November 7, 2014 / 6:14 PM / 3 years ago

U.N. says Gambia blocks investigators probing torture and killings

GENEVA (Reuters) - Gambia has blocked United Nations human rights investigators from completing an investigation into torture and killings during the first ever visit to the West African country by U.N. experts, the world body said on Friday.

Gambia's President Yahya Jammeh attends the leaders meeting at the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa July 15, 2012. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Christof Heyns and Juan Méndez, the independent U.N. investigators respectively for illegal killings and for torture, heard many allegations of extrajudicial executions of government opponents, journalists and activists and also of the widespread use of torture during their Nov. 3-7 visit, it said.

“We would like to recall the duty of the government to take measures to prevent and punish deprivation of life by criminal acts and to prevent arbitrary killing by their own security forces,” they said in a joint statement issued by the U.N. human rights office.

Heyns, who is U.N. special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said their inability to visit sections of a Banjul prison despite written guarantees obtained in advance suggested the government had something to hide.

There was no immediate reaction from the government of President Yahya Jammeh, who has led the West African nation of 1.8 million people for two decades.

Jammeh has in the past drawn international condemnation by subjecting political opponents to torture, forcing them to confess to sedition on television and executing prisoners in 2012. At a U.N. General Assembly, he stirred outrage by attacking gay rights as a threat to humanity.

The veteran investigators, from South Africa and the United States, said they had been forbidden access to the security wing of the Banjul prison where death row prisoners are held.

“... an inference must be drawn that there is something important to hide. This incident forced us to suspend this integral part of the visit,” said Heyns.

Executions were re-introduced abruptly in Gambia in August 2012, and nine death row prisoners were executed that month, the investigators said.

“According to available evidence, the death sentences were imposed in violation of international fair trial standards, including the most serious crimes provisions,” they said, referring to provisions that the death penalty should be imposed for only the most serious crimes such as murder.

Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Gareth Jones

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