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Press briefing notes on Gambia and Australia

Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Rupert Colville
Location: Geneva
Date:  29 July 2016  

(1) Gambia

We are concerned at the three-year prison sentences handed down last week to 30 members of the main opposition party in Gambia, including its leader Ousainou Darboe, following their participation in peaceful protests in mid-April. We also remain deeply concerned that there has yet to be an impartial, independent and thorough investigation into allegations of excessive use of force in the context of the demonstrations, and into the arrest and death in State custody of the former secretary of the party.

On 20 July, the Banjul High Court convicted 19 members of the United Democratic Party (UDP) for unlawful assembly, rioting, incitement to violence, “riotously interfering with vehicles”, holding a procession without a permit, disobeying an order to disperse from an unlawful procession and conspiracy.  On 21 July, the Mansakonko High Court convicted another 11 UDP members for the same offences.

All those convicted were arrested either on 14 April 2016 during a protest for electoral reforms or on 16 April 2016 during a demonstration held after the arrest and alleged death in State custody of UDP Secretary Solo Sandeng two days earlier.

We have serious concerns about reported violations of the right to a fair trial. Defence lawyers have said that access to their clients was repeatedly hampered, that the arrests were politically motivated and that due process guarantees were not respected.

On 8 June, defence lawyers walked out of the courtroom and decided not to take part in further proceedings as the court rejected their applications, including one requesting the Supreme Court to decide on the constitutionality of the proceedings. The trial continued with the accused unrepresented in court.

We urge the authorities to investigate all allegations of excessive use of force in the context of the April demonstrations, as well as allegations that some of those arrested were tortured and denied access to medical care.

(2) Australia

We are shocked by the video footage that has emerged from Don Dale youth detention centre in the Northern Territory in Australia, showing children as young as 10, many of whom are Aboriginal children, being held in inhumane conditions and treated cruelly. Some children were held in isolation for extended periods, sometimes for several weeks, in hot and dark cells with no access to fresh air or running water. In one incident, six children were tear-gassed by prison guards. The videos, from 2014, show another child hooded and strapped to a chair for several hours. Others are shown being repeatedly assaulted and stripped naked. According to the children’s testimony, these abuses took place over several years. Most of the children who were held at the detention facility are deeply traumatized. The treatment these children have been subjected to could amount to a violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment, to which Australia is a party.

Article 37 of the CRC stipulates that “every child deprived of liberty shall be treated with humanity and respect for the inherent dignity of the human person, and in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age.”
The announcement by the Government of an investigation into youth detention in the Northern Territory is an important step. We encourage the Government to extend the scope of the investigation beyond the Northern Territory in order to establish that such appalling treatment is not taking place in any other place of detention in Australia. We call on the authorities to identify those who committed abuses against the children and to hold them responsible for such acts. The children who were abused at Don Dale should receive psychosocial rehabilitation to overcome the trauma they have suffered. Compensation should also be provided.

We also call on Australia to ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture. This important instrument focuses on the prevention of torture. Under the Protocol, Australia would establish a National Preventive Mechanism which conducts regular visits to all places of detention in the country. Events at Don Dale clearly show the immediate need to establish such a system of regular visits to ensure that what happened at Don Dale never happens again in Australia.

ENDS

For more information and media requests, please contact please contact Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 / rcolville@ohchr.org) or Ravina Shamdasani (+41 22 917 9169 / rshamdasani@ohchr.org)

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