The Gambia received assurances of continued strong support from the European Union yesterday as President Barrow welcomed a delegation from the European Union Human Rights External Action Service.
The leader of the delegation, EU Special Representative for Human Rights Stavros Lambrinidis, congratulated President Barrow for what he described as the remarkable democratic transition in the country and the bravery of the Gambian people. He reassured the President that the EU would remain a steadfast partner of the Gambian government and people in the transition.
Discussions with the visiting delegation covered governance issues, including the country’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission, engagement of Gambian youth in politics, both constitutional and security sector reforms, and female genital mutilation among others.
President Barrow acknowledged the confidence and strong support that he received from the European Union during the political impasse in The Gambia early in the year. He told the EU Special Representative that upholding human rights remained one of the big issues for his government, which was optimistic and willing to learn from others’ experiences.
The President spoke about the comprehensive reforms underway in different areas, including the security sector. He told Mr Lambrinidis that his government was working towards a new and all-encompassing constitution for the Third Republic. President Barrow said Coalition members would continue to work together to nurture the change that they all fought for, despite their coming from different ideological leanings.
President Barrow said supporters of the former regime were part of Gambian society and like everyone else, were stakeholders in the reforms taking place. He added that some of the former president’s supporters had embraced the change of regime and were supporting his government. Mr Barrow said: “In politics there are no permanent friends and no permanent enemies. One has to be courageous to take criticism.”
Discussing the issue of female genital mutilation or “FGM,” President Barrow said his government would uphold the law banning FGM, and stressed the need to raise more awareness about the practice and the law against it.
Mr Lambrinidis said the EU respected President Barrow’s leadership for the inspiration he had given to many during the impasse. He acknowledged that it was not easy to build institutions, instill a culture of freedom and security, and at the same time secure a presence for one’s country in the international community all at once. He said The Gambia, through its example as a human rights leader, could continue to inspire many countries on the African continent and around the world, and demonstrate that it is possible for human rights, security and development to all work together.
The EU special representative commended the Gambian leader for signing five United Nations treaties at once at the UN General Assembly in September. He commended Mr Barrow for demonstrating leadership, and urged The Gambia to go further, beyond the signing of the treaties.
Mr Lambrinidis said he appreciated the efforts of the government to change policies, hearts and minds, and integrate human rights in its reforms. He added that the Barrow administration had encouraged many with the inclusion of members of civil society in its endeavours. He assured the President of the EU’s commitment to support an exchange of ideas and practices with other countries. “Focus on human rights as your new stamp, and keep in mind that you are an inspiration to many others,” he told President Barrow.
Also discussed during the meeting were plans for an upcoming donor’s conference in February 2018, and an African Union/European Union continental meeting on youth and job creation.
Speaking with the media right after the audience, Mr Lambrinidis told reporters President Barrow was working on various big challenges, including youth employment, improving prison conditions, rehabilitation, and security reforms, and that the President was determined to achieve this through a human rights inspired policy. He said doing so would ensure that changes take root and stay in place. He said: “For our part, the EU is standing by the Gambian government in this effort. Our support is both moral, certainly economic, and any other way in which we can stand by The Gambia in this transition. We will continue to do so.”
The EU Ambassador to The Gambia, His Excellency, Attilia Lajos was part of the EU delegation.