19th Session: Commissioner Kisanga
20th Session: Commissioner Umozurike
21st Session: Commissioner Umozurike
22nd Session: Commissioner Dankwa
23rd Session: Commissioner Dankwa
24th Session: Commissioner Dankwa
25th Session: Commissioner Dankwa
26th Session: Commissioner Dankwa
27th Session: Commissioner Dankwa
SUMMARY OF FACTS: COMMUNICATION 147/95
1. The complainant is the former Head of State of the Republic of The
Gambia. He alleges that after the Military coup of July 1994, that overthrew
his government, there has been "blatant abuse of power by ... the military
junta". The military government is alleged to have initiated a reign of
terror, intimidation and arbitrary detention.
2. The complainant further alleges the abolition of the Bill of Rights as
contained in the 1970 Gambia Constitution by Military Decree No. 30/31,
ousting the competence of the courts to examine or question the validity of
any such Decree.
3. The communication alleges the banning of political parties and of
Ministers of the former civilian government from taking part in any
political activity. The communication alleges restrictions on freedom of
expression, movement and religion. These restrictions were manifested,
according to the complainant, by the arrest and detention of people without
charge, kidnappings, torture and the burning of a mosque.
4. He further alleges that two former Ministers of the Armed Forces
Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) were killed by the regime, asserting that
the restoration of the death penalty through Decree No. 52 means, "the
arsenal of the AFPRC is now complete".
5. He also alleges that not less than fifty soldiers were killed in cold
blood and buried in mass graves by the military government during what the
complainant terms "a staged-managed attempted coup". Several members of the
armed forces are alleged to have been detained some for up to six months
without trial following the introduction of Decree No. 3 of July 1994. This
Decree gives the Minister of Interior the power to detain and to extend the
period of detention ad infinitum. The Decree further prohibits the
proceedings of Habeas Corpus on any detention issued under it.
6. The complainant alleges further that Decree No. 45 of June 1995, the
National Intelligence Agency (NIA) Decree empowers the Minister of Interior
or his designate to issue search warrants, authorise interference with
correspondence, be it wireless or electronic.
7. Finally, the communication alleges disregard for the judiciary and
contempt of court following the regime's disregard of a court order; the
imposition of retroactive legislation following the Economic Crimes
(Specified Offences) Decree of 25th November 1994, thus infringing on the
rule and the due process of law.
8. Communication 149/96 alleges violation of the right to life, freedom from
torture and the right to a fair trial. The complainant alleges that not less
than fifty soldiers have been summarily executed by the Gambian Military
Government and buried in mass graves following an alleged attempted coup on
11th November 1994.
9. The complainant attaches the names of thirteen of the fifty soldiers
alleged to have been killed and further alleges that a former Finance
Minister, Mr. Koro Ceesay was killed by the government. He attaches a
document from a former member of the AFPRC, Captain Sadibu Hydara, to
support this allegation.
10. He went further to state that a former AFPRC member and former Interior
Minister did not die from high blood pressure as claimed by the government
but was tortured to death.
1. GOVERNMENT'S RESPONSE
11. In its submission on the question of admissibility, the Government
raised the following objections:
12. The first point raised is what the government called lack of 'proofs in
support', claiming that a communication should only be received by the
Commission if the individual alleges, 'with proofs in support' a serious or
massive cases of violations of human and peoples' rights.
13. The government asserts that the decrees complained of may on their face
value be seen to be contrary to the provisions in the Charter, but claims
that they must be "studied and placed in the context of the changed
circumstances in The Gambia". Commenting on the freedom of liberty, the
government claimed it was acting in conformity with laws previously laid
down by domestic legislation. The government claims that the decrees do not
prohibit the enjoyment of freedoms they are merely there to secure peace and
stability and only those who want to disrupt the peace will be arrested and
14. The submission further claims that since the take-over, not a single
individual has been deliberately killed; and that during the counter - coup
of 11th November 1994, soldiers of both sides lost their lives due mainly to
the fact that the rebels were fighting back with soldiers loyal to the
15. The Government also claims that Mr. Koro Ceesay and Mr. Sadibu Hydara
alleged to have been killed by the government died from an accident and
natural causes respectively. Post-mortem reports on the two deaths are
16. The Government further pointed out that the communication does not
fulfil some of the conditions laid down in Article 56 of the Charter.
Specifically, that the communications fails to meet the conditions set down
in grounds 4 and 5 which states that: 56(4) ...are not based exclusively on
news disseminated through the mass media...; and 56(5) ...are sent after
exhausting local remedies, if any unless it is obvious that this procedure
is unduly prolonged...
17. The complainant alleges violation of the following Articles of the
Charter: Articles 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7 (1)(d) and (2), 9(1) and (2), 10(1), 11,
12 (1) and (2), 20(1) and 26 Procedure
18. Communication 147/95 is dated 6 September 1995 and was received on 30
November 1995 at the Secretariat of the Commission.
19. Communication 149/96 was received on 12 January 1996 at the Secretariat
of the Commission.
20. At the 19th session in March 1996, the Commission decided to be seized
of the communication and to notify the government accordingly and stated
that decision on admissibility would be taken at the 20th session in October
21. At its 21st session in April 1997, the Commission decided to renumber
the communication as 147/95 to reflect the length of time it has been with
the Commission, it also decided to join the communication with 149/96 and
declare both of them admissible. The Commission also requested further
information from both sides and stated that a decision on the merits would
be taken at its 22nd session.
22. The admissibility of communications by the Commission is governed by
Article 56 of the African Charter.
2. This article lays down seven conditions that, under normal circumstances
must be fulfilled for a communication to be admissible. Of the seven, the
Government claims that two conditions have not been fulfilled; namely;
Article 56(4) and 56(5).
23. Article 56(4) of the Charter provides that '... are not based exclusively
on news disseminated through the mass media'.
24. The Government claims that the communication should be declared
inadmissible because it is based exclusively on news disseminated through
the mass media, and specifically made reference to the attached letter of
Captain Ebou Jallow. While it would be dangerous to rely exclusively on news
disseminated from the mass media, it would be equally damaging if the
Commission were to reject a communication because some aspects of it are
based on news disseminated through the mass media. This is borne out of the
fact that the Charter makes use of the word "exclusively"
25. There is no doubt that the media remains the most important and if not
the only source of information. It is common knowledge that information on
human rights violations is always gotten from the media. The Genocide in
Rwanda, the human rights abuses in Burundi, Zaire, Congo, to name but a few,
were revealed by the media.
26. The issue therefore should not be whether the information was gotten
from the media, but whether the information is correct. Did the complainant
try to verify the truth about these allegations? Did he have the means or
was it possible for him to do so, given the circumstances of his case?
27. The communication under consideration cannot be said to be based
exclusively on news disseminated through the mass media because the
communication is not exclusively based on Captain Jallow's letter. The
complainant alleges extra-judicial execution and has attached the names of
some of those he alleges have been killed. Captain Jallow's letter made no
mention of this fact.
28. Article 56(5) of the Charter states that '... are sent after exhausting
local remedies, if any, unless it is obvious that this procedure is unduly
29. The government also claims that the author has not attempted to exhaust
local remedies. The government claims that the author should have sent his
complaint to the police who would in turn have investigated the allegations
and prosecuted the offenders 'in a court of law'.
30. This rule is one of the most important conditions for admissibility of
communications, no doubt therefore, in almost all the cases, the first
requirement looked at by both the Commission and the state concerned is the
exhaustion of local remedies.
31. The rationale of the local remedies rule both in the Charter and other
international instruments is to ensure that before proceedings are brought
before an international body, the State concerned must have had the
opportunity to remedy the matters through its own local system. This
prevents the Commission from acting as a court of first instance rather than
a body of last resort. [FN1] Three major criteria could be deduced from the
practice of the Commission in determining this rule, namely: the remedy must
be available, effective and sufficient.
[FN1] See Communications 25/89, 74/92 and 83/92 all joint
32. A remedy is considered available if the petitioner can pursue it without
impediment, it is deemed effective if it offers a prospect of success, and
it is found sufficient if it is capable of redressing the complaint.
33. The Government's assertion of non-exhaustion of local remedies will
therefore be looked at in this light. As aforementioned, a remedy is
considered available only if the applicant can make use of it in the
circumstance of his case. The applicants in cases Nos. ACHPR/60/91,
ACHPR/87/93, ACHPR/101/93 and ACHPR/129/94 had their communications declared
admissible by the Commission because the competence of the ordinary courts
had been ousted either by decrees or the establishment of special tribunals.
34. The Commission has stressed that, remedies, the availability of which is
not evident, cannot be invoked by the State to the detriment of the
complainant. Therefore, in a situation where the jurisdiction of the courts
have been ousted by decrees whose validity cannot be challenged or
questioned, as is the position with the case under consideration, local
remedies are deemed not only to be unavailable but also nonexistent.
35. The existence of a remedy must be sufficiently certain, not only in
theory but also in practice, failing which, it will lack the requisite
accessibility and effectiveness. Therefore, if the applicant cannot turn to
the judiciary of his country because of generalised fear for his life (or
even those of his relatives), local remedies would be considered to be
unavailable to him.
36. The complainant in this case had been overthrown by the military, he was
tried in absentia, former Ministers and Members of Parliament of his
government have been detained and there was terror and fear for lives in the
country. It would be an affront to common sense and logic to require the
complainant to return to his country to exhaust local remedies.
37. There is no doubt that there was a generalised fear perpetrated by the
regime as alleged by the complainant. This created an atmosphere not only in
the mind of the author but also in the minds of right thinking people that
returning to his country at that material moment, for whatever reason, would
be risky to his life. Under such circumstances, domestic remedies cannot be
said to have been available to the complainant.
38. According to the established case law of the Commission, a remedy that
has no prospect of success does not constitute an effective remedy. The
prospect of seizing the national courts, whose jurisdiction have been ousted
by decrees, in order to seek redress is nil. This fact is reinforced by the
Government's response of 8th March 1996, Note Verbale No. PA
203/232/01/(97-ADJ) in which it stated that ' The Gambian Government...does
not intend to spend valuable time responding to baseless and frivolous
allegations by a deposed despot...'
39. As to whether there were sufficient remedies, one can deduce from the
above analysis that there were no remedies capable of redressing the
complaints of the authors.
40. Considering the fact that the regime at that material time controlled
all the arms of government and had little regard for the judiciary, as was
demonstrated by its disregard of a court order in the T. K Motors' case, and
considering further that the Court of Appeal of The Gambia in the case of Pa
Salla Jagne v The State, ruled that 'Now there is no human rights laws or
goals and objective laws in the country', it would be reversing the clock of
justice to request the complainant to attempt local remedies.
41. It should also be noted that the government also claims that the
communication lacks 'proofs in support'. The position of the Commission has
always been that a communication must establish a prima facie evidence of
violation. It must specify the provisions of the Charter alleged to have
been violated. The State also claims that the Commission is allowed under
the Charter to take action only on cases which reveal a series of serious or
massive violations of human rights.
42. This is an erroneous proposition. Apart from Articles 47 and 49 of the
Charter, which empower the Commission to consider inter-state complaints,
Article 55 of the Charter provides for the consideration of "communications
other than those of States Parties". Further to this, Article 56 of the
Charter stipulates the conditions for consideration of such communications
(see also Chapter XVII of the Rules of Procedure entitled "Procedure for the
Consideration of The Communications Received in Conformity with Article 55
of the Charter"). In any event, the practice of the Commission has been to
consider communications even if they do not reveal a series of serious or
massive violations. It is out of such useful exercise that the Commission
has, over the years, been able to build up its case law and jurisprudence.
43. The argument that the action of the Government is in conformity with
regulations previously laid down by law is unfounded: the Commission decided
in its decision on communication 101/93, with respect to freedom of
association, that, "competent authorities should not enact provisions which
limit the exercise of this freedom. The competent authorities should not
override constitutional provisions or undermine fundamental rights
guaranteed by the constitution and international human rights standards".
And more importantly, the Commission in its Resolution on the Right to
Freedom of Association had also reiterated that: "The regulation of the
exercise of the right to freedom of association should be consistent with
States' obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights".
It follows that any law which is pleaded for curtailing the enjoyment of any
of the rights provided for in the Charter must meet this requirement.
For these reasons, the Commission declared the communications admissible.
44. The complainant alleges that by suspending the Bill of Rights in the
1970 Gambian Constitution, the government violated Articles 1 and 2 of the
45. Article 1 of the Charter provides that "The member States ... parties to
the present Charter shall recognise the rights, duties and freedoms
enshrined in this Charter...", while Article 2 reads: "Every individual
shall be entitled to the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms recognised and
guaranteed in the present Charter..."
46. Article 1 gives the Charter the legally binding character always
attributed to international treaties of this sort. Therefore a violation of
any provision of the Charter, automatically means a violation of Article 1.
If a State party to the Charter ails to recognise the provisions of the
same, there is no doubt that it is in violation of this Article. Its
violation, therefore, goes to the root of the Charter.
47. The Republic of the Gambia ratified the Charter on 6 June 1983. In its
first periodic report to the Commission in 1992, the Gambian government
asserted that "Most of the rights set out in the Charter have been provided
for in Chapter 3, Sections 13 to 30 of the 1970 Constitution...The
Constitution predicts the Gambian accession to the covenants, but in fact
gave legal effect to some of the provisions of the Charter". This therefore
means that the Gambian government gave recognition to some of the provisions
of the Charter (i.e. those contained in chapter 3 of its Constitution), and
incorporated them into its domestic law.
48. By suspending Chapter 3,( the Bill of Rights), the government therefore
restricted the enjoyment of the rights guaranteed therein, and, by
implication, the rights enshrined in the Charter.
49. It should however be stated that the suspension of the Bill of Rights
does not ipso facto means the suspension of the domestic effect of the
Charter. In Communication 129/94, the Commission held that "the obligation
of ... a government remains unaffected by the purported revocation of the
domestic effect of the Charter"
50. The suspension of the Bill of Rights and consequently the application of
the Charter was not only a violation of Article 1 but also a restriction on
the enjoyment of the rights and freedoms enshrined in the Charter, thus
violating Article 2 of the Charter as well.
51. Article 4 of the Charter states that "Every human being shall be
entitled to respect for his life and the integrity of his person. No one may
be arbitrarily deprived of this right''.
52. While the complainant alleges that there have been extra-judicial
killings, no concrete evidence was adduced to support this allegation. The
Military government has provided official post-mortem reports on the causes
of the deaths of Messrs. Koro Ceesay and Sadibu Hydara. The government does
not dispute the fact that soldiers died during the counter coup in November
1994, but claims that "soldiers of both sides lost their lives due mainly to
the fact that the rebels were fighting back with soldiers loyal to the
government". It also claims that since the take-over, not a single
individual has been deliberately killed.
53. It is not for the Commission to verify the authenticity of the
post-mortem reports or the truth of the government's defence. The burden is
on the complainant to furnish the Commission with evidence of his
allegations. In the absence of concrete proof, the Commission cannot hold
the latter to be in violation of Article 4 of the Charter.
54. Article 5 of the Charter reads: "... All forms of ... torture, cruel,
inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment shall be prohibited".
55. The complainant alleges that the Military perpetrated a reign of terror,
intimidation and torture when it seized power. While there is evidence of
intimidation, arrests and detentions, there is no independent report of
56. The complainant further alleges that detention of persons incommunicado
and preventing them from seeing their relatives constitutes torture. The
State has refuted this claim and has challenged the complainant to verify
the truth from those who were detained. To date, the Commission has received
no evidence from the complainant. In the absence of proof therefore, the
Commission cannot hold the government to be in violation of Article 5. In
this regard, the Commission is relying on its decision in communication
ACHPR/60/91: 27 where it held that " without specific information as to the
nature of the acts themselves, the Commission is thus unable to find a
violation of Article 5".
57. Article 6 of the Charter reads: "Every individual shall have the right
to liberty and to the security of his person. No one may be deprived of this
freedom except for reasons and conditions previously laid down by law. In
particular, no one may be arbitrarily arrested".
58. The Military government has not refuted the allegations of arbitrary
arrests and detentions, but has defended its position by stating that, its
action must be "studied and placed in the context of the changed
circumstances in The Gambia". It also claims that it is acting within the
confines of legislation 'previously laid down by law', as required by the
wordings of Article 6 of the Charter.
59. The Commission in its decision on communication 101/93 laid down a
general principle with respect to freedom of association that "competent
authorities should not enact provisions which limit the exercise of this
freedom. The competent authorities should not override constitutional
provisions or undermine fundamental rights guaranteed by the constitution or
international human rights standards". This principle therefore applies not
only to freedom of association but also to all other rights and freedoms.
For a State to avail itself of this plea, it must show that such a law is
consistent with its obligations under the Charter. The Commission finds the
arrests and incommunicado detention of the aforementioned persons
inconsistent with Gambia's obligations under the Charter. They constitute
arbitrary deprivation of their liberty and thus a violation of Article 6 of
the Charter. Decree No. 3 is, therefore, contrary to the spirit of Article
60. Article 7(1) (d) of the Charter reads:
"Every individual shall have the right to have his cause heard. This
comprises: ... the right to be tried within a reasonable period of time by
an impartial court or tribunal."
61. Given that the Minister of Interior could detain anyone without trial
for up to six months, and could extend the period ad infinitum, his powers
in this case, is analogous to that of a court, and with all intents and
purposes, he is more likely to use his discretion at the detriment of the
detainees, who are already in a disadvantaged position. The victims will be
at the mercy of the Minister who, in this case, will render favour rather
than vindicating a right. This power granted to the Minister renders
valueless the provision enshrined in Article 7(1) (d) of the Charter.
62. Article 7(2) of the Charter reads:
"No one may be condemned for an act or omission which did not constitute a
legally punishable offence at the time it was committed. No penalty may be
inflicted for an offence for which no provision was made at the time it was
63. This provision is a general prohibition on retroactivity. It is to
ensure that, citizens at all times are fully aware of the state of the law
under which they are living. The Economic Crimes (Specified Offences) Decree
of 25th November 1994 which was deemed to have come into force in July 1994,
is therefore, a serious violation of this right.
64. Article 9 of the Charter reads:
(1). "Every individual shall have the right to receive information". (2).
Every individual shall have the right to express and disseminate his opinion
within the law.
65. The government did not provide any defence to the allegations of
arrests, detentions, expulsions and intimidation of journalists, made by the
complainant. The intimidation and arrest or detention of journalists for
articles published and questions asked deprives not only the journalists of
their rights to freely express and disseminate their opinions, but also the
public, of the right to information. This action is clearly a breach of the
provisions of Article 9 of the Charter.
66. The complainant alleges that political parties have been banned, and
that an Independent Member of Parliament and his supporters were arrested
for planning a peaceful demonstration. In addition, Ministers and Members of
Parliament in the former regime have been banned from taking part in any
political activity and some of them restricted from travelling out of the
country; with a maximum sentence of three years for any default.
67. The imposition of the ban on former Ministers and Members of Parliament
is in contravention of their rights to participate freely in the government
of their country provided for under Article 13(1) of the Charter. Article
"Every citizen shall have the right to participate freely in the government
of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in
accordance with the provisions of the law."
68. Also, the banning of political parties is a violation of the
complainants' rights to freedom of association guaranteed under Article
10(1) of the Charter. In its decision on communication 101/93, the
Commission stated a general principle on this right, to the effect that "competent authorities should not enact provisions which limit the exercise
of this freedom. The competent authorities should not override
constitutional provisions or undermine fundamental rights guaranteed by the
constitution and international human rights standards". And more
importantly, the Commission in its Resolution on the Right to Freedom of
Association had also reiterated that: "The regulation of the exercise of the
right to freedom of association should be consistent with States'
obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights". This
principle does not apply to freedom of association alone but to all other
rights and freedoms enshrined in the Charter, including, the right to
freedom of assembly. Article 10(1) provides:
"Every individual shall have the right to free association provided that he
abides by the law."
69. The Commission also finds the ban an encroachment on the right to
freedom of assembly guaranteed by Article 11 of the Charter. Article 11
"Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others"
70. The restrictions to travel placed on the former Ministers and Members of
Parliament is also a violation of their right to freedom of movement and the
right of ingress and egress provided for under Article 12 of the Charter.
Article 12 provides:
(1) Every individual shall have the right to freedom of movement and
residence within the borders of a state provided he abides by the law.
(2) Every individual shall have the right to leave any country, including
his own, and to return to his country. This right may only be subject to
restrictions, provided for by law for the protection of national security,
law and order, public health or morality.
71. Section 62 of the Gambian Constitution of 1970 provides for elections
based on universal suffrage, and Section 85(4) made it mandatory for
elections to be held within at most five years. Since independence in 1965,
The Gambia has always had a plurality of parties participating in elections.
This was temporarily halted in 1994 when the Military seized power.
72. The complainant alleges that the Gambian peoples' right to
self-determination has been violated. He claims that the policy that the
people freely choose to determine their political status, since independence
has been "hijacked" by the military. That the military has imposed itself on
73. It is true that the military regime came to power by force, albeit,
peacefully. This was not through the will of the people who have known only
the ballot box since independence, as a means of choosing their political
The military coup was therefore a grave violation of the right of Gambian
people to freely choose their government as entrenched in Article 20(1) of
the Charter. Article 20(1) provides:
All peoples shall ... freely determine their political status... according to
the policy they have freely chosen. [FN2]
[FN2] See also Resolution ACHPR/RPT/8TH : Annex VII, Rev. 1994
74. The rights and freedoms of individuals enshrined in the Charter can only
be fully realised if governments provide structures which enable them to
seek redress if they are violated. By ousting the competence of the ordinary
courts to handle human rights cases, and ignoring court judgements, the
Gambian military government demonstrated clearly that the courts were not
independent. This is a violation of Article 26 of the Charter. Article 26 of
the Charter reads:
States Parties to the Charter shall have the duty to guarantee the
independence of the Courts...and shall allow the establishment and improvement
of appropriate national institutions entrusted with the promotion and
protection of the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the present Charter.
FOR THE ABOVE REASONS, THE COMMISSION finds the government of the Gambia in
violation of the following provisions of the Charter: Articles: 1, 2, 6,
7(1)(d) and 7(2), 9(1) and (2), 10(1), 11, 12(1) and (2), 13(1), 20(1) and
26 of the Charter, for the period within which the violations occurred;
urges the government of the Gambia to bring its laws in conformity with the
provisions of the Charter.
Done in Algiers, Algeria on 11 May 2000.