Gambian lawmakers have voiced their support for the abolition of the death penalty for drug-related offences and approved new amendments, presented before the National Assembly members by Attorney General and minister of Justice, Hon. Edward Gomez. Death sentences for drug-related offences will now be replaced by life imprisonment while stricter fines have also been imposed.
The legislators had in October 2010 approved a law that imposes the death penalty on people convicted of being in possession of cocaine or heroine amounting to or more than 250 grams.
Presenting three bills for amendment on Monday, Justice minister Edward Gomez acknowledged that the amendment of the Drug Control Act in 2010 overlooked Section 18 (2) of The Gambia Constitution of 1997 which stipulates that no court in the country “shall be competent to impose a sentence of death for any offence unless the sentence is prescribed by law and the offence involves violence, or the administration of any toxic substance, resulting in the death of another person.”
The new amendments would now be known as the Drugs Control (Amendment) Act 2011, Trafficking in Person (Amendment) Act 2011 and Criminal Code (Amendment) Act 2011 respectively.
The Attorney General advanced that Section 28(3) of the principal act is amended by substituting the words ‘sentence to death’ for ‘life imprisonment’ with or without corporal punishment, citing that the bill aims at bringing the amendment of the Drugs Control Act 2003 in line with Section (18) of the 1997 constitution. Fines of one million dalasi in different sections of the Drug Control Act 2003 have also now been amended to ten million dalasi and fifty million dalasi respectively.
According to the Justice minister, it is a global fact that trafficking in drugs has caused widespread chaos in many countries, as drug lords battle in control of trafficking routes in South America. Many drug related crimes have also surfaced, and The Gambia must thus act consistently to protect its national interests from the chaos that could result from drug-related businesses.
Voicing his support for the amendment, majority leader and member for Serrekunda East, Hon. Fabakary Tombong Jatta described it as being responsive to the dictates of The Gambia constitution, commending the minister for the hard work that had gone into the amendment.
He further asked all members of the Assembly to back the amendment, noting that the security of The Gambia rests on its ability to combat drug-related businesses.
Also speaking, Hon. Momodou LK Sanneh, minority leader and member for Kiang West supported the amendments on the point that it was brought to toe the line of the constitution, but asked for a little leniency in the sentences prescribed.
Other contributors also voiced their support for the amendments. The legislators went ahead to ratify them.