Gambia: Human Rights Activists, Defender Storm Banjul as NGOs Forum Open

By Own Correspondent – More than 100 human rights defenders and activists, representatives of civil society organizations, UN and African Union officials are currently gathered in Banjul for the Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 49th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and the 23rd African Human Rights Book Fair.

The forum, organized by the African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies, ACDHRS, in collaboration with the African Commission, opened yesterday at the Kairaba Beach Hotel.

The objective of the forum is to foster cooperation among and between NGOs as well as with the African Commission, with the aim of promoting and protecting human rights in Africa.
Top on the agenda is the theme of the Development of Human Rights and Democracy in Africa, which will focus on the overview of the Human Rights Situation in Africa.

The session will also examine the present situation of human rights on the continent, focusing on ‘hot spot’ countries, as well as countries whose report on the situation of human rights will be examined by the African Commission during its sitting.

The forum also coincided with the African Centre’s 23rd African Human Rights Book Fair, which seeks to give human rights NGOs the opportunity to share their materials with other NGOs, and to promote networking of human rights organizations on the continent and beyond.

Delegates are, among others, expected to brainstorm on elections and instability in Africa, 100 years of women’s rights advocacy, prohibition of torture in Africa, rights of persons with disability in Africa, enforced disappearances, HIV/AIDS and human rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, and freedom of expression in Africa.

Officially declaring the forum open, Hon. Abdoulie Bojang, Speaker of the National Assembly, said the African Commission is mandated to oversee the implementation and interpretation of the rights and duties as enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

“Over the years, NGOs have become indispensable being involved in setting international human rights standards and documenting human rights violations. They have been involved in advocacy and lobbying initiatives for the effective implementation of the provisions enshrined in human rights instruments signed and ratified by states,” Speaker Bojang added.
According to him, while some countries on the continent registered progress in terms of improving democracy and human rights situation, many more continue to stray away from this trend.

In his view, human rights violations continue to take place on a daily basis. He expressed hope that the forum will push the continent a step forward in the process of ensuring the respect for human dignity, human rights and the democratization process in African countries.

Also speaking at the opening ceremony was Ms Reine Alapini Gansou, chairperson of the African Commission, who underscored the importance her commission attaches to the NGOs forum which, she added, avails the regional delegates the opportunity to review the current human rights situation in Africa, and based on which recommendations will be sent to the African Commission for consideration.

She encouraged state parties to do more in safeguarding the protection and promotion of human rights in Africa, while imploring delegates to work hard in order to free Africa from human rights violations, which according to her are occurring day by day.

Mabassa Fall, executive member of the African Center dilated on issues of transitional justice, which he said are important to deal with at this crucial moment for Africa.

“The African Union will take up the issue of transitional justice. We really remain alert about these issues looking at the current situation prevailing in the Arab world, West Africa notably Ivory Coast and other places,” he added.

Dr Momodou Dia of the political affairs department of the African Union, called for the protection and promotion of human rights, noting that the issue of human rights is a global concern, but can be overcome through joint efforts.

“The issue of human rights is a serious concern to the African Union. Human rights and democracy are on top of the AU’s agenda,” he added.

Other speakers at the forum included Hassan Shire Shiekh, committee member of the NGOs forum steering committee, who hailed the efforts of African human rights defenders.
New multi-billion dollar project to create 10,000 jobs

President Yahya Jammeh last Thursday laid the foundation stone for a multi-billion dollar ‘21st Century Gambia Project’ in Bijilo, which according to him will directly or indirectly create close to 10, 000 jobs for Gambians.

The project by the Qatar-Gambia International Group, is said to be the biggest ever public-private investment in the entire history of The Gambia and the biggest single investment in the entire Gambian tourism and hospitality industry, bigger than all the investments in the tourism sector put together from 1965 to date.

It is also said to have come at a time when efforts are being mounted by the government to rekindle the tourism sector so as to increase its impact, as well as its added relevance to The Gambia’s socio-economic and cultural development in the 21st century.

When completed, the project is expected to build a hotel complex with 500 rooms, villas, conference centers, a modern shopping mall of a hundred thousand square meters of retail area, 16 residential towers with two thousand four hundred apartments, five of its towers with 800 offices, a modern hospital of over thirty-six thousand square meters of area, and two mosques, among others.

In his launching statement, President Jammeh said the implementation of the project will go a long way towards uplifting The Gambia’s tourism sector to a new and ultra modern pedestal that would change positively the country’s urban landscape.

“Once completed, The Gambia would no doubt become one of, if not, the world’s most attractive and safest growing tourist destinations for all classes of tourists and visitors, including the high-spending top brass tourists from all over the world,” he said.

According to the Gambian leader, the timing of the project is also “another big and pleasant assurance to all of us that we are on course to introduce new multi-faceted products and services that would go a long way towards enhancing The Gambia’s competitiveness in the world upmarket tourists”.

In his view, the occasion was significant not only because a history of a highly valued partnership is in the making between the Gambia government and the state of Qatar, and investors from the Gulf, but was also clear testimony of the great importance that his government attaches and will continue to attach to the development of the country’s tourism industry.

To ensure the environmental sustainability of the project, Jammeh added, care has been taken to dovetail the design concept with the existing vegetation cover and the preservation of the country’s fauna and flora.

“As in every such project, my Government will always ensure that development today would not compromise the future’s resource endowments,” he added.

President Jammeh urged Gambian youths not to sell their pride by venturing into dangerous waters in search of greener pastures, stating that “pastures are being made greener by the day, and the ‘21st Century Gambia Project’ is one very bright example”.

He also urged Gambians to brace up for the task of nation-building, particularly in light of the accelerated countdown to the 2015 MDGs and Vision 2020 timelines, stressing that his government would never relent in its efforts to bring, to all Gambians, the added avenues and opportunities, as well as the safe and conducive environment needed to empower the people and promote better and sustained conditions of living for all.

Fatou Mass Jobe-Njie, minister of Tourism and Culture, speaking on the occasion said the laying of the foundation stone of the “21st Century Gambia Project” was yet another manifestation of the commitment of the Gambia government to provide the needed impetus for the advancement of tourism in The Gambia.

“This new project will undoubtedly add significant value to The Gambia’s tourism, and could not have come at a more opportune moment than now when new approaches towards attaining our tourism goals are being unleashed with a view to bringing vibrancy and transformational development in the tourism sector,” Minister Jobe-Njie added.

Other speakers at the occasion included Ansumana Jammeh, Gambia’s ambassador to Qatar, Yyad Charchar, a project consultant, Fatoumata Diop, general manager DOOZI Group and Awad-Moh-Khair Himady, legal adviser to a Saudi Arabia prince.