Surrounded by Senegal, apart from a short strip of Atlantic coastline at its western end, Gambia is the smallest country on mainland Africa.

This country is found to be in flux, following the democratic transfer of power in December 2016/January 2017. Some of the ratings applied at present reflect the regime of former President Jammeh, but may change under President Barrow’s administration.

 
Grave Violations
Severe Discrimination
Systemic Discrimination

Constitution and government

Although the constitution and other laws protect freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as freedom of expression, assembly and association, in practice the government frequently violates all these rights.

Although the constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion or belief, the government promotes and controls religion, especially the Sunni Islam of more than 90% of the population.

Article 25 of the Constitution establishes a Muslim judge trained in Islamic legal tradition as chief justice.

Anti-atheist president ousted

In 2010, then-President Jammeh attacked atheists, saying that: “If you don’t believe in God, you can never be grateful to humanity and you are even below a pig.” In 2011 he told the BBC: “if I have to rule this country for one billion years, I will, if Allah says so.”

At the end of Jammeh’s 22-year regime off the back of a coup, in December 2016 he lost the presidential election, initially conceding defeat, but then disputed the results, alleging foreign interference. In January 2017, Jammeh threatened military resistance to the swearing-in of the president-elect, Adama Barrow. However, the military did not back him. After pressure from ECOWAS countries and the Senegalese military entering the country, Jammeh went into exile.

The presidency of Adama Barrow marks the country’s first peaceful transfer of power.

Education and children’s rights

The government funds religious instruction in schools, which includes both Biblical and Quranic studies.

President-elect Adama Barrow pledged during campaign that he would introduce free basic education for all, as well as making further education more accessible.

Family, community and society

The constitution establishes Qadi courts to administer traditional Islamic law. Their jurisdiction applies to family law (“personal status law”) for Muslims: marriage, divorce, and inheritance questions.

In 2009, state forces led mass hunts for those accused of witchcraft. Nearly 1,000 people were kidnapped, with many brought to secret government detention centers, beaten, and forced to drink hallucinogens, resulting in two deaths. The New York Times reported that the witch-hunting campaign had been sparked by then-President Jammeh’s belief that the recent death of his aunt was caused by witchcraft.

In 2012 then-President Jammeh abruptly announced that all 47 inmates on death-row would be executed within the month—after 27 years without any executions. Following international protests, the executions were halted after nine prisoners were shot, but the uproar against the executions in the Gambian media—as well as criticism from religious leaders—was harshly repressed. Two independent papers, the Daily News and The Standard, that criticized the executions were ordered by security officials to cease publication. Imam Baba Leigh, a popular Muslim leader who preaches his own sermons instead of those issued by the government, was arrested and tortured because he preached against the death penalty.

During the 2016 presidential election campaign, President-elect Adama Barrow said that he would reform health care

Freedom of expression, advocacy of humanist values

President Yahya Jammeh ran a dictatorial regime, intolerant of media freedoms. The government used laws on “sedition” to silence and punish dissent. Independent journalists and media were subject to harassment, arrest, and violence.

President-elect Adama Barrow pledged during the campaign that he would free imprisoned government critics.

Under Jammeh, the government ran the main radio station and leading newspaper as well as Gambia’s only TV station. However, there are several private radio stations and newspapers, and foreign broadcasts are available. Although Internet access is generally not restricted by the government, some websites critical of the regime, including that of the U.S.-based newspaper Gambia Echo, have been blocked. It remains to be seen how closely Adama Barrow will keep his campaign pledges to liberalize freedom of expression.