state of civil and political rights: Not free
constitution: approved by national referendum 8 August 1996; effective 16 January 1997
legal system: based on a composite of English common law, Koranic law, and customary law
legislative system: unicameral National Assembly
judicial system: Supreme Court
religion: Muslim 90%, Christian 9%, indigenous beliefs 1%
death row: 38 (up to 14/9/2012)
year of last executions: 0-0-0
death sentences: 0
international treaties on human rights and the death penalty:
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
1st Optional Protocol to the Covenant
Convention on the Rights of the Child
Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (signed only)
Statute of the International Criminal Court (which excludes the death penalty)
In Gambia, the death penalty was abolished in 1993, but re-established in August 1995 by the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council that had seized power in 1994 through a military coup overthrowing the country’s elected government. The country returned to “constitutional” rule in 1996 when coup leader Yahya Jammeh ran as a civilian and won presidential elections.
La nuova Costituzione adottata nel 1996, e entrata in vigore a gennaio del 1997, mantiene la pena di morte. L’articolo 18 (1) prevede la protezione del diritto alla vita in questi termini: “Nessun individuo sarà privato della vita intenzionalmente a eccezione dell’esecuzione di una sentenza di morte decretata da una corte con competenza giuridica per un crimine per il quale la sanzione prevista sia la morte in base alle leggi del Gambia secondo quanto previsto dal comma 2 e a seguito di regolare condanna”. L’articolo 18 (2) stabilisce: “Dall’entrata in vigore di questa costituzione, nessun tribunale in Gambia potrà imporre una condanna a morte per qualsiasi reato senza che la sentenza sia prevista dalla legge e il reato comporti violenza o la somministrazione di una sostanza tossica che comporti la morte di un’altra persona.”
The new Constitution adopted in 1996 retains the death penalty. Article 18 (1) of the constitution of the Gambia provides for the protection of the right to life in the following terms: "No person shall be deprived of his or her life intentionally except in the execution of a sentence of death imposed by a court of competence jurisdiction in respect of a criminal offence for which the penalty is death under the laws of The Gambia as they have effect in accordance with subsection (2) and of which he or she has been lawfully convicted." Article 18 (2) states: "As from the coming into force of this constitution, no court in The Gambia shall be competent to impose a sentence of death for any offence unless the sentence is prescribed by law and the offence involves violence, or the administration of any toxic substance, resulting in the death of another person."
On 4 October 2010, amendments to the Trafficking in Persons Act of 2007 and to sections 122 and 273 of the Criminal Code of The Gambia were adopted by the National Assembly, providing for the death penalty for human trafficking, rape and violent robbery. On 5 October, the National Assembly of Gambia also amended the Drug Control Act of 2003, providing for the death penalty for people convicted of being in possession of cocaine or heroin amounting to or more than 250 grams. The previous penalty for possession of that amount was a jail sentence of 30-40 years. However, capital drug trafficking offenses contravene the Constitution, which prohibits the death penalty for offenses not resulting in death, On 4 April 2011, the National Assembly unanimously enacted three bills to amends as many laws adopted in October of 2010 that extend the scope of the death penalty for a series of crimes, including drug trafficking.
Amendments were also made to the Criminal Code Act and the Trafficking in Persons Act 2007, to make them compatible with the 1996 Constitution.
Condemned prisoners can appeal to the Court of Appeal and then to the Supreme Court. The condemned can, as a last resort, ask the President to grant a pardon.
Between 23 and 24 August 2012, The Gambia resumed executions after 31 years of de facto moratorium. On the evening of 23, eight men and one woman were taken from their cells in Mile 2 prison near the capital city, Banjul, and shortly after executed by firing squad. Neither the prisoners who were executed nor their families were told of the executions in advance. A Gambian security source reported that all 47 death row prisoners had on 23 August night been "transferred to one place". "The man is determined to execute the prisoners and he will do so," the security source told AFP, referring to President Yahya Jammeh who publicly had vowed to carry out all death sentences by mid-September. The president's office said in a statement that the people on death row "have exhausted all their legal rights of appeal as provided by the law.” In a televised address to mark the Muslim feast of Eid al-Fitr Jammeh said: "By the middle of next month, all the death sentences would have been carried out to the letter. There is no way my government will allow 99 percent of the population to be held to ransom by criminals." The nine, including two Senegalese nationals are: Lamin B. Darboe, Alieu Bah, Lamin Jarju, Dawda Bojang, Abubacarr Yarboi, Abdoulie Sonko, Lamin F Jammeh, Gibril Bah (Senegalese), Tabara Samba (Senegalese, female). Sergeant Alieu Bah, Lt Lamin Jarju and Lamin F. Jammeh were sentenced to death for attacking the Kartong Military Post in 1997 and attempting to overthrow the government of Mr Jammeh. Abdoulie Sonko, the alleged ring leader of the Farafenni Army Baracks in 1996 was also executed.
The executions prompted many condemnations including from the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations. On 24 August 2012, Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi, who is the current chair of the African Union, sent his foreign minister to The Gambia, asking Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh to renounce plans to execute all death row prisoners. On 26 August, the European Union called on Gambia to stop executing death row inmates and said the bloc would come up with a quick but unspecified response to executions reported. "I strongly condemn the executions," EU foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton said in a statement. "I demand the immediate halt of the executions," she added. "In light of these executions, the European Union will urgently consider an appropriate response," Ashton said. On 30 August, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, urged Gambia to impose an immediate moratorium on the use of the death penalty. “I urge the Gambia to immediately stem this regression in human rights protection, and to impose an official moratorium, effective immediately, on the use of the death penalty,” Pillay said.
On 4 September 2012, the Gambian website Freedomnewspaper reported that Tabara Samba, one of nine people executed in Gambia on 23 August, was raped by soldiers before being put to death. Tabara, a citizen of Senegal, was sentenced to death for killing her husband – a Gambian –- pouring boiling oil on him while he slept. It seems that appeals to save the life of the offender, including those signed by the Federation of African Journalists and the Union of Pan-African lawyers, have particularly irritated President Jammeh, who in retaliation urged the soldiers called to attend executions to rape Tabara Samba. The rape happened in front of police officers, a judge, and some doctors, maybe Cuban. After the beatings and rape, the woman was killed by lethal injection. The soldiers then dismembered her body, throwing the remains in a common grave, denying families the opportunity to bury it in a cemetery. The Gambian Minister of Interior, Lamine Jobareth, had no words of criticism for what happened. "People like Tabara Samba – said – do not deserve to live another day. Which country could accept what he had done?".
On 14 September 2012, after the execution of nine prisoners in August, President Yahya Jammeh suspended the imminent executions of the remaining 38 prisoners on death row. "President of the Republic of the Gambia Yahya Jammeh has decided to put a moratorium on executions as a result of numerous appeals to that effect," the Gambian government statement said. It warned, however, that the decision was only temporary. "What happens next will be dictated by either (a) declining violent crime rate, in which case the moratorium will be indefinite, or an increase in (the) violent crime rate, in which case the moratorium will be lifted automatically," the statement said.
Following his announcement of the suspension of all executions of death row inmates, President Yahya Jammeh said changes to the capital punishment laws in the country’s constitution will only be made when the Gambian people express a desire for him to repeal the law and not through international pressure and condemnation. “I am working for you and I’ll live for you and die for you… If you Gambians want the death penalty to be removed from the constitution, it will be removed,” Jammeh told a group of youth in his native village, Kanilai, on 20 September. Jammeh added: “The death penalty has nothing to do with politics. If I am to sign 10,000 death warrants to save 1.6 million Gambians, I will do it. If any country has a citizen in the Gambia and do not want them to face the firing squad, let them not kill any person in the Gambia. I am not a colony of European Union and I am nobody’s colony.”
Before these executions, there was only one official execution since Gambia’s independence from the UK in 1965. When Mustapha Danso, convicted of the murder of a deputy commander in chief in December 1980, was executed on 30 September 1981. However, it seems that executions in Gambia have continued unofficially with the most recent before August 2012 taking place in 2007.
On 22 July 2015, on the occasion of the celebration of the 21st anniversary of the Revolution, President Yahya Jammeh pardoned over 250 convicts in the country’s prisons, imprisoned within the period 1994 to 2013. The presidential amnesty was for various specified offences, and among those benefiting were death row inmates convicted for treason and murder, and for drug trafficking and rape. The death row prisoners pardoned and released are all those convicted for murder and have served more than 10 years of their sentence; all those convicted of treason from 1994 to 2013; all those convicted of possessing cannabis and have served more than three years of their sentence, except repeat offenders; all those convicted of trafficking in cocaine and other hard drugs and have served more than five years of their sentence; all those convicted of raping persons above 21 years.
Three death sentences were imposed in 2015. On 30 March, a military court in Bakau sentenced three soldiers to death for their involvement in the 2014 attempted coup.
In October 2014, Gambia was reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review of the UN Human Rights Council. In its National Report the Government observed that the State did not intend to abolish the death penalty, which is provided by the Constitution in the most exceptional cases. The country’s delegation recalled the moratorium had been lifted in 2012 due to a high rise of heinous crimes being committed. Since then, the moratorium has been reinstated, according the delegation.
On 18 December 2014, the Gambia abstained on the Resolution for a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.
On 19 December 2016, Gambia was absent during the vote.