By Madi Jobarteh
Finally, the Gambia has joined the group of nations that have realised the importance of human rights and the value of their citizens by creating a National Human Rights Commission. The effort to create this Commission began way back in 2012 even though the APRC Government was not truly keen in creating this body. Therefore, the Barrow Government deserves commendation for doing what must be done or should have been done way back.
National human rights commissions have become one of those indispensable independent institutions that have been considered to be essential to ensure not only the protection of human rights but by so doing also promoting democracy, good governance and sustainable development in a country. This is because human rights encompass all aspects of human life and society such that everything and anything in life is practically about human rights.
Whether citizens will access affordable and quality water and electricity supply or not or will obtain a job or enjoy quality healthcare as well as be able to express one’s opinion or protest against the Government or not are all aspects of human rights. Hence human rights are a life and death issue. When citizens die from preventable diseases or roads are poor or children are given poor quality education, or a public officer can take a bribe or police officer can slap a taxi driver or there is misuse of public funds it all indicates that human rights are under threat in that society. Essentially the security, peace and progress of any individual and society lie in the extent to which human rights are respected, protected and fulfilled in that country.
Now that the Gambia has a human rights commission which is constituted by individuals of high standing the task now is for citizens to cooperate with this body by supporting its objectives and activities as well as holding the Commission and its members to account. The success of this Commission cannot be removed from the cooperation of public institutions, private sector, civil society and indeed ordinary Gambian citizens.
The act establishing the body has clearly stated its objectives which are broadly to promote and protect human rights, monitor, receive and investigate violations or complaints, report its decisions to Government for redress as well as provide human rights education to the public. It is also the aim of the Commission to ensure that the Gambia Government meets its international obligations.
In order to be able to perform its functions effectively and efficiently the Commission enjoys the same powers and status of a high court so that it can hear any complaint, summon anyone to testify, examine witnesses on oath, compel individuals or entities to produce documents, examine witnesses abroad as well as enforce its decisions! Wow!! So, this means the National Huma Rights Commission is indeed powerful and therefore they have no excuse not to look into any human rights issue in the Gambia.
As citizens we need to watch over this Commission to ensure that the Commissioners are acting according to the law that establishes the body. But also, we need to stand by the Commission to ensure that the Gambia Government does not interfere, undermine, suppress or harm the body in anyway. It happens in many countries especially in Africa where some governments seek to undermine and weaken the national human rights commission because the government does not want the commission to investigate and report on human rights issues since it is usually governments that in fact violate rights.
National human rights bodies have an international network that seeks to promote their independence, professionalism and efficiency based on what is called the ‘Paris Principles’. These principles are a set of values and standards that guide the operations of a human rights commission. Those commissions that exercise high values and standards are graded into A, B or C status to indicate how well they are performing. We hope the Gambia Human Rights Commission shall always enjoy an A Status in its lifetime by doing its work free from politics, corruption and inefficiency.
While congratulating the Gambia Government and indeed the first-ever Commissioners of this glorious national institution and in particular my own buddies, Emanuel Joof and Njundu Drammeh, I wish to urge that the Commissioners become revolutionary, innovative, bold and vigilant to the highest level. This is because the abuse of human rights is widespread and deep in the Gambia. Not only at police stations and public institutions but one can see clear and direct abuse of rights in our homes, communities, streets, schools, hospitals, beaches and indeed everywhere in the Gambia every day.
It is precisely because of the at-risk nature of human rights in the Gambia that this pioneering Commissioners have a tough but noble task to set the standards and values for the respect and protection of human rights. As the pioneers, the future of this Commission and the degree to which human rights protection will be in the Gambia rests with the kind of path that these Commissioners will set. Will they make this body an inefficient, inconsequential and toothless bulldog or will they make this Commission a force to be reckoned with? Time will tell!
Let me just say that this body is utterly urgent, necessary and timely. It will serve to strengthen the culture and practice of accountability in our society without which there cannot be protection, democracy, good governance and sustainable development. Therefore, no human rights issue must be left unaddressed even if it is not popular with Gambians. The protection of human rights and human dignity must not be side-lined in the name of religion, culture or peace. Rather the Commissioners must vow to ensure that Gambians enjoy their human rights without fetters in full and at all times and no one and nothing must stand against that.
Congratulations esteemed Commissioners! Together we shall make the protection of human rights a reality in the Gambia.
For the Gambia Our Homeland