The West African Civil Society Forum, WACSOF, has expressed concern over the intention of outgoing leader of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, to plunge the country into disarray over his refusal to step down from office having been defeated in the December 1, 2016 presidential election by the opposition candidate, Adama Barrow.
In a statement delivered at a press conference at its secretariat in Abuja, WACSOF acting secretary general, Auwal Musa, called on the international community to make sure Mr. Jammeh respects the wish of the people of The Gambia and hand over to Mr. Barrow.
WACSOF, therefore, called on Gambians “to embark on a peaceful civil disobedience against President Jammeh’s regime until it relinquishes power.”
The forum pointed out that Mr. Jammeh had led a repressive government since he seized power through a military coup 22 years ago.
According to the forum, members of the country’s opposition and other dissidents had been hounded through torture, arbitrariness, enforced disappearances, and summary executions in order to maintain Mr. Jammeh’s grip on power.
WACSOF stated that these tactics were used to intimidate members of the opposition ahead of the December 1, 2016 election.
“The government’s crackdown began with an arrest of over 90 opposition activists, including those arrested with the prominent UDP activist, Solo Sandeng, for participating in largely peaceful protests. Courts convicted 39 opposition members and sentenced them to three-year terms, including UDP leader, Ousainou Darboe, and many of the UDP leadership. Jammeh has also repeatedly threatened opposition parties.
“The abuses committed since April 2016, as well as Jammeh’s repeated threats, intimidation and killings of the opposition and supporters, as well as the Civil Society and journalists, and his domination of state media have reinforced a climate of fear among many opposition politicians and activists that severely limits their ability to criticize and hold Jammeh and his government to account.
“International human rights law provides important protections that the Jammeh government has frequently violated, including the rights to security of person, to a fair trial, and to freedom of expression, association, and peaceful assembly. Article 25 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which Gambia has ratified, guarantees the right of every citizen to take part in the conduct of public affairs, the right to vote and to be elected and the right to have access to public service.
“In 2001, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) adopted the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance (ECOWAS Protocol), which includes specific provisions promoting democratic elections. The ECOWAS Protocol provides that political parties should ‘have the right to carry out their activities freely, within the limits of the law’ and ‘without hindrance or discrimination in any electoral process. The freedom of the opposition shall be guaranteed.’
“The Protocol also requires that all parties can meet and organize peaceful demonstrations in advance of elections while the armed forces and police shall be non-partisan and shall remain loyal to the nation.”
WACSOF stated that through its peace campaign, a peaceful and transparent election was held in the country. However, after initially accepting defeat, and congratulating Mr. Barrow, Mr. Jammeh unilaterally annulled the election.
“WACSOF has been at the forefront in promoting tenure limit in the region to ensure peaceful, transparent, democratic and participatory election in West Africa. Incidentally, Yahya Jammeh has consistently refused to comply with this as well as the ECOWAS Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance.
“The continuous gross violation of the fundamental human rights of the Gambians by dictator Jammeh necessitated WACSOF to intensify a peaceful campaign for election in the Gambia.
“The election was conducted in the most peaceful and transparent process according to both local and international observers as well as by the Gambians themselves.
“Efforts have been ongoing to persuade the brutal dictator to comply with his earlier concession of defeat and to respect the will of the Gambians. The effort of the ECOWAS under the leadership of its Chairperson President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia together with President Muhammadu Buhari or Nigeria, President John Mahama of Ghana, and President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone has not yielded results for a peaceful transfer of power.
“We also call on the Gambians to embark on a peaceful civil disobedience against the President Jammeh’s regime until it relinquishes power.
“We urge all CSOs and the Media all over the world to continue to solidarize with the people of the Gambia until their verdict as expressed in the December 1 presidential election is respected and the new president inaugurated.”