persons convicted of offences are punishable by the death penalty.
A recent example of a death sentence in The Gambia has occurred on 14th July 2021, when Yankuba Touray, a former Minister of Local Government under former President Yahya Jammeh was sentenced to death by the High Court in Banjul for the murder of Ousman Koro Ceesay, a one-time Finance Minister of the same regime.
Regarding Touray’s sentence, the High Court maintained that section 188 of the Criminal Code provides that a person convicted of murder, shall be sentenced to death, still stands and not amended or repealed, and the Court does not have the discretion to hand the convict (Touray) a different sentence; but adjudged that his sentence shall be executed by hanging.
Another recent incident of death penalty sentence happened on 29th July 2021, involving one Saidou Cham convicted of murder and sentenced to death by the High Court in Basse.
Nonetheless, Touray and Cham are yet to be executed and are being jailed as death row inmates.