Gambia pledges to abolish death penalty

The Gambia has pledged to abolish the death penalty in a clean break with the former regime of Yahya Jammeh, giving activists hope that more African states will follow its example .
President Adama Barrow, elected in December 2016 , signed a UN treaty on the abolition of capital punishment following his maiden speech at the world body ’ s general assembly , the government said in a press release Thursday.
“ By signing the treaties , the new Gambia continues to promote democracy and show the commitment of the state to protect lives of political activists , ” the statement said, referring to four other treaty pledges on issues including forced disappearances .
Jammeh, who ruled the country with an iron fist for 22 years until being forced from power after losing to Barrow, executed nine soldiers in 2012 and threatened to expand a list of capital crimes in 2015 in response to what he said was a rising crime rate .
Francophone west African nations such as Benin , Congo Republic and Guinea have all made steps to ending the death penalty in recent years .
But English - speaking countries in the region are lagging.
“ This is a positive step forward for Gambia when just five years ago people on death row were tragically executed and abolition seemed a pipe dream . We hope Gambia will lead the way, as no Anglophone country in West Africa has yet abolished the death penalty, ” said Amnesty International West Africa researcher Sabrina Mahtani .
Although the UN has welcomed the Gambian pledge , the numbers executed in the country ’ s once -notorious prisons are dwarfed by those who were forcibly disappeared, a figure that runs into the dozens , according to the authorities .
The government statement claimed the move — which must still be ratified — “ will remove fear and promote rule of law for citizens to express their civil and political rights . ”
The treaty — formally named the “Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights , aiming at the abolition of the death penalty” — has been ratified by 85 member states of the UN so far .