The Gambia is a multiparty, democratic republic. In September 2006 President Alhaji Yahya Jammeh was reelected for a third five-year term in an election that international observers considered partially free and fair. President Jammeh's party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, continued to dominate after the National Assembly elections held in January 2007, which were also considered partially free and fair. The government's respect for the human rights of its citizens has remained unchanged in recent years, with significant problems in many areas. Prison conditions were poor and arbitrary arrests continued. Security forces sometimes harassed and mistreated detainees, prisoners, and journalists with impunity. Prisoners were sometimes held incommunicado, faced prolonged pretrial detention, and denied due process. Prison conditions were poor. The government restricted freedom of speech and press. Women experienced violence and discrimination, and female genital mutilation (FGM) remained a problem. Child labor and trafficking in persons also were problems.
Part 2: U.S. Government Democracy Objectives
The U.S. objectives for furthering democracy and human rights in the country are to improve respect for democratic freedoms and the rule of law. This includes an emphasis on free and fair elections, building democratic institutions, and improving respect for human rights by security forces. The United States also focuses on strengthening civil society, including the media and NGOs, in order to increase respect for civil liberties such as press freedom. Supporting efforts to eliminate trafficking is also an important U.S. priority.
Part 3: Supporting Top Priorities and Other Aspects of Human Rights and Democratic Governance
To promote the democratic political process, U.S. officials maintain an active dialogue with government officials, all political parties, and civil society representatives. This includes stressing the importance of free and fair elections and the development of democratic institutions. For example, the deputy of the Independent Electoral Commission participated in a program in the United States on transparency and good governance in January 2009. The United States also fielded several teams to monitor the January 2008 mayoral and local government elections. U.S. officials were the only observers who monitored an important national assembly election in the Nianija constituency in December 2008. The U.S. Government actively encourages regular dialogue and meetings among the donor community to avoid duplication of efforts and to ensure effective allocation of resources in election support.
To encourage press freedom in a restrictive media environment, U.S. officials consistently stress that freedom of speech and the press are essential parts of a democratic society. The ambassador emphasized the importance of press freedom in several newspaper interviews including one that made his remarks its lead story. The United States uses grants and a visitors program to support independent media. In 2008 the United States provided a grant to a local media NGO to organize a training program for human rights journalists. U.S. officials maintain close relationships with many journalists. All media representatives, regardless of political affiliation, have access to U.S. officials for interviews and reports and are invited to cover U.S. events. New U.S.-supported radio programming in the country has included broadcasts related to democracy and human rights, including in relation to coverage of the 2008 U.S. presidential election. U.S. officials continue to commemmorate International Press Freedom Day and attend other public events to mark the occasion. The United States also cosponsored two seminars for local journalists on coverage of human rights cases.
The United States continues to stress frequently at all levels of government the importance of the rule of law and adherence to due process, including in relation to persons who were detained after a 2006 coup attempt. The United States raises questions related to allegations of torture, disappearances, and other human rights abuses in discussions with members of the government, military, civil society, and other partners. The arrest and trial of a leading journalist and newspaper publisher and the disappearance of another journalist were among several human rights and press freedom issues that the ambassador discussed with senior government officials during the year. The United States also continues to stress to government officials the importance of an independent judiciary in a democratic society. When a U.S.-based Gambian journalist and political activist was arrested and put on trial for sedition during a family visit, the United States raised her case with senior government officials and the ambassador attended a number of sessions of her trial. To support greater professionalism in the security forces and prevent human rights abuses by the military, the U.S. Government funds training for officers and civilian officials. For example, a seminar on human rights and international humanitarian law for naval officers was conducted in April 2009.
The United States actively supports civil society groups through grants, a visitors program, and representational events. U.S. officials also attend events hosted by NGOs and civil society organizations. U.S.-hosted representational events during 2008 focused on topics including democracy and elections and FGM. U.S. officials attended the African Press Freedom Awards. The United States encourages the government to ensure greater respect for women's rights and to maintain harmony between the various ethnic groups. To promote labor rights and combat trafficking in persons, the United States sponsored a seminar and hosted a visit by a Washington-based official on trafficking. The United States provides support and guidance to the government to improve its record in combating trafficking. In June and July 2008, the United States organized two training programs for Gambian security personnel, other government officials, and representatives of international organizations and NGOs involved in the fight against trafficking in persons and child sexual exploitation. The United States is funding the efforts of a local children's rights NGO to raise awareness of child trafficking through a media campaign. U.S. officials also have discussions with the government and local partners on child labor issues. To demonstrate respect for religious pluralism, the U.S. Government hosts annual Iftaar dinners that are attended by many Muslim leaders, members of the minority Christian clergy, and government officials. U.S. officials investigate any reports of religious tensions on the rare occasions such incidents arise.