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UN experts sound the alarm for safety of human rights defenders in the Gambia

9 October 2009 – United Nations independent experts today voiced deep concern for the security of human rights defenders attending a meeting next month in the Gambia after the country’s President recently made reported threats to kill them.

President Yahya Jammeh is quoted as having said in a television broadcast on 21 September that he would kill human rights defenders and all people cooperating with them.

Two special rapporteurs from the United Nations and one serving with the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights issued a joint statement describing Mr. Jammeh’s remarks as unacceptable and in contradiction of all human rights instruments ratified by the Gambia.

“They contribute to the stigmatization of human rights defenders in the country, raise grave concern about the protection and promotion of human rights in the Gambia and set a very negative example regionally and internationally,” the three human rights experts said.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights is holding a two-week session starting 11 November in Banjul, the Gambian capital and the headquarters of the Commission.

“Hundreds of national and international human rights defenders will gather” for that event, the rapporteurs said, asking: “Will they really be safe?”

They called on Mr. Jammeh to issue another public statement highlighting the importance and legitimacy of the work of human rights defenders and expressing concern that freedom of opinion is being curtailed in the West African nation.

“We urge the Gambian Government to take all necessary steps to secure the right to freedom of opinion and expression of all persons, including human rights defenders in the Gambia, in accordance with fundamental principles as set forth in article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and reiterated in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

The experts who issued the statement are: Margaret Sekaggya, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; and Reine Alapini-Gansou, the African Commission’s Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders.

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