The Gambia: Death Penalty Amendment, Sharia Law And The Dangerous Descent Into Lawlessness

by editor | July 4, 2015 10:56 pm

By Mathew K. Jallow, Madison, Wisconsin

It almost seems surreal; like the incantation of a funereal ballad of horror which shows Gambia slowly morph as the Third Reich reborn; methodically transformed into an archetypical anarchist society. The Constitutional parameters, which limit and inhibit the excesses of state power in The Gambia, have crumbled and dissolved into nothingness. The Gambia’s Constitution, a revered social and political organizing document, has, long ago lost its force of law, the victim of Yahya Jammeh’s systemic subversion and determination to decree who lives and dies in the Gambia. Yahya Jammeh has already usurped the authority of the judiciary to determine the legal fate of Gambians, but to insert an additional death penalty language into the Constitution, will essentially legalize the indiscriminate and needless killing of more Gambians, for trivial offenses. For the second time in five years, Yahya Jammeh’s fixation with amending the Death Penalty Article looks suspicious, apart from the military regime’s total lack of legal justification. The Death Penalty Article itself has a storied history. The 1970 Republican Constitution permitted its legal basis for the felony crimes of murder and treason, but, in 1993, former president, Sir Dawda Jawara’s government amended the Constitution and abolished the death penalty. In 1995, however, the new military regime repealed the Constitution and re-instated the Death Penalty language abolished in 1992. By 2010, Yahya Jammeh’s lust for blood combined with an overarching necessity to conceal his criminal drug connections to South American drug lords, ordered former Justice Minister and Attorney General, Edward Gomez, to introduce a Constitutional amendment in the National Assembly, which added drug possession and sale as death penalty eligible crimes. This addition to the death penalty crimes was, however, severely constrained by Section 18 (2) of the 1997 Constitution, and in 2011, was subsequently repealed in short order, without much fanfare. But a year later, in the summer of 2012, Yahya Jammeh ordered the mass summary executions of between nine and twenty-six Mile 2 Prison inmates, even before the legal appeals of some were exhausted. Today, two and half years after the executions heard around the world, Yahya Jammeh again intends to amend the Gambian Constitution in order to broaden the Gambia’s death penalty eligible crimes.

By now it has become all too apparent that Yahya Jammeh is not driven by the same emotional forces that haunt the conscience and compel the mind to steer towards compassion and altruism. In a rather comical statement that reveals the sheer absurdity of the idea and deviousness of the Constitutional amendment proposal, the motion to amend reads like a scary line from an R. R Tolkien novel: “the amendment seeks to amend the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia to provide for the application of the death penalty in circumstances other than where there is actual violence or administration of toxic substance resulting in death.” What Yahya Jammeh wants in this ridiculous amendment motion is additional death penalty eligible crimes, which will evidently open the Gambia to the characteristic brutality of Yahya Jammeh, whose sole purpose is plant more fear and foil citizen verbalization of their grievances. One of the inherent dangers posed by this amendment is, give Yahya Jammeh, through his poppet judges, extraordinary latitude to adjudge who lives and dies. Without sounding cynical, the politicization of the judiciary will fulfil one of Yahya Jammeh’s objectives of establishing Sharia Law in Gambia. For Yahya Jammeh, the expansion of the death penalty eligible crimes will serve three purposes; satisfy the human sacrifice needs of his oracles, eliminate his real and imagined political opponents, and attract financial support from wealthy Sharia Law compliant Middle East countries. Several years ago, the blow-back from Yahya Jammeh’s dabbling with the idea of introducing Sharia Law, was spontaneous and intense, leading to the demise of that idea. Besides, adding more crimes to the death penalty qualified roster, runs counter to the African Union’s intent of completely abolishing the death penalty in member countries. As late as April, 2015, in its 56th ordinary session, the African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), put the abolition of the death penalty at the heart of its debates, and adopted a draft regional treaty to help African Union member states move away from capital punishment. An official panel discussion on capital punishment in Africa took place at the ACHPR session on April 2015. For the AU, it’s time to close this chapter of Africa’s political barbarism, even as Gambia broadens it.

In the 2010 Death Penalty Constitutional Amendment, what most stood out as a signpost of hope became a poignant reminder of the cruel underpinnings surrounding the very concept of expanding the death penalty crimes. Then Attorney General and Justice Minister, Edu Gomez, unwittingly admitted to the international community of the ‘draconian’ nature of the amendment, which made drug possession and sale, death penalty eligible. The contradiction between legality and draconian, was a compelling enough admission to an esoteric intent, apart from providing grounds for its repeal. The issue, then as now, remains challenging why Yahya Jammeh is sickeningly bent on making state-sanctioned killings easier; not harder. With the mass Mile Two Prison executions seared in Gambians’ collective memory, the lingering question then is whether the Gambia’s rubber stamp National Assembly will have the audacity, fortitude and sagacity to withstand the bruising test to Yahya Jammeh’s spiteful retribution. There is no historical evidence to support the independence of the National Assembly; on the contrary, digression from Yahya Jammeh’s goals has led to the expulsion of the entire retinue of AFPRC National Assembly representatives, back in 2006. Even without making it official, Gambians live under a constant state of martial law, and the creeping lawlessness of amending the Death Penalty, will further aggravate the dominance of the regime over the people, rather than the other way around. The bottom-line is this; the National Assembly has completely surrendered to Yahya Jammeh’s comedic and Messianic pretentions, and latched onto his every command as a divine order. The way in which the National Assembly has, over the last two decades, deferred to Yahya Jammeh’s arrogance and alienated the Gambian population, violates their solemn contract with the electorate, and National Assembly members need reminding that the arm of justice is long. As we go to press, Yahya Jammeh deception has again come center-stage, as he supposedly pardons some Mile Two prisoners. Lama Jallow whose name was read on national television as pardoned, died last week, in that death trap called Mile 2 Prison, according to his friend. This brings the death toll at Mile 2 Prison to nearly five hundred, and still Yahya Jammeh wants more incarcerations, not less. I have no plea, or advice for the National Assembly. Their choice is between doing what is right for Gambia and what is right by Yahya Jammeh. That’s the bottom-line. End of story.

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