The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001.  Please see for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date.  This site is not updated so external links may no longer function.  Contact us with any questions about finding information.

NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.

Department Seal


TITLE:  THE GAMBIA HUMAN RIGHTS PRACTICES, 1993                           
DATE:  JANUARY 31, 1994

                      THE GAMBIA

The Gambia is a parliamentary democracy with an elected 
President and Parliament.  Except for a coup attempt in 1981, 
The Gambia has had a history of political stability under the 
leadership of its only President since independence in 1965, 
Sir Dawda Jawara.  His ruling People's Progressive Party (PPP) 
has dominated the unicameral Parliament, but several opposition 
parties, as well as independent politicians, participate in the 
political process. 

The Gambia police force is responsible for maintaining law and 
order.  It is firmly under civilian control.  There have been 
some reports of police beating prisoners or detainees, but 
abuse of prisoners is not systematic, and reported incidents 
are investigated swiftly, with perpetrators punished as 

The Gambia's population of just over 1 million consists  
largely of subsistence farmers growing rice, millet, maize, and 
groundnuts (peanuts), the country's primary export crop.  The 
private sector, led by reexporting, fisheries, horticulture, 
and tourism, has begun to flourish.

The Government has made particular efforts to promote 
observance of human rights, which are constitutionally 
protected and generally observed in practice.  The primary 
human rights problems include pretrial detention for lengthy 
periods, due to administrative inefficiences, and societal 
discrimination against women.


Section 1  Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
           Freedom from:

     a.  Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reported political killings or extrajudicial 

     b.  Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearance.

     c.  Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading
         Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, 
and degrading punishment.  Although there is no systematic 
abuse of prisoners or detainees, beatings of detainees by 
police or prison officials have occurred.  When they occur, 
government officials usually have responded swiftly, 
investigating the incident, and, if warranted, pressing charges.

Prison conditions are severe, even after the Government 
implemented reforms following the death of several inmates in 
1988 from beri-beri.  The press continued to report that 
inmates in local prisons received inadequate medical care and 
nutrition.  In response to the newspaper articles, the 
Government commissioned a study of the health and nutrition of 
prisoners:  the nongovernmental African Centre for Democracy 
and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS) found that medical care and 
food hygiene were unsatisfactory but that there was no 
malnutrition.  The Government allows prison visits by local Red 
Cross representatives and close family members.

Recognizing that some police officers abuse citizens' rights in 
the execution of their duties, the new Inspector General of 
Police (IGP) initiated a training program to improve the 
quality of service provided by his officers and to raise police 
awareness of human rights, especially the rights of the 
accused.  The IGP also formed a community affairs unit to 
review and act on complaints about police behavior.

Parliament in April voted to abolish the use of capital 

     d.  Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Based on British legal practice, well-developed constitutional 
and legal procedures govern the arrest, detention, and public 
trial of persons accused of crimes.  Under these procedures, an 
arrested person must not be held more than 24 hours before 
being presented to a magistrate or granted bail and must be 
promptly informed of charges.  A detained person must be 
brought to trial within 1 week of arrest, but this waiting 
period may be extended twice, making 21 days the maximum period 
of detention without bail before trial.  If released on bail, 
an accused person may face charges indefinitely since there is 
no maximum time limit for completing the investigation and 
bringing the case to trial.

In practice, because of overcrowded court schedules and 
administrative inefficiencies, the detention period before 
trial can be prolonged.  The press reported several incidents 
in 1993 in which arrested Gambians were denied their rights 
under the Constitution.  In one instance, the Gambian Supreme 
Court freed a man, suspected of murder but never formally 
charged, who had been detained in Mile Two Prison for 17 
months.  He was subsequently rearrested and remanded for 
custody at Mile Two Prison.  In another case, the Supreme Court 
granted bail to a man charged with murder who had been held 
without trial at Mile Two Prison for almost 4 years.  A third 
case came to light in which a young man had been detained for 
20 days without charge.

To help guard against a reccurence of such cases, the Inspector 
General has delegated to the arresting officer the authority to 
grant bail or order the release of an arrested person who 
cannot be charged.

As far as is known, there were no political or security 
detainees or prisoners held by the Government at year's end.

The Government does not practice political exile.  The leader 
of the failed 1981 coup, Kukoi Samba Sanyang, remained abroad.

     e.  Denial of Fair Public Trial

There are three kinds of law in the Gambia:  general, 
customary, and Shari'a (Islamic).  Shari'a law is observed in 
Muslim marriage and divorce proceedings.  Customary law covers 
marriage and divorce for non-Muslims, inheritance, land tenure 
and utilization, local tribal government, and all other 
traditional civil and social relations.  General law, based on 
the English system but modified by Gambian practice, governs 
criminal cases and trials and most organized business 
practices.  If there is a conflict between general law and 
Shari'a, general law prevails.

Appeals normally proceed from the Supreme (trial) Court to the 
Court of Appeals, the country's highest tribunal.   Judges are 
appointed by the Government, but the judiciary operates 
independently and is free of government interference.

     f.  Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or

The Constitution contains provisions (which are generally 
respected) against arbitrary search of person and property.  It 
does permit a search to which a suspect submits voluntarily or 
if the search is reasonably required in the interest of 
national defense or public welfare.  Under the Criminal Code, 
search warrants based on probable cause are issued by 
magistrates upon application by the police.

The Code also specifies that police may conduct a search of a 
private residence while a crime is in progress.  There are a 
few checkpoints in the country where the police and military 
periodically stop and search drivers and vehicles.

The rights of family are of great importance in the Gambia's 
conservative Muslim society.  Marriage, the rearing of 
children, and religious instruction are regulated primarily by 
personal preference and ethnic and religious tradition; the 
Government does not normally intrude in family matters.  There 
is no effort to censor or control personal correspondence or 

Section 2  Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

     a.  Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press.  
Ordinary citizens openly criticize government policies during 
public meetings or in private conversations.  During the 1992 
election, opposition political parties freely criticized the 
Government's record.  In 1993 a third major newspaper, a 
monthly, began publication.

There is no television in the Gambia, although Senegalese 
broadcasts can be received with standard television antennas, 
and international broadcasts can be received via satellite 
dishes, which are becoming more common.  The government radio 
station, Radio Gambia, provides the only daily local news 
coverage, which is also broadcast by the two commercial radio 
stations.  During the 1992 elections and 1993 by-elections, 
opposition parties had access to Radio Gambia, although there 
were some complaints in this respect.  Foreign magazines and 
newspapers are available in the capital.  There is no 
university in the Gambia.

     b.  Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Government does not interfere with freedom of assembly and 
association, which is provided for in the Constitution.  The 
Government almost always grants permits for peaceful assembly 
but requires that these meetings be open to the public.  
Permits for assembly are issued by the police and are not 
denied for political reasons.  No organization is currently 
proscribed in the Gambia.  The law on proscribed organizations 
has been amended so that future bans will require a judicial 
decision rather than a presidential decree.  The State must now 
apply to a court for a proscription order, citing specific 
grounds for the request.

     c.  Freedom of Religion

Constitutional provisions of freedom of conscience, thought, 
and religion are observed in practice.  The State is secular, 
although Muslims constitute over 90 percent of the population.  
The schools provide instruction in the Koran for Muslim 
students.  Christians, both Catholic and Protestant, freely 
practice their religion.  There is a small Baha'i community in 
Banjul.  Missionaries are permitted to carry out their 
activities freely.

     d.  Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
         Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

The Constitution provides for freedom of movement, subject to 
conditions protecting public safety, health, and morals.  There 
is no restriction on freedom of emigration or freedom of 
return.  Because of historic and ethnic ties with the 
inhabitants of Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Sierra Leone, and 
Mauritania, people tend to move freely across borders, which 
are poorly marked and difficult to police.

The Gambia continued to host refugees from Liberia and 
Senegal.  However, during 1993 the arrival of Liberian refugees 
into the Gambia virtually ceased, and many Liberians living in 
the Gambia departed voluntarily.  At year's end, some 250 
Liberians remained in The Gambia.  Refugees from southern 
Senegal's Casamance region also began returning home in 1993, 
following the July cease-fire between the Casamance separatist 
group and the Government of Senegal.  The Casamancais refugee 
population in The Gambia decreased from some 3,500 at the 
beginning of 1993 to 2,000 by the end of the year.  The Gambia 
maintained its tradition of hospitality towards refugees and 
worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, 
the Gambian Red Cross, and other nongovernmental organizations 
to provide assistance and protection to refugees.

Section 3  Respect for Political Rights:  The Right of Citizens
           to Change Their Government

Citizens have the right to change their government through 
peaceful means.  The President and Members of Parliament are 
popularly elected, as are the district councils and the chiefs 
who exercise traditional authority in the villages and 
compounds.  Presidential and parliamentary elections are held 
every 5 years.  Citizens must be at least 18 years of age to 
vote.  Balloting is secret, and measures are employed to assure 
that illiterate voters understand the choices and voting 

A functioning multiparty system exists, even though the 
Peoples' Progressive Party (PPP) under the leadership of 
President Jawara has been in power since independence.  All 
opposition parties contest general elections, and some contest 
district elections.  In the April 1992 presidential and 
parliamentary elections, candidates from the five political 
parties as well as independent candidates campaigned 
vigorously.  Observers as well as most participants declared 
the election free and fair.  President Jawara was reelected 
President, but his PPP lost six seats in Parliament.  The 
overall distribution of elected parliamentary seats was 25 for 
the PPP, 6 for the National Convention Party (NCP), 2 for the 
Gambian People's Party (GPP), and 3 independents.

In accordance with election law, seven defeated parliamentary 
candidates filed petitions at the Supreme Court challenging the 
results in their districts.  The Court dismissed petitions of 
two NCP candidates, but the Chief Justice heard five petitions 
from PPP candidates.  Of the five cases, the Chief Justice 
heard one in 1992, ruling against the petitioner, and four in 
1993, ruling against the petitioners in two cases and for the 
petitioners in the other two.  In the latter cases he declared 
the parliamentary seats vacant and ordered by-elections.  In 
the June by-elections, citizens overwhelmingly elected the same 
candidates they had chosen in the general election.  Again, 
independent press observers deemed the elections free and fair.

While women are represented in the political process, there are 
no women in the 14-person Cabinet, and only 4 women in the 
51-seat Parliament.

Section 4  Governmental Attitude Regarding International and 
           Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations 
           of Human Rights

In 1989 the Government established an independent, 
nongovernmental organization, the African Centre for Democracy 
and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS), to promote greater respect 
for human rights in Africa.  The Centre publishes a newsletter 
and relevant international human rights materials, organizes 
regional human rights forums and workshops, conducts research 
on human rights and democracy in Africa, and sustains a 
training and internship program for local and international 
participants.  The ACDHRS was also active in inspecting prison 
conditions in 1993 (see Section 1.c.)  There are no other local 
human rights organizations active in the Gambia.

International human rights organizations may visit to observe 
the condition of detainees and the trial process.  The Gambia 
is also home to the Organization of African Unity's Commission 
on Human and Peoples' Rights, the organization charged with 
protecting and promoting human rights in member countries under 
the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights.

Section 5  Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion,
           Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution states that all persons in the Gambia are 
entitled to "fundamental rights and freedoms," regardless of 
"race, place of origin, political opinions, colour, creed, or 
sex."  There is no officially sanctioned discrimination based 
on race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status.


Despite Constitutional provisions, women face extensive 
discrimination.  Traditional views, especially about the role 
of women in society, are changing but very slowly.  Marriages 
are usually "arranged," and Muslim tradition allows for 
polygyny.  Women are disadvantaged educationally, with females 
comprising one-third of primary students and one-fourth of high 
school students.  The Government has encouraged parents to send 
their daughters to school.  The Women's Bureau in the Office of 
the Vice President conducts an ongoing campaign in both the 
rural and urban areas to make women aware of their legal rights 
in respect to divorce and custody of children, property 
matters, and in cases of assault.  It also publishes a 
quarterly magazine on women's issues, which it distributes 
throughout the country.

Domestic violence, including wife beating, occurs but is rare, 
according to health officials.  Police intervene when they 
receive reports of beatings, and the authorities prosecute when 
the victim or others file complaints.  The media covers such 
court cases, reporting newsworthy incidents.


The Government of The Gambia is committed to the human rights 
and welfare of all Gambians.  Care and welfare of The Gambia's 
children are considered to be primarily familial, rather than 
governmental, responsibilities, but authorities intervene when 
cases of abuse or maltreatment of children arise and are 

Female genital mutilation (circumcision) which has been 
condemned by health experts as damaging to physical and 
psychological health, is practiced, usually at an early age.  
According to an independent expert, the percentage of Gambian 
females who have undergone this procedure may be as high as 60 
percent.  The Womens Bureau holds workshops on female 
mutilation to inform women of its negative effects and to 
discuss the religious and traditional ties to the practice.

Some young boys, known as almudos, experience severe hardship, 
deprivation, and degradation.  They are given by their parents 
to Koranic scholars to learn the Islamic holy book.  In return 
for their education, they must work for their scholars, almost 
always by begging in the street.  Reports indicate that these 
boys often sleep 20 or 30 to a room, have hardly any clothing, 
eat barely enough to survive, and endure serious health 
problems.  Many are beaten by their teachers if they do not 
bring home enough money and by other adults they encounter on 
the streets.  Reports indicate that as many as 60 percent of 
almudos are not Gambian.  The Government has recognized the 
problem, and the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare, 
assisted by the United Nations Children's Fund, is conducting a 
study into the plight of the almudos and other street children 
in the Gambia.  The study, begun in 1993, was still in progress 
at year's end.

     People with Disabilities

There are no statutes or regulations currently in force 
requiring accessibility for the disabled.

No legal discrimination against the physically disabled exists 
in employment, education, and other state services.  Most 
severely handicapped individuals subsist through private 
charity; less severely handicapped persons are fully accepted 
in society and encounter no discrimination in employment for 
which they are physically capable.

Section 6  Worker Rights

     a.  The Right of Association

The Labor Act of 1990 applies to all workers except civil 
servants.  The Act specifies that workers are free to form 
associations, including trade unions, and provides for their 
registration with the Government.  Police officers and military 
personnel, as well as other civil service employees, are 
specifically prohibited from forming unions and going on strike.

Approximately 20 percent of the work force is employed in the 
modern wage sector of the economy, where unions are normally 
active.  The Gambian Workers' Confederation (GWC) and the 
Gambian Workers' Union (GWU) are the two main independent and 
competing umbrella organizations.  Both are recognized by, and 
have good working relationships with, the Government but are 
independent of the Government and political parties.

The Labor Act of 1990 authorizes strikes, but it specifies that 
a union must give the Commissioner of Labor 14 days' written 
notice before beginning an industrial action (28 days for 
essential services).  Retribution is not permitted against 
strikers who comply with the law regulating strikes.  However, 
upon application by an employer to the Supreme Court, that body 
may prohibit an industrial action that is ruled to be in 
pursuit of a political objective.  The Court may also forbid an 
action that is in breach of a collectively agreed procedure for 
the settlement of industrial disputes that has not been 

Because of these provisions, government conciliation efforts, 
and the weak bargaining position of the unions, few strikes 
actually occur.  In June the Gambia suffered its only minor 
industrial action of the year.  In a wildcat action, sanitation 
workers stopped work for 24 hours because they had not been 
paid on time.  The strikers were successful in obtaining 
payment of salary arrears.

Unions exercise the right to affiliate internationally, and 
there are no restrictions on their members' ability to 
participate in international activities.

     b.  The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Labor Act of 1990 provides workers the right to organize 
and bargain collectively.  Although trade unions are small and 
fragmented, collective bargaining does take place.  Each 
recognized union has specified guidelines for its activities.  
Prevailing wages exceed minimum wages and are determined by 
collective bargaining, arbitration, or market forces.  The 
Labor Department registers the collective bargaining agreements 
reached between the unions and management, after ensuring that 
the agreements do not violate the Labor Act.  There are no 
reports of denial of registration.  The Act also sets minimum 
standards for contracts in the areas of hiring, training, terms 
of employment, wages, and termination of employment.  The Act 
states that "any term of a contract of employment prohibiting 
an employee from becoming or remaining a member of any trade 
union or other organization representing workers...shall be 
null and void."  Employers are not permitted to fire or 
otherwise discriminate against members of legal unions engaged 
in legally permitted union activities.  Otherwise, the 
Government does not interfere in the bargaining process.

There are no export processing zones.

     c.  Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Criminal Code prohibits compulsory labor, and it is not 

     d.  Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The minimum legal working age is 16.  There is no compulsory 
education legislation, and, because of the paucity of secondary 
school opportunities, most children complete their formal 
education by age 14 and informally enter the work force.  
Employee labor cards, which include a person's age, are 
registered with the Labor Commissioner, but enforcement 
inspections rarely take place because of lack of funding and 
inspectors.  Children at early ages perform customary chores on 
family farms or engage in street trading.

     e.  Acceptable Conditions of Work

By law, minimum wages and hours of work are determined by six 
Joint Industrial Councils (commerce, artisans, transport, the 
port industry, agriculture, and fisheries), which have 
representation from employees, employers, and government. The 
lowest minimum wage is $0.95 (9 dalasi) per day for unskilled 
labor.  Minimum wages do not provide for a decent standard of 
living for a worker and his family.  Moreover, only that 20 
percent of the total labor force, i.e. those in the wage 
sector, are covered by minimum wage legislation.  The remainder 
are privately employed, chiefly in subsistence agriculture.  
Most Gambians do not live on one worker's earnings and rely on 
the extended family system, usually including some subsistence 

The standard legal workweek is 48 hours within a period not to 
exceed 6 consecutive days.  Allowance is made for half-hour 
lunch breaks.  For the private sector, the 6-day, 40-hour 
workweek includes 4 8-hour days with half days on Fridays and 
Saturdays.  Government employees are entitled to 1 month's paid 
annual leave after 1 year of service; private sector employees 
receive between 14 and 30 days of paid annual leave, depending 
on their length of service. 

The Labor Act provides a list of occupational categories and 
specifies safety equipment that an employer must supply to 
employees working in these categories.  The Factory Act gives 
the Minister of Labor authority to regulate factory health and 
safety, accident prevention, and dangerous trades and to 
appoint inspectors to ensure compliance.  However, enforcement 
is less than fully satisfactory because there are too few 
trained inspectors.  Workers may refuse to work in dangerous 
work situations.  Workers in hazardous working environments are 
entitled to protective equipment and clothing.

[end of document]


Department Seal

Return to 1993 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.