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1. Overview of the human rights and democracy situation: In 2017, a democratic change of leadership ended 22 years of authoritarian rule under former President Yahya Jammeh, after opposition candidate Adama Barrow had won presidential elections on 1 December 2016. Under President Jammeh, areas of specific concern included press freedom, the death penalty, prison conditions, rights of LGBTI persons, arbitrary arrests, detentions beyond the constitutional limit of 72 hours, and judicial independence. The current government is committed to democratic reforms, respect of human rights and the rule of law and has made good progress in 2018. However, the financial, economic and political legacy of former President Jammeh constitutes a challenge, and the country remains politically divided. Civil society is gradually strengthening its capacities and level of organisation in order to fully play its role in the new political context.
In the area of transitional justice, the commission of inquiry looking into the former government's assets ("Janneh Commission") has finished its work. The Commission is preparing a report on the main findings for submission to the President. Preparations for hearings in front of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) to start in January 2019 were successfully accomplished. Hearings will address human rights abuses and other crimes committed under the previous government. An initiative to have former President Jammeh extradited from his current exile in Equatorial Guinee to Ghana to face trial for the murder of a group of Ghanaian migrants is ongoing and could become the first step of bringing him to trial for human rights abuses. The Constitutional Review Commission has launched country-wide consultations with a view to adopting a new Constitution via referendum in 2020. Repressive legislation on press freedom is under review and currently not applied, but remains valid. At the same time, press freedom is de facto established and lively public political discussions have replaced the previous climate of fear. Preparations for a thorough security sector reform have advanced slowly. The independence of the judiciary has been strengthened through appointments of judges including to high courts, thus containing the former practice of temporary contracts. While detentions without trial beyond the legally allowed 72 hours still occurred, they were limited to members of the armed forces and based on their specific status and triggered public criticism. In February 2018, President Barrow declared a moratorium on the use of the death penalty in The Gambia. Gender parity in lower basic education, bills banning female genital mutilation and child marriage are examples of the commitment of the authorities towards gender issues. However, despite sensitisation and enforcement of the law of 2015 banning FGM/C, the practice is still widespread in The Gambia. An amendment to the criminal code including a law on "aggravated homosexuality", imposing life imprisonment for the same-sex acts specified therein, and another law sanctioning "unnatural behaviour" are still valid. While there were no reports of prosecution of LGBTI persons since the handover of power, the subject remains sensitive. The establishment of a National Human Rights Commission in The Gambia has made slow progress towards appointment of Commissioners, which is scheduled for 2019. Establishment of an anti-corruption commission is still pending.
2. EU action – key focus areas: The EU is committed to supporting the current democratic transition with the aim of strengthening democratic institutions in full respect of human 153 rights and the rule of law. The EU's positions in this area are to a large extent in line with the agenda of President Barrow's government. In 2018, EU activities focussed on supporting, encouraging and accompanying the implementation of this agenda as well as helping to provide the necessary fiscal space to implement the corresponding reforms.
3. EU bilateral political engagement: The EU's political support to the Gambian government included a continuous and productive dialogue at all levels. The EU actively used its membership of several steering committees for sectoral reforms to promote its positions on specific issues of human rights and rule of law in close co-ordination with like-minded actors. Commissioner Mimica and President Barrow met in spring 2018 in New York to prepare the International Conference for The Gambia, which took place on 22 May in Brussels. On the basis of the National Development Plan, this ministerial conference, co-hosted by the Republic of Gambia and the EU, gathered delegations from 43 countries and 10 International organisations and confirmed strong international political and economic support to the country. The EU announced EUR 140 million of new grants, among a total pledge of EUR 1.45 billion. The reinforced international political support to the country was reflected in a joint communiqué, reaffirming support and solidarity in assisting the transition from a dictatorship to a fully-fledged democracy. A seminar at the conference was dedicated a.o. to specific issues of democratic transition.
4. EU financial engagement: In 2018, the EU remained the main donor of The Gambia. The second phase of the National Indicative Programme (2017-2020) under the 11th EDF includes "governance/security/rule of law" as its first focal sector (EUR 135 million). Budget support continued, combined with technical assistance in the areas of good governance and democratic reforms.
Support under the Instrument contributing to Stability and Peace (IcSP) targeted the security sector reform. The European Instrument for Democracy and Human Rights (EIDHR) focussed EUR 400 000 support on capacity building for the parliamentary committee on human rights, supporting the victims of human rights violations and the enactment of the disability rights Act.
In the framework of a capacity building initiative, the European Parliament hosted members and staff of the new National Assembly in early 2018 for a study visit to strengthen the democratic oversight in the country.
5. Multilateral context: The decision of the ECOWAS Court of Justice of 2014, which stated that the government had failed to properly investigate the torture and murder cases of three Gambian journalists under the Jammeh regime, was followed up in 2018. The Gambian government initiated compensation payments to some of the families of the victims, although the full adherence to the Court ruling is still pending.
On the occasion of the UN General Assembly in September 2018, an initiative highlighting good human rights stories launched by the EU Special Representative for Human Rights, Stavros Lambrinidis, also included The Gambia.
Read the full EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2018 here: