Jordana Jackson

Gambia introduces death penalty for drug possession

on 07 October 2010

As ‘World Day Against the Death Penalty’ approaches, The Gambia in Western Africa has introduced the death penalty for drug possession.

October 10, 2010 marks the 8th World Day Against the Death Penalty. In contrast, The Gambia, on Monday, amended the Principal Act of the Drug Control and introduced the death penalty for any individual found in possession of more than 250 grams of cocaine or heroine. Previously, the penalty for such possession was a jail sentence lasting 30-40 years.

Edward Anthony Gomez, the Attorney General and minister of Justice, tabled the bill and it received support from both sides of the National Assembly. The law was passed on Tuesday.

Why, in the face of countries around the world abolishing the death penalty, has The Gambia introduced this sentence for drug possession?

According to Gomez, there is increasing evidence of drug smugglers at work in The Gambia. South American drug traffickers target the country, making the most of its poverty and weak judicial systems, and use it as a transit point for trafficking drugs to Europe.

Not helping matters, in June at least two tonnes of cocaine with a street value of approximately £675 million ($1 billion) were seized, resulting in twelve foreigners standing trial in connection with the drugs. In speaking to parliament in support of the bill, Gomez stated that “the devastating impact of these activities on the stability and development of any state cannot be overemphasized”.

Gomez additionally declared that the death penalty “will serve as a deterrent to anyone wishing to use this country either as a transit or destination point for hard drugs”. In fact, this does not stand – the death penalty has not been found to serve as a deterrent (further reading on this fact can be found on Reprieve’s website here). In other countries where a death sentence applies to drug possession, such as Thailand, it does not seem to act as a deterrent.

Perhaps the most unfortunate aspect of this change in the law is that The Gambia was once an abolitionist country. In 1995 the President Yahya Jammeh reintroduced capital punishment for the offence of treason. Despite the last executions occurring in 1981, prior to abolition, in July eight people were sentenced to death for plotting to overthrow the government.

Regrettably, instead of taking the opportunity at the National Assembly to re-abolish the death penalty for the single crime that attracted it, the penalty was applied elsewhere. Again, it must be asked why The Gambia is introducing this sentence as it clearly contradicts both claims of capital punishment’s role as a deterrent and the global trend of abolishing the death penalty….

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