Banjul, Gambia | AFP | The Gambia has pledged to abolish the death penalty in a clean break with the former regime of Yahya Jammeh, giving activists hope that more African states will follow its example.
President Adama Barrow, elected in December 2016, signed a UN treaty on the abolition of capital punishment following his maiden speech at the world body’s general assembly, the government said in a press release Thursday.
“By signing the treaties, the new Gambia continues to promote democracy and show the commitment of the state to protect lives of political activists,” the statement said, referring to four other treaty pledges on issues including forced disappearances.
Jammeh, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 22 years until being forced from power after losing to Barrow, executed nine soldiers in 2012 and threatened to expand a list of capital crimes in 2015 in response to what he said was a rising crime rate.
Francophone west African nations such as Benin, Congo Republic and Guinea have all made steps to ending the death penalty in recent years.
But English-speaking countries in the region are lagging.
“This is a positive step forward for Gambia when just five years ago people on death row were tragically executed and abolition seemed a pipe dream. We hope Gambia will lead the way, as no Anglophone country in West Africa has yet abolished the death penalty,” said Amnesty International West Africa researcher Sabrina Mahtani.
Although the UN has welcomed the Gambian pledge, the numbers executed in the country’s once-notorious prisons are dwarfed by those who were forcibly disappeared, a figure that runs into the dozens, according to the authorities.
The government statement claimed the move — which must still be ratified — “will remove fear and promote rule of law for citizens to express their civil and political rights.”
The treaty — formally named the “Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty” — has been ratified by 85 member states of the UN so far.