As part of the ongoing Security Sector Reform (SSR), new buildings described as “model police stations” were on Monday inaugurated in Serrekunda, Bundung, and Bakoteh.
Speaking at the ceremony in Serrekunda, President Adama Barrow said, among other things, that the new structures conform with human rights standards.
Barrow also said police officers now have a conducive working environment and must show improved standards and professionalism.
Speaking in Wolof, Barrow also pointed out that arrested persons have rights and that the conditions in which people are held in custody are important.
He explained that the SSR is not all about replacing and downsizing public security personnel but also about improving the working conditions of national security forces everywhere.
Our focus is on whether the detention cells in the new purpose-built structures (police stations) conform with international best practice standards.
A fleeting camera glimpse of the cells at the new Serrekunda “model” police station suggests that they are few and small – considering the size of the area’s population, for instance.
What about the toilet and sleeping facilities – are detainees still going to sit and lie on the bare floor in cold pneumonia-causing conditions (depending on the weather) and mosquito-infested cells?
Also, will persons held in custody – however briefly or sometimes depending on someone’s whims and caprices – be made to stay in the cell before the expiry of the mandatory 72 hours when they must appear before a judge/magistrate sitting in a proper court?
Will detainees have to be taken out of the cell whenever they want to use the toilet and drink water from the tap in the bathroom?
In our view, these are legitimate questions that should be considered in providing the new “model” structures – definitely, as part of attaining the “New Gambia” which President Barrow himself, in his speech at the inauguration, said he wants to leave as his legacy.
Now, again, especially when we all could recall that the detention conditions were an issue at the TRRC public hearings.
Indeed, they highlighted the inhuman and degrading conditions detainees endured in our police stations, prisons, and other illegal places of detention created during the dictatorship.
This matter is relevant, as well as important, when you see the nature of police cells throughout the length and breadth of this country, starting with Banjul police station, and conditions in the previous cells at the old police station buildings in Serekunda, Bundung, and Bakoteh.
Thus, being an important pillar of the broader Transitional Justice process, the SSR will address the state of police cells countrywide.
That would be consistent with President Barrow’s reminder that a person arrested has rights and must be respected at the police stations where people are held in custody.
One would also expect that the donors pay attention to the conditions and facilities of detention, consistent with their advocacy for respect for human rights in a democracy.
The EU provided funding to build the “model” buildings, and the German GTZ is the implementing agency, going by statements made at the ceremony.
Finally, ideally, the views and input of human rights NGOs/CSOs must always be sought in the provision of such buildings – consistent with the official rhetoric about reform processes that are participatory and inclusive.