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The Covid-19 Pandemic and Constitutional Resilience in The Gambia

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Constitutional Resilience and the COVID-19 Pandemic
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Abstract

This chapter provides an assessment of The Gambia’s journey through the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic. It examines the country’s constitutional resilience in the face of the public health emergency which shook the country’s health, economic and constitutional setup. This chapter provides an overview of the pandemic by giving a narrative of the trajectory of events in terms of the number of cases, recoveries and fatalities registered. It also provides an overview of how the government responded and the constitutional and legal implications of government measures in response to the pandemic. This chapter argues that the exercise of emergency powers vested in the President by the 1997 Constitution and other emergency laws resulted in the limitation of fundamental rights and freedoms. These limitations were largely in accordance with international law and similar to those put in place in other jurisdictions. This chapter argues that while the constitutional framework of The Gambia enables the country to deal with public health emergencies, uneven application of the law may result in unfair limitation of rights of some sectors of society.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    Gambia Bureau of Statistics, https://www.gbosdata.org/infographics (accessed 20 May 2021).

  2. 2.

    UNDP Human development report 2019: Inequalities in human development in the 21st century (2019) 2.

  3. 3.

    UNDP Human development report 2020 (2020), http://hdr.undp.org/en/content/latest-human-development-index-ranking (accessed 5 July 2021).

  4. 4.

    See Chapters VI, VII and VIII of the 1997 Constitution of The Gambia.

  5. 5.

    See, for example, the limitations under sections 22, 23 and 25 of the 1997 Constitution.

  6. 6.

    Act 12 of 1965 Cap 17:04 vol. 4 Revised Laws of The Gambia, 2009.

  7. 7.

    ‘Gambia: Authorities confirm first case of Covid-19’ GARDAWORLD 18 March 2020, https://bit.ly/2ULXRP7 (accessed 27 April 2021).

  8. 8.

    WHO https://www.who.int/countries/gmb/ (accessed 5 August 2021).

  9. 9.

    Covid-19 Map of the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center (accessed 5 August 2021).

  10. 10.

    Ministry of Health ‘Situation report no 337: Confirmed Covid-19, 1–4 July 2021’ (July 2021).

  11. 11.

    J.C Mubanghizi ‘Poor Lives Matter: COVID-19 and the Plight of Vulnerable Groups with Specific Reference to Poverty and Inequality in South Africa’ 65 Journal of African Law 328.

  12. 12.

    The Markets and Shopping Areas Emergency Powers Regulations, 2020; Closure of National Borders Emergency Powers Regulations, 2020; and Restrictions on Movements of Persons Emergency Powers Regulations, 2020, all came into force and were used as stringent mechanisms targeting the spread of the virus.

  13. 13.

    Section 34(5) 1997 Constitution.

  14. 14.

    M van Staden ‘Constitutional rights and their limitations: A critical appraisal of the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa’ (2020) 20 African Human Rights Law Journal 491.

  15. 15.

    Section 36(5) 1997 Constitution.

  16. 16.

    Act 12 of 1965.

  17. 17.

    Vol. 6 Cap 40:03 Laws of The Gambia, 2009.

  18. 18.

    There is no public information on whether The Gambia, in line with article 4 of the ICCPR, notified the UN Secretary General of declaring a state of emergency. See Human Rights Committee, Statement on derogations from the Covenant in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic, 24 April 2020, paras. 1–2.

  19. 19.

    The Gambia Government Spokesperson Press Release of 5 August 2021.

  20. 20.

    Ibid.

  21. 21.

    US Embassy in The Gambia ‘Health alert: New state of emergency, curfew, and additional measures announced by the Gambian Government’, https://gm.usembassy.gov/health-alert-new-state-of-emergency-curfew-and-additional-measures-announced-by-the-gambian-government/ (accessed 28 May 2021).

  22. 22.

    President of the Republic of The Gambia Press Briefing 5 August 2020.

  23. 23.

    Available at https://covidtracker.bsg.ox.ac.uk/stringency-scatter (accessed 27 May 2021).

  24. 24.

    UNICEF ‘Update on the socio-economic situation following Covid-19 outbreak in The Gambia’ (27 March 2020), https://bit.ly/3iYT98E (accessed 27 May 2021).

  25. 25.

    GARDAWORLD (n 7 above).

  26. 26.

    Gambia Bar Association ‘The Bar calls on the presidency to follow due process in extending state of public emergency’ (9 July 2020), https://bit.ly/3zI0q3m (accessed 21 May 2021).

  27. 27.

    ‘National Assembly members to convene in the face of a national disaster (COVID-19)’ (11 August 2020), https://bit.ly/3zMkwJS (accessed 21 May 2021).

  28. 28.

    ‘Gambia: Non-state actors convene consultative meeting on Covid-19’ The Point 12 August 2021, https://allafrica.com/stories/202008120777.html (accessed 27 April 2021).

  29. 29.

    S Nabaneh ‘New Gambia and the Remaking of the Constitution’ ConstitutionNet, 16 March 2017, http://constitutionnet.org/news/new-gambia-and-remaking-constitution (accessed 29 April 2021).

  30. 30.

    M.A Babiker ‘COVID-19 and Sudan: The Impact on Economic and Social Rights in the Context of a Fragile Democratic Transition and Suspended Constitutionalism’ (2021) 65 Journal of African Law 312.

  31. 31.

    Section 37(1) 1997 Constitution.

  32. 32.

    Section 127 1997 Constitution.

  33. 33.

    UNDP ‘Gambia Covid-19 response 2020’ (2020) 11.

  34. 34.

    ‘Post-event report: assessing the independence of the judiciary in Sub-Saharan Africa’, https://www.kas.de/documents/275350/0/REPORT+-+ASSESSING+THE+CURRENT+SITUATION+OF+THE+INDEPENDENCE+OF+THE+JUDICIARY+IN+SUB-SAHARAN+AFRICA.pdf/3daa33e5-8e59-8611-5af6-03fa9e641e64?version=1.0&t=1605520228554 (accessed 27 April 2021).

  35. 35.

    C Fombad ‘Editorial introduction to special focus: Assessing the implications of COVID-19 pandemic regulations for human rights and the rule of law in Eastern and Southern Africa’ (2020) 20 African Human Rights Law Journal 369.

  36. 36.

    Judiciary of the Republic of The Gambia ‘For the first time in the history of the country, the Judiciary has introduced virtual court sittings amid the coronavirus pandemic’ (9 June 2020), https://judiciary.gov.gm/first-time-history-country-judiciary-has-introduced-virtual-court-sittings-amid-corona-virus (accessed on 21 May 2020).

  37. 37.

    ‘Gambia: court sentences 39 people for violating curfew, regulation on face mask wearing’ AllAfrica News 12 August 2020, https://allafrica.com/stories/202008130300.html (accessed 28 April 2021).

  38. 38.

    See M van Staden ‘Constitutional rights and their limitations: A critical appraisal of the COVID-19 lockdown in South Africa’ (2020) 20 African Human Rights Law Journal.

  39. 39.

    See, for example, J.C Mubanghizi (n 11 above) 245.

  40. 40.

    ‘Siracusa Principles on the limitation and derogation provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ Principle 8.

  41. 41.

    CM Fombad & LA Abdulrauf ‘Comparative overview of the constitutional framework for controlling the exercise of emergency powers in Africa’ (2020) 20 African Human Rights Law Journal 378.

  42. 42.

    African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights General Comment No. 5 on the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

  43. 43.

    C Fombad (n 41 above).

  44. 44.

    African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights ‘Guidelines on freedom of association and assembly in Africa’ 8.

  45. 45.

    As above, 85.

  46. 46.

    Ibid.

  47. 47.

    S Nabaneh ‘The use of emergency powers in response to Covid-19 in The Gambia’ Verfassungsblog 6 May 2021, https://bit.ly/377rFIs (accessed 25 June 2021).

  48. 48.

    OHCHR ‘International standards on freedom of religion or belief’, https://www.ohchr.org/en/issues/freedomreligion/pages/standards.aspx#6 (accessed 26 April 2021).

  49. 49.

    UNICEF (n 24 above).

  50. 50.

    Ibid.

  51. 51.

    M Manneh ‘Hunger and hardship creeps in as corona virus enters The Gambia’ Foroyaa 31 March 2020, https://foroyaa.net/hunger-and-hardship-creep-in-as-coronavirus-enters-the-gambia/ (accessed 29 April 2021).

  52. 52.

    UNICEF (n 24 above).

  53. 53.

    Nabaneh (n 47 above).

  54. 54.

    UNDP (n 33 above) 25.

  55. 55.

    O Bah ‘Niamina West NAM calls for reopening of lumos’ The Standard 30 September 2020, https://standard.gm/niamina-nam-calls-for-reopening-of-lumos/ (accessed 29 April 2021).

  56. 56.

    See United Nations Commission on Human Rights ‘Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation of Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights’ (1984).

  57. 57.

    The government has made some efforts in ensuring access to vaccine as highlighted above. Recently on 20 July 2021, a badge of 151, 200 dose of the Johnson and Jonson (J&J) Vaccine under the COVAX facility arrived in The Gambia in addition to earlier donations by the United States government. In scaling up the COVID-19 vaccination programme, the J&J vaccine has been introduced into the nationwide campaign which is currently underway and implemented in communities and health facilities across the country, as well as in different strategic locations such as ‘bantabas’, points of entry and other identified areas. Ethical or legal issues have not arisen in this regard in the country.

  58. 58.

    See S Nabaneh, ‘Constitutional developments in The Gambia: 2020’ Law Hub Gambia (2020).

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Nabaneh, S., Bah, B. (2022). The Covid-19 Pandemic and Constitutional Resilience in The Gambia. In: Durojaye, E., Powell, D.M. (eds) Constitutional Resilience and the COVID-19 Pandemic. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-06401-2_6

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