|Amie Bojang Sissoho and Dr. Isatou Touray (L-|
The Observatory, a joint programme of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT), on January 9, 2012 denounce what it called the “interminable judicial harassment” faced by two women human rights defenders in The Gambia.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders believes that the criminal case against Dr. Isatou Touray and Amie Bojang-Sissoho merely aims at intimidating them and impeding GAMCOTRAP from carrying out its activities for the promotion and protection of human rights.
More generally, it also aims at intimidating the Gambian civil society and, more particularly, those who stand up for human rights, the agency said in a statement on Monday.
Women rights activists, Dr. Isatou Touray, Executive Director and Mrs Amie Bojang-Sissoho, Programme Manager, The Gambia Committee on Traditional Practices Affecting the Health of Women and Children (GAMCOTRAP) are standing trial on one count of theft.
The two women, whose agency is working on sexual and reproductive health and rights of women and children, are alleged to have embezzled 30,000 euros received three years ago from Yolocamba Solidaridad, a Span-based Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO).
They have denied any wrong doing since the beginning of the trial in November 2010.
However, the criminal trial according to The Observatory, tantamount to “judicial harassment” which it said has been going on for more than a year and a half, when the police started interrogations of GAMCOTRAP staff.
In January 2011, Ms. Begoña Ballestros Sanchez, Director of Yolocamba Solidaridad, and a key prosecution witness, denied accusing anyone associated with GAMCOTRAP of theft and submitting a complaint in relation thereof during a hearing at Banjul Magistrate’s Court.
“During interrogation, which took six hearings, Ms. Isatou Touray had to respond to very precise questions by the Prosecutor covering all aspects of GAMCOTRAP’s activities, staff and resources that are unrelated to the charges,” The Observatory said, while arguing that the prosecutor “repeatedly made depreciating comments about the work of GAMCOTRAP’s programme to eradicate female genital mutilation”.
Based on this, the agency stressed that it “firmly denounce this continuing judicial harassment and calls upon the Gambian authorities to guarantee that human rights defenders can carry out their activities free of any hindrances”.
It urges the authorities to also “stop any kind of harassment (including at the judicial level) against human rights defenders, in line with the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international human rights instruments ratified by The Gambia”.
On July 22, 2011, The Observatory published an international fact-finding mission report on Gambia in which it stated there is a "Climate of fear amongst the community of human rights defenders" in the country.
The report coincided with the 17th year anniversary of President Yahya AJJ Jammeh’s coup. Over the years, The Gambia Government has been widely criticised for alleged “human rights abuses” which has taint the country’s fledgling democracy.
Author: Modou S. Joof, is a Gambian journalist, News Editor of The Voice Newspaper in Banjul and Publisher of The North Bank Evening Standard.
He twits (@Msjoof)