Section 3. Freedom to Participate in the Political Process
The law provides citizens the ability to choose their government in free and fair periodic elections held by secret ballot and based on universal and equal suffrage.
Elections and Political Participation
Recent Elections: The country held a presidential election in 2016, in which Adama Barrow, the candidate of an opposition coalition, defeated Yahya Jammeh, the incumbent. The election was largely peaceful and considered credible. The defeated incumbent initially accepted the results, before declaring them “null and void,” alleging irregularities in the process. This led to a six-week political impasse before Jammeh dropped his claims and went into exile in Equatorial Guinea, bowing to regional and international pressure and the threat of military force from the ECOWAS, the member states of which had massed soldiers on the Gambia’s borders.
The country also held legislative elections in 2017 that were described by domestic and international observers as mostly free and fair. Mama Kandeh, leader of the Gambia Democratic Congress, rejected the results, claiming to have evidence that would expose the unfairness of the entire process. Kandeh, however, did not provide any evidence to substantiate his claim.
Participation of Women and Minorities: No laws limit participation of women or members of minorities in the political process, and they did participate. Evidence suggested cultural constraints limited women’s participation in the political process; men greatly outnumbered women in the cabinet and parliament.
Section 4. Corruption and Lack of Transparency in Government
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, and the government generally implemented the law; however, in prior years officials sometimes engaged in corrupt practices with impunity.
Corruption: There were no reports of high-level official corruption during the year.
In 2017 the Barrow administration set up a commission of inquiry to probe the financial dealings of former president Jammeh. On March 29, the commission presented its final report to the president, and on September 13, it was released to the public. Its findings revealed a “disproportionate amount of resources was wasted, misappropriated and diverted by former president Jammeh amounting to at least D1.06 billion dalasi ($304 million) and as a consequence (Jammeh) should be charged with theft, economic crimes and corruption.” Based on report findings, the government seized businesses, real property and other assets from Jammeh and some of his associates. Additionally, some former officials are barred from holding public office for specified periods up to lifetime.
Financial Disclosure: The law requires income and asset disclosure statements from both appointed and elected public officials; however, it does not stipulate sanctions for noncompliance. No government agency is mandated to monitor and verify financial disclosures. Declarations are not released to the public.
Section 5. Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Abuses of Human Rights
Several domestic and international human rights groups generally operated without government restriction, investigating and publishing their findings on human rights cases. Among these were the #Jammeh2Justice campaign to have the Ghanaian and Gambian governments try former president Jammeh for the 2005 killings of irregular migrants–among them 44 Ghanaians–and the Victims Center that supports the TRRC and assists victims of Jammeh-era human rights abuses.
Government officials were usually cooperative and responsive to issues raised by human rights groups during the year. Despite the Barrow administration’s 2017 pledge to create a more conducive environment for NGOs, the law continues to require NGOs to register with the National Advisory Council. It provides the council with the authority to deny, suspend, or cancel the right of any NGO (including international NGOs) to operate in the country. The council did not take actions against any NGO during the year.
In 2017 the TRRC was established to address human rights abuses during the 22-year rule (1994-2016) of former president Jammeh. During the year the TRRC conducted hearings at which more than 100 witnesses testified to multiple instances of human rights abuses by the Jammeh government, including killings, torture, arbitrary detention, sexual violence, and forced disappearances. Witnesses included members of the Junglers hit squad who admitted to committing gross human rights abuses.