Gambia's President Suspends Executions Amid Outcry

September 17, 2012

gambia executions protest
Protesters gather outside the Gambian embassy in Senegal on August 30, 2012 to demand President Yahya Jammeh halt the mass execution of prisoners. (Photo AFP/GettyImages)

When we found out that Gambia was to break a 25 year moratorium on the death penalty by starting an execution spree last month, Amnesty activists went into overdrive.  Supporters sent over 30,000 messages to President Yahya Jammeh and rallied around the world to stop the mass killings of prisoners – many convicted after unfair trials.

Last Friday we got good news:  President Jammeh heard our call and announced the suspension of executions following “numerous appeals” at home and abroad.

The bad news? The halt may be temporary.  The President’s statement said:

“What happens next will be dictated by either declining violent crime rate, in which case the moratorium will be indefinite, or an increase in violent crime rate, in which case the moratorium will be lifted automatically.”

However, research shows that capital punishment is not a more effective deterrent for crime than other punishments. Furthermore, the Gambian criminal justice system is deeply flawed and cannot guarantee fair trials and the protection of human rights for all people.

The President’s announcement of a conditional moratorium is simply not good enough. Making the moratorium permanent, with a view to abolishing the death penalty in law, is necessary to ease some of the anxiety of at least 38 death row inmates and their families.  It will also make sure Gambia joins over two-thirds of the countries in the world that have abolished the death penalty in law or practice.

At least two of the nine prisoners executed in August, Malang Sonko and Buba Yarboe, were killed without legal appeals in violation of international standards and the Gambian Constitution. The Constitution mandates that all inmates sentenced to death must have their appeal heard all the way to the Supreme Court.

In addition, the judiciary in the Gambia is not independent from political pressures, the use of “confessions” obtained under duress are prevalent. And other international safeguards on the use of the death penalty are not followed.

The Gambia’s seriously flawed, ambiguous and inaccessible criminal justice system also means that even the lawyers and the families of those on death row are unsure of the status of the legal proceedings in individual cases.

The families of the one woman and eight men executed last month still have not had the bodies of their loved ones returned for burial, nor have they been informed of where the bodies are located.

Help us keep the pressure up! Take action to end the executions in the Gambia.