Today, June 10, 2015 marks one year since the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice ordered The Gambia to pay $50,000 in damages to the family of Deyda Hydara, who was murdered over ten years ago.
The Gambia has not complied with this judgment, just as it has not implemented previous Court judgments regarding the enforced disappearance of Ebrima Manneh and the arbitrary arrest and detention and torture of Musa Saidykhan.
President Yahya Jammeh, increasingly known to civil society as West Africa’s King of Impunity, has made a presidential career out of abusing journalists, human rights defenders, and other outspoken innocents long before Hydara was targeted and killed in a drive-by shooting on December 16, 2004. Since then, the African Commission, located in The Gambia’s capital Banjul, adopted resolutions on The Gambia’s deteriorating human rights situation, emphasizing the dangers in exercising the right to freedom of expression in the country.
Exactly a year ago today, the ECOWAS Court found that The Gambia did not conduct a proper investigation into Hydara’s murder and allowed a climate of impunity to thrive. Furthermore, the Court found that “such impunity has the effect of denying journalists the right to function, thus stifling freedom of expression.” Thus, The Gambia has not satisfied its duty “to ensure respect for the rights of journalists” as directed by Article 66 of the ECOWAS Treaty. The Court ultimately awarded $50,000 in damages to Hydara’s family for The Gambia’s failure to exercise due diligence in investigating this murder.
The first anniversary of the Hydara decision comes on the heels of the seventh anniversary of the Court’s ruling in favour of Ebrima Manneh. Despite the final and binding nature of ECOWAS Court decisions, The Gambia continues to disregard the three Court judgments against it. Although ECOWAS has the power to sanction any Member State in violation of its statutory obligations, The Gambia currently faces no sanctions for its persistent non-compliance.
Today, the MFWA once again calls on The Gambia to implement all Court judgments and pay damages as ordered. In addition, the MFWA strongly urges ECOWAS to add much-needed teeth to its rulings and impose and enforce sanctions against The Gambia. According to Article 77 of the ECOWAS Treaty, sanctions against The Gambia—which may include suspension of loans, assistance, or participation in ECOWAS activities, among other things—can increase public faith and trust in the Court as an effective human rights court. However, The Gambia’s ongoing non-compliance risks delegitimizing the ECOWAS Court’s standing as a promising international justice mechanism. Instead of giving The Gambia an effective free pass, ECOWAS must take action to strengthen the Court to uphold justice, which is also a prerequisite for the promotion of peace and stability in the region.