In September, lawyers and rights activists called on the African Union’s human rights body to move its headquarters out of Gambia after President Yahya Jammeh on national television threatened human rights defenders and said he would kill anyone collaborating with them.
“African leaders must stand up and draw a line and say this is unacceptable,” Chidi Odinkalu, legal adviser with the Africa Open Society Justice Initiative, said. “We cannot defend human rights internationally if our leaders are going around threatening people with death.”
In a speech televised on 21 September President Jammeh said: “If you think you can collaborate with so-called human rights defenders and get away with it, you must be living in a dream world. I will kill you and nothing will come of it.” He continued: “We are not going to condone people posing as human rights defenders to the detriment of our country. If you are aﬃliated with any human rights group, rest assured your security and personal safety will not be guaranteed by my government. We are ready to kill saboteurs.” Gambia hosts the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, which hears cases brought by human rights defenders from across the continent.
“It is extraordinary,” Odinkalu told IRIN. “When presidents begin to threaten death and killing on people who defend human life and human rights it reﬂects a system with a total absence of accountability.” “Tis is not the ﬁrst, second or third time he has issued threats, but there is a chilling dimension to this threat. It is indiscriminate and it is directed at the whole world. The human rights situation in Gambia is intolerable.”
The Commission, charged with promoting and protecting human rights throughout the continent, was established in 1986 by the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and set up its headquarters in Gambia in 1989.