(Sept. 18, 2012) On September 14, 2012, Yahya Jammeh, President of The Gambia, set a temporary moratorium on executions in the country. (Gambia Stops Death Row Executions, CBC NEWS (Sept. 15, 2012).) There are 37 people remaining under death sentences in The Gambia, following nine executions in August 2012. Jammeh issued a statement to the effect that the death penalty will be tied to the country’s crime rate, saying, “[w]hat happens next will be dictated by either a declining violent crime rate, in which case the moratorium will be indefinite, or an increase in violent crime in which case the moratorium will be lifted automatically.” (Id.)
The August 2012 executions, the first in the country in 27 years, were met with widespread criticism from international bodies and human rights groups. (Id.;Wendy Zeldin, Gambia: Report of Official Executions Being Carried Out After Long Hiatus, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Aug. 30, 2012).) Amnesty International (AI), which has said that the current moratorium is “not good enough,” called on the country to end capital punishment and joined with 66 other civil society groups to denounce the recent executions. (Gambia: The Gambian Government Must Not Carry Out Any Further Executions of Death Row Prisoners, AI website (Sept. 5, 2012); The Gambia: Conditional Moratorium on Executions Is Not Enough, AI website (Sept. 17, 2012).)
Case Pursued by Nigerians
Two of the remaining death row prisoners are Nigerian citizens. On September 11, 2012, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a nongovernmental organization based in Nigeria, filed a lawsuit at the Community Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), located in Abuja, Nigeria, to request a perpetual injunction to prevent the government of The Gambia from executing them. Both The Gambia and Nigeria are members of ECOWAS. (SERAP Urges Pres Jonathan to Stop Gambia from Executing Nigerians on Death Row, SERAP website (last visited Sept. 17, 2012); NGO Files Suit at ECOWAS Court to Stop Execution of Nigerians in Gambia, PANA Online (Sept. 13, 2012); World News Connection online subscription database, Doc. No. 201209131477.1_375400213285fa04; Community Court of Justice, ECOWAS website (last visited Sept. 17, 2012).)
It has not been possible to determine the current status of the case, given the temporary moratorium on the imposition of the death penalty announced by The Gambia. However, the case is interesting for the principles and documents it references.
The two Nigerian men, who have joined SERAP in the case, are Michael Ifunanya and Stanley Agbaeze. They are arguing that they have been denied the right to appeal their sentences and that this violates their human rights, including the rights to life, to due process of law, to justice and judicial independence, to a fair hearing, to appeal, and to effective remedy. (NGO Files Suit at ECOWAS Court to Stop Execution of Nigerians in Gambia, supra.)
SERAP and the two prisoners are further asking that the Court order The Gambia to “faithfully and fully” implement a number of documents (id.), including:
· the country’s Constitution (Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia, 1997, Access Gambia (last updated 2002)), which, while authorizing the death penalty, also called for a review within ten years by the National Assembly of the desirability of abolishing capital punishment (art. 18). Although more than the ten years have passed, the review has not been done (The Gambia: Conditional Moratorium on Executions Is Not Enough, supra);
· the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Charter, June 27, 1981, REFWORLD), which includes the right to appeal (art. 7);
· the moratorium on executions adopted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) (136: Resolution Calling on State Parties to Observe a Moratorium on the Death Penalty (Nov. 2008), ACHPR website); and
· the Third Committee of the U.N. General Assembly’s call for a moratorium on the death penalty (General Assembly Committee Backs Global Moratorium Against Death Penalty, UNITED NATIONS NEWS CENTRE (Nov. 15, 2007)).
SERAP had earlier urged Nigeria’s President to take steps to protect the Nigerians imprisoned in The Gambia, stating that in that country “human rights of citizens and foreign nationals, including Nigerians continue to be violated with impunity.” (SERAP Urges Pres Jonathan to Stop Gambia from Executing Nigerians on Death Row, supra.)