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Gambia 2023

Despite significant progress in the realization of the right to truth, justice and reparation for the massive human rights violations committed during the Yahya Jammeh presidency, there were delays in providing access to justice and adequate reparations to victims. Draconian laws continued to threaten human rights, including the right to freedom of expression and media freedom. A national law to prevent and punish the use of torture was passed. The ban on female genital mutilation was not effectively enforced. Court proceedings started into the deaths in 2022 of more than 60 children after ingesting a cough syrup. The right to a healthy environment was threatened by overfishing and fishmeal factories.


The year saw judicial cases linked to crimes committed during the 22-year rule of former president Yahya Jammeh. In April, Ousman Sonko, former minister in Yahya Jammeh’s government, was charged in a federal court in Switzerland for crimes against humanity, including participating, ordering, facilitating and/or failing to prevent murders, acts of torture, rapes and illegal detention. Another trial of an alleged former jungler (member of a paramilitary death squad) continued in Germany for his suspected involvement in the killings of about 55 West African migrants in July 2005. In December, the National Assembly passed the anti-corruption bill.

Right to truth, justice and reparation

In April, a study commissioned by Journalists for Justice, a not-for-profit organization, highlighted shortcomings in the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC)’s reparation programme, including lack of communication, a limited definition of “victim”, the exclusion of some survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, and inadequate monetary compensation. The study notably echoed the concerns of a victims-led organization and the findings of a 2022 report by several NGOs, including the International Center for Transitional Justice on reparations for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence in Gambia.

In May, the government issued an implementation plan for the TRRC’s recommendations and announced that the EU had pledged EUR 9 million to help Gambia in the transitional justice process in partnership with the UN Development Programme, which would provide technical support. The implementation plan provided for the creation of a Special Prosecutor’s Office and a hybrid court in collaboration with ECOWAS “to try those with the greatest responsibility”. In July, the government stated that it would establish a taskforce, which would include members of civil society, to expand the work already done by the TRRC on enforced disappearance.

In July, the ECOWAS Court of Justice ruled that Gambia had violated the right to life of Saul Ndow, a critic of Yahya Jammeh’s government – who was subjected to enforced disappearance – and that despite the establishment of the TRRC, the almost 10-year delay in prosecuting those suspected to be responsible was unreasonable. The court also ordered the government to implement the TRRC’s recommendations.

Freedom of expression

According to the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders, Gambia ranked 46th in the world and fifth in Africa in 2023. The organization noted that the country had made progress but also called on the government to abolish draconian media laws which continued to restrict the right to freedom of expression and media freedom. Section 51 of the Criminal Code Act, for example, criminalizes sedition against the president, and section 59 creates the vague offence of publishing false news with intent to “cause fear and alarm to the public”, punishable by two years’ imprisonment.

In June, the Gambian Press Union condemned the assault on two journalists at a political event and called on the police to investigate the incident and end the cycle of impunity. According to the organization, none of the 15 cases of assault on journalists they had recorded from 2017 to 2022 had been investigated.

Torture and other ill-treatment

In March, the Prevention against Torture Act was passed by the National Assembly. The law aimed to prevent, and ensure accountability for, acts of torture and other ill-treatment.

Women’s and girls’ rights

The Sexual Offences Act continued to exclude marital rape as an offence, despite previous calls by human rights activists to criminalize it.

In March, the head of the UN reproductive and sexual health agency stated that one in every two young girls in Gambia had undergone female genital mutilation, and that despite the fact that it was outlawed in 2015, there had been little enforcement, with only two cases going to trial and no convictions. She also noted that period poverty – the inability to pay for menstrual hygiene products – was rife throughout the country, particularly in rural areas. In August, three women were sentenced by a magistrate’s court in the Central River Region to a fine of 15,000 dalasis (USD 223) or a year in jail, for carrying out female genital mutilation on eight girls. This was the first ever conviction for female genital mutilation in Gambia.

A project led by the International Fund for Agricultural Development was implemented during the year to increase women’s access to land. The initial data collected between the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023 revealed that although Gambian laws grant women equal ownership rights, there is often confusion between customary practices and legal systems, to the detriment of women.

A report issued by the Gender Management Information System revealed that between January and July, Gambia registered 117 cases of rape and 310 cases of gender-based violence.

Right to health

In October, the case initiated by 19 families against the Ministry of Health, the Attorney General, the Medicines Control Agency and an Indian pharmaceutical company, went to trial after a cough syrup allegedly killed more than 60 children in 2022. After discovering that the medicines were not registered with the agency – as required by law – the government fired two of its executives, and stated that it was considering legal action against the Indian pharmaceutical company.

Right to a healthy environment

The government set up a USD 25 million programme named “PROREFISH Gambia” to reinforce climate resilience in the fishing sector. Its implementation was planned for the 2023 to 2029 period in partnership with the Food and Agricultural Organization, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Fisheries and Water Resources.

In May, Amnesty International published a report highlighting the negative impact of overfishing on socio-economic and environmental rights in the coastal town of Sanyang, including by foreign industrial trawlers and a fishmeal factory based there.1

  1. Gambia: The Human Cost of Overfishing, 31 May