Njundu Drammeh

The Gambia, where most Police Officers Do NOT Regard Themselves as Human Rights Protectors

It is another sad day, horrendous in the act and mind boggling as to the intention, why brothers in arms, supposed protectors, would used arms against fellow brothers, exercising legal rights and needing protection. It is the highest form of betrayal, from a Government which came to power on the high sounds of respect for human rights, rule of law, good governance and citizenship participation; a Government which promised, on its soul, never to repeat the mistakes and atrocities of the past, setting up a Truth, Reconciliation, Reparation Commission for that puporse.

Now I am worried about my own safety, a trepidation I thought had gone away on 17 January, 2017. Now am not sure of anything. There is incongruence, a credibility gap, between what the Barrow Government promised us about respect for human rights and accountability and what it is giving us now, disrespect for human rights and human life by those who are supposed to protect, the law enforcers.

In place of hope and optimism, lurking to stand firm are distrust, despondency and pessimism. I am beginning to think it is an untruth that this is a “Government of the People , for the People”. I know which side the Government would be in any conflict between capitalists/business and the proletariat/ the poor; between big business and the environment. It will be with capital. It is with capital in Kombo Gunjur; it has mowed down peaceful protesters in the name capital in Faraba; it will allow parks/reserved land for animal habitats to be destroyed to make way for big business. How can I remain trusting and optimistic in the presence of these glaring partisanship, this siding with capital and business?

If our fledgling democracy wobbles on its legs, one quarter would be partly culpable, that is our law enforcement agencies. On their shoulders lie also respect for human rights and ensuring of justice through the criminal justice system, at both gates they stand guard. Human rights training must then become an integral part of the police education system.

“In the performance of their duty, law enforcement officials shall respect and protect human dignity and maintain and uphold the human rights of all people” Art. 2, UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials

Policing or law enforcement to be seen as exercise in the protection of human rights. Our Constitution and all other human rights legal instruments the Gambia is State Party to give us our human rights, and they place on the State, the primary duty bearer, the obligations to respect, protect and fulfil these rights. As part of the State, the Gambia Police Force is thus primarily a duty bearer and a human rights defender. Thus, to the extent that police officers enforce these laws, they are contributing in no small way to the protection of human rights. Policing is therefore a palpably strategic scheme for the protection of human rights. Indeed, police officers are supposed to be the first line of defence in the protection of human rights…

However, most of our Police Officers do not see themselves as human rights defenders and protectors. Rather, they have deep seated hatred and animosity for human rights, thinking human rights impede their police work. Thus the antagonism. When people disobey or violate the law, some of our Police Officers find it difficult to “depersonalise” the issue; to understand that the violation or disobedience is not against them as police officers or individuals but rather against the State. They get personally engrossed in the case and personalise the affairs.

When law enforcers become law breakers
When protectors become destroyers
When the fence starts to eat up the crops it has been erected to protect
When duty bearers become rights violators
When capital and business become more important than the environment and the future

….democracy, human rights and good governance will be in danger.

Our Police Force need to know that far from inhabiting the efficiency and effectiveness of the policing function, the observance of human rights by police officers promote the objectives of policing. When police officers observe human rights they gain the respect and cooperation of the community and citizens.

However, when public trust is lost, public cooperation is lost. When public cooperation is not secured, crime detection becomes difficult.

Moving forward, the Police must know ours is a democracy de jure and de facto, and in a democratic society the police will be held accountable for their actions based on the principles of LEGALITY, NECESSITY and PROPORTIONALITY. The Faraba accident failed these principles: the firing wasn’t within the law; it wasn’t necessary since other more effective crowd control tactics could have been used; the force was out of all proportion needed to take care of the situation.

We need a police force whose conduct is grounded on human rights, who know what role they are expected to play a democratic dispensation. Thus, a reform at the Gambia Police Force is needed.

Justice for the Faraba people.