The 1997 Constitution of The Gambia explicitly protects the right to life. However, it is also stipulated that:
Without prejudice to any liability for a contravention of any other law with respect to the use of force in such cases as are hereinafter mentioned, a person shall not be regarded as having been deprived of his or her life in contravention of this section if he or she dies as a result of the use of force to such extent as is reasonably justifiable in the circumstances of the case, that is to say-
(a) for the defence of any person from unlawful violence or for the defence property;
(b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained;
(c) for the purpose of suppressing a riot, insurrection of mutiny;
(d) in order to prevent the commission by that person of a criminal offence, or
(e) if he or she dies as a result of a lawful act of war.S. 18(4), 1997 Constitution of The Gambia.
The Constitution also outlaws inhumane treatment:
No person shall be subject to torture or inhuman [or] degrading punishment or other treatment.S. 21, 1997 Constitution of The Gambia.
The Constitution stipulates that every person shall have the right to "freedom to assemble and demonstrate peaceably and without arms".
The Constitution provides that there "shall be a Police Force of The Gambia of which the Inspector General of Police shall be the head".S. 178(1), 1997 Constitution of The Gambia.The provision further provides that:
The Police Force shall be equipped and maintained to perform its traditional role of maintaining law and order, and such other functions as may be prescribed by an Act of the National Assembly.S. 178(2), 1997 Constitution of The Gambia.
Similarly, the Constitution stipulates that:
There shall be a Prison Service which shall be headed by the Commissioner of Prisons.S. 182(1), 1997 Constitution of The Gambia.
1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
|ICCPR Optional Protocol 1
|1984 Convention against Torture (CAT)
|Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints
|CAT Optional Protocol 1
1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court
* On 10 February 2017, The Gambia notified the UN Secretary-General of its decision to rescind its notification of withdrawal from the Rome Statute deposited with the Secretary-General on 10 November 2016.
1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights
|1998 Protocol to the African Charter on the African Court
|Article 34(6) declaration regarding individual petitions
Malabo Protocol on the African Court of Justice and Human Rights
Police Use of Force
Legislation governing police use of force in The Gambia includes the Police Act, the 1933 Criminal Code, and the Indemnity Act.
The Criminal Code allows the use of "necessary and reasonable force" in the exercise of a lawful arrest of a criminal suspect.S. 15(A), 1933 Criminal Code.In considering whether the means used were necessary, or the degree of force used to effect the arrest was reasonable, regard shall be had:
to the gravity of the offence which had been or was being committed by such person and circumstances in which such offence had been or was being committed by such person.
With respect to assemblies, the Criminal Code allows law enforcement officials to use force to disperse rioters after making a proclamation demanding dispersal. Law enforcement officials may use all force necessary to apprehend or disperse the rioters.S. 72, 1933 Criminal Code.Law enforcement officials are explicitly absolved of any civil and criminal liability from any consequential harm or death caused by the use of force. Moreover, the Indemnity Act (as amended in 2001) exonerates any public official including law enforcement from civil or criminal liability in the exercise of their duties in unlawful assemblies, riotous situations, or public emergencies.S. 2(a) and (b), Indemnity Act (as amended in 2001).
The police has a human rights and complaints office based at its Banjul headquarters. No information is, though, available on the effectiveness of this internal accountability mechanism.
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2018 Concluding Observations on The Gambia, the Human Rights Committee expressed its concern that
Article 18 of the Constitution and Sections 15 (A) and 72 of the Criminal Code allow for a great deal of discretion in the use of force by law enforcement officials, and that section 2 (a) and (b) of the Indemnity Act (as amended in 2001) exonerates all public officials from civil or criminal liability for the exercise of their duties with respect to unlawful assemblies, riotous situations or public emergencies.
The Committee was also concerned at
the high incidence of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials and members of security forces in the State party, including the incident on 18 June 2018 when security forces fired live ammunition during a protest in Faraba Banta which resulted in two deaths and eight injuries....
It called on The Gambia to revise Article 18 of the Constitution, Sections 15 (A) and 72 of the Criminal Code, and Section 2(a) and (b) of the Indemnity Act
with a view to bringing them into line with international standards, in particular the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. It should ensure that prompt, independent and thorough investigations are carried out into all allegations of the excessive use of force, particularly the Faraba Banta case, and bring perpetrators to justice. It should take measures to effectively prevent and eradicate all forms of excessive use of force by law enforcement and security officials, including by guaranteeing that systematic training on the use of force is provided for such officials as well as for judges, prosecutors and other relevant officials.
Views of United Nations Special Procedures
In the report of his mission to The Gambia in 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions wrote that:
A repressive State apparatus in the hands of the security forces appears to reign in the Gambia. There is widespread fear in civil society about the unchecked use of force by law enforcement agencies. The security forces, over which the President retains a strong grip, actively repress any sign of discontent, terrorizing civil society and instilling a climate of fear and mistrust via routine arrests, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions carried out against anyone considered to be critical of or threatening to the regime. The security forces are also widely perceived to be corrupt and inefficient.Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns. Addendum: Mission to the Gambia, UN doc. A/HRC/29/37/Add.2, 11 May 2015, §35.