Gambia: President’s death threats spark protests around Africa

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Human Rights groups in Africa are demanding that the African Union human rights commission Headquarters be removed from Gambia following a fierce threat made by the Gambian president on opposition leaders and human right workers.

“If you are affiliated with any human rights group, be rest assured that your security is not guaranteed… we are ready to kill saboteurs. I will kill anyone who wants to destabilize this country. If you think that you can collaborate with so-called human rights defenders, and get away with it, you must be living in a dream world. I will kill you, and nothing will come out of it,” President Yahya Jammeh told state TV in Gambia.

The threat to kill anybody who wanted to destabilize the Gambia has not sat well with African human rights groups. To this regard, a campaign by a coalition of pressure groups wants the African Union to remove the headquarters of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights from the Gambian capital, Banjul. A statement from the petition reads: “Mr. Jammeh’s declaration leads us to fear for the safety, security, and lives of ourselves and our colleagues.”

The Open Society Institute, along with the African Court Coalition, is now campaigning to have the AU human rights offices moved to a different country. The groups hope to secure as many signatures as needed from non-governmental organizations involved in the work of the AU’s human rights commission before 28 September, in order to forward them to the African Union.

Mr. Jammeh came to power in a 1994 coup, and has won three multi-party elections since then. There have been claims of plots to oust him but he (Jammeh) remains Gambia’s president.

Human rights groups say journalists have been harassed and people have been arrested and unlawfully detained in Gambia. “The people of Gambia have been under siege for the past year or two. We’ve got an obligation to speak up,” said the open Society Institute who described Mr. Jammeh’s comments as beyond the pale.

President Jammeh has ruled the Gambia with an iron fist ever since he seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994, but the stability that has followed has not translated into prosperity. Only one-sixth of the land is arable. The country has few natural resources and is highly dependent on peanut exports.

Last year, The Gambia’s leader said he will “cut off the head” of any homosexual caught in his country claiming the Gambia was a country of believers while indicating that no sinful and immoral act as homosexual would be tolerated in the country. He warned all homosexuals in the country to leave, noting that a legislation “stricter than those in Iran ” concerning the vice would be introduced soon.

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