VARIOUS: Gambia's withdrawal from the Commonwealth grouping, branding it a "neo-colonial...
- Title: VARIOUS: Gambia's withdrawal from the Commonwealth grouping, branding it a "neo-colonial institution" is unfortunate and will negatively impact plans to bring government reforms and improve on the country's human rights record, analysts say
- Date: 4th October 2013
- Summary: BANJUL, GAMBIA (FILE) (REUTERS) STREET SCENES POSTER OF GAMBIAN PRESIDENT, YAHYA JAMMEH JAMMEH WALKING WITH SOLDIERS
- Reuters ID: LVAAVCWJ254A9UD4B0OK0RHRSQNA
- Location: Gambia, Senegal
- Country: Gambia Senegal
- Duration: 00:00:24
- Aspect Ratio:
- Topics: International Relations,Politics
- Story Text: News of Gambia's sudden withdrawal from the Commonwealth on Wednesday (October 03) is still being received in the country and across the continent, with many trying to analyse what all this means for the West African state.
The Commonwealth, a 54-member grouping including Britain and most of its former colonies, was branded as a "neo-colonial institution," according to a statement released by Gambia on Wednesday.
"The government has withdrawn its membership of the British Commonwealth and decided that the Gambia will never be a member of any neo-colonial institution and will never be a party to any institution that represents an extension of colonialism," read a statement broadcast on state television.
No further reason for the decision was given, but some are linking it to souring diplomatic relations with Britain.
There is a history of bad blood between President Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in a 1994 coup, and the country's former colonial master.
Jammeh has accused Britain of backing Gambia's political opposition ahead of 2011 elections, while Britain has criticised the Gambian government for its poor human rights record, including a series of executions carried out last year.
Jammeh's government has been accused by human rights groups of persecuting its political opponents and homosexuals.
Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus, a Researcher with Amnesty International, West Africa says the Commonwealth was one of the few institutions that had direct contact with the government and was working to bring reforms in its national human rights commission and judiciary.
She says the government must be pushed to improve the country human rights record.
"I think we must not let this Commonwealth withdrawal take away from the fact that the Gambia has an appalling human rights record there have been a number of arbitrary arrests, illegal detentions and forced disappearances, even torture of journalists, political opponents, human rights defenders, you know, this is a time to focus on that human rights record and to really put the Gambia under scrutiny and urge for a change within the government, because so far it's been able to operate with complete impunity for what it does to its people," said Sherman-Nikolaus.
Britain is one of Gambia's top global trading partners with over 25 million pounds ($40 million) worth of trade flowing between the two countries each year, according to figures on the British High Commission in the Gambia's website.
The Commonwealth is a voluntary grouping of independent countries and holds summits every two years, where member countries discuss issues that include trade, development and human rights records.
Gambia joined the commonwealth in 1965. A sliver of a country surrounded by Senegal, Gambia is a popular destination for European sun-seekers, many of them British, with its tropical climate and white beaches.
Analysts say it may be necessary for regional bodies to also put pressure on Gambia so that necessary changes within the government and its human rights record are made.
"What Amnesty International wants now is for African institutions such as the African Commission on Human and People's Rights and the Economic Community of West African States to take more leadership in condemning human rights violations in the Gambia, but also reinforcing the various recommendations that have been made to improve the human rights record there," said Sherman-Nikolaus.
One of Africa's more controversial rulers, Jammeh said in 2007 he had found a remedy of boiled herbs to cure AIDS, stirring anger among Western medical experts who claimed he was giving false hope to the sick.
In a speech before the United Nations General Assembly last week, Jammeh called homosexuality a threat to human existence and criticized other countries for regarding it as a human right.
Quitting the Commonwealth means Gambia would immediately forfeit technical assistance from the Britain and other Commonwealth members like Australia and Canada.
This assistance ranges from education scholarships to technical assistance for farmers and would impact investment.
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