Monday, November 23, 2009

‘Gambia’s situation an embarrassment’

Director of Common Wealth Foundation

Small Gambia continues to feature in every human rights discourse around the world these days, all be it for the wrong reasons. And in no region is this so true at this particular point in time than in the Caribbean, where heads of states of former British colonies are gathering for the heads of government meeting in the Trinidadian capital of Port-of-Spain. The Gambia has since come under a series of attacks, in the run up to this meeting, for death threats made by its leader, Yahya Jammeh. It appears that that statement of his offended more people than has so far has been highlighted. This, according to the Sunday Guardian of Trinidad and Tobago, is translating into more penalizing prospects for the country.
The Sunday Guardian reported Sunday 22nd November, 2009, that information it received indicated that Gambia could very well face expulsion from the Commonwealth because of the widely condemned statement made by its increasingly unpopular president. It said it had learnt that the Commonwealth Secretariat had put forward recommendations for dialogue with the Government of Gambia surrounding the infamous statement Jammeh made, threatening to “kill anyone who tries to destabilize my country.”
The Trinidad based Caribbean Centre for Human Rights as well as the India-based Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative have since been championing calls for the Commonwealth leaders to withdraw any invitation for Jammeh to attend the CHOGM. Although Trinidad’s government has not responded favorably to that call by the human rights bodies, it has since announced that the Gambian leader was not expected as part of the West African nation’s delegation.
The Sunday Guardian described the Director of the Commonwealth Foundation, Mark Collins, as outraged by Jammeh’s comments. It quoted him as saying that ‘‘no leader is above the law.’’
The Common Wealth Foundation is an intergovernmental body, established by Heads of Governments in 1965, and it works with civil society organizations to promote democracy, advance sustainable development and foster inter-cultural understanding across the Commonwealth. Its leader's condemnation of Jammeh suggests the very existence within the grouping what the more diplomatic minded leaders would rather not discuss openly.
Mr Collins, who was speaking in an interview at the University of the West Indies, Second Decade Debate, hosted by the International Relations (IR) Department of the school, stated that the Gambia’s situation was an embarrassing one for the Commonwealth.
“No one is above the law. The rule of law is one of the key principles of the Commonwealth. I will be very surprised if action is not taken against the President of Gambia,’’ Collins said.
He added, “He [Jammeh] has very strongly-held views, and there are concerns about what was expressed on television by the Gambia leader. His comments will create an atmosphere of fear. Human activists are defenders of rights for education, proper health care, freedom of speech and much more. What does he mean by saying these things?’’
Collins went on to say that all free-thinking people are aware of the fact that there are some areas of human rights still surrounded by controversy, like cultural expressions, and sexual preferences. And these issues, he added, are being discussed.
“Why would the President of Gambia make such a statement?’’ he queried, adding, ‘‘it reflects badly on the Commonwealth.”
The Common Wealth Foundation Director concluded by saying that he expected the issue to be high on the agenda for the Commonwealth Action Group (CWA) at the People’s Forum.

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