The African Centre for Parliamentary Affairs (ACEPA), an African not-for-profit organisation based in Ghana and dedicated to building the capacity of African Parliaments, has urged members of the Gambia’s parliamentary caucus on Freedom of Religion or Belief Leadership Network (FoRBLN) and faith leaders to rededicate their efforts in promoting and protecting human rights, especially rights that relate to Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB) at the national and constituency levels in The Gambia.
ACEPA, with the support from its partners including FoRBLN, the Church of England and in collaboration of the International Panel of Parliamentarians for Freedom of Religion or Belief (IPPFoRB) and African Parliamentarians Network for Human Rights (AfriPAHR), under the auspices of the FoRBLN initiative, organised the launching of the Gambia Parliamentary Caucus in Banjul, Gambia on December 3rd, 2022.
Present at the launching were members of the parliamentary caucus, faith leaders (representatives of the Christian Council of The Gambia and the Supreme Islamic Council of The Gambia).
Also present at the launching was the Deputy Clerk of the National Assembly, representing the Clerk, the British High Commissioner to The Gambia and civil society representatives.
In his welcome remarks, the Executive Director of ACEPA, Dr. Rasheed Draman, noted that ACEPA and its partners firmly believe that the respect for freedom of religion or belief is a fundamental prerequisite for the advancement of peace and stability in the world.
The right of every citizen to practice or not to practice any religion or belief is at the heart of democracy. It is the foundation of our shared humanity. These beliefs, he noted, are the driving force behind the efforts of ACEPA and its partners to engage with Parliaments, faith leaders and Civil Society Organizations around the world. He observed that what was witnessed today was ‘’historic”. “It was pioneering.’’
The Gambia is the first country on the continent to set and officially launch a Parliamentary Caucus on Freedom of Religion or Belief (FoRB).
This, in Dr. Draman’s view, is a clear demonstration that The Gambia does not take the harmony that exists amongst its citizenry for granted. He assured members of the Caucus and faith leaders gathered at the launch that ACEPA and its partners will continue to travel with them on this journey of nurturing and maintaining religious and belief tolerance in The Gambia. He also extended his sincere thanks to the British Government who, through the Foreign and Commonwealth Office has made funding available to ACEPA and its partners to advance this noble human cause. The Rt. Hon. Speaker of the national assembly of The Gambia, the authorities of the National Assembly were acknowledged for the warm welcome extended to ACEPA and for providing space in their calendar for the implementation of the FoRBLN project.
The Deputy Clerk on his part thanked participants for making time to be present for the launch, noting that the right to practice one’s deeply held beliefs is a defining issue of our time. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the fundamental principle underpinning the work of Freedom of Religion or Belief Leadership Network (FoRBLN). It defines freedom of religion or belief as: ‘the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion’. This article states that everyone has the right to choose a religion or belief, or to have no religious belief at all.
The Deputy Clerk noted that in The Gambia, the issues relating to the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion are guaranteed by the national constitution. And that The Gambia has been blessed with inter-faith and inter-religious harmony. This harmony needs to be nurtured and jealously protected. As such, it is vitally important to recognise the fact that in practice, there are still hurdles that need to be overcome in The Gambia to ensure religious discrimination against minority groups is totally eradicated. He pledged the full support of the National Assembly to the work of the Caucus in advancing the noble goal of protecting the rights and freedoms of Gambians.
The Interim Chairman of the Parliamentary Caucus on FoRBLN, Hon. Amadou Camara echoed the point that this has been a historic event, noting that before the launch of the parliamentary caucus, a great deal of preparatory work was done behind the scenes. He emphasised the centrality of the right to choice of religion or belief, and urged members of the parliamentary caucus and faith leaders to work hard to protect these rights that have found expression in both national laws and international treaties. He underscored the paramountcy of advocacy for peace and harmony since, as he noted, without peace, rights will be imperilled
The British High Commissioner to The Gambia, His Excellency David Belgrove, indicated that the British government is supporting the FoRBLN initiative because it believes freedom of religion or belief fosters peace and democratic values, and countries that persecute people because of their religious beliefs happen to be autocratic regimes. For him this support constitutes the British government’s modest contribution to The Gambia’s democratic journey. He congratulated the newly formed caucus and extended his best wishes to the caucus as it begins the real work of nurturing the peace and harmony that The Gambia enjoys.
The highlight of the launch of the Caucus was the signing of the Banjul Charter for Freedom of Religion or Belief.
All participants present signed the Charter and committed themselves to:
a. Promote freedom of religion or belief for all persons through their work and respective institutions.
b. Enhance global cooperation by endeavouring to work across geographical, political religious lines.
c. Undertake efforts to jointly promote freedom of religion or belief, share information, and mobilize effective responses.
d. Support appropriate initiatives that advance freedom of religion or belief for women and young people;
e. Identify and support future parliamentarians and faith leaders who show a commitment to freedom of religion or belief.
Source: Contributor/The Gambia