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Death Penalty Suspended in The Gambia

The Gambia’s President, Adama Barrow, recently announced the suspension of the death penalty in his country in a move toward outright abolition.

Source: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Source: Carl de Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Since the beginning of his presidency, Barrow has sought to realign the Gambia’s legal standards with that of international law. The country’s former dictator of 22 years, Yahya Jammeh, last used the death penalty in 2012, when nine soldiers were executed by firing squad. This incident sparked widespread controversy within the country, as many Gambians grew frustrated with the administration’s lack of respect for human rights.

Sabrina Mahtani, an Amnesty International researcher for West Africa, told The Independent: “This is a positive step forward for Gambia when just six years ago people on death row were tragically executed and abolition seemed a pipe dream." In abolishing the death penalty, the Gambia would serve as a leader in the West African region as the first Anglophone country to do so.

Over the past few years, a trend throughout the African continent has shown that countries are attempting to turn their backs on capital punishment. According to an Amnesty International report, the number of known executions in Sub-Saharan Africa decreased from 64 in 2013 to 46 in 2014. These executions occurred in only three countries: Equatorial Guinea (9), Somalia (14), and Sudan (23). There was also a decrease in the amount of countries that imposed death sentences, from 19 in 2013 to 18 in 2014.

Source: Amnesty International

Source: Amnesty International

Nevertheless, while actual executions might be in decline, the region still struggles to eradicate capital punishment outright. In Malawi, for example, the last known execution was carried out in 1992, but the country still will not consider abolition. Moreover, in 2014, 2,466 people were sentenced to death in Africa, with 659 of them being in Nigeria alone. In the Republic of Congo and Ghana, similarly, both countries have looked into changing their policies on the death penalty, yet neither country has fully abolished it as of yet.

If confirmed, the Gambia’s move to abolish capital punishment would be revolutionary and serve as a model for those in the region considering a similar move. As a prominent human rights issue that has been on the international agenda, capital punishment may soon find itself a thing of the past if countries like the Gambia take the lead in pursuing more humanitarian policies in regards to legal punishment.