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Gambia: Death Penalty for Drug Offenses Abolished

(Apr. 11, 2011) It was reported on April 6, 2011, that the 53-member unicameral Gambian National Assembly amended three laws, the Drug Control Act of 2003, the Criminal Code Act of 1933, and the Trafficking in Persons Act of 2007, to bring them in line with the 1997 Gambian Constitution, specifically section 18, which limits the imposition of a sentence of death to offenses involving violence or the administration of toxic substances resulting in death. (Lamin B. Darboe, New Drug Control Act Increases Fine Against Offenders, THE POINT (Apr. 6, 2011); Constitution of the Republic of the Gambia, 1997 (reprinted 2002), National Assembly website (last visited Apr. 11, 2011).)

The National Assembly abolished the death penalty for drug-related offenses while making other penalties for such offenses stiffer. An offense of “possession of cocaine or heroin amounting to or more than 250 grams” was a capital offense under the 2010 law. (Musa Ndow, Death Sentence for Drug Dealers As Assembly Amends Drug Control Bill, THE DAILY OBSERVER (Oct. 6, 2010).) Under the new law, the maximum penalty for the same offense is reduced to life in prison. (Darboe, supra.) However, the fine for the offense has been dramatically increased; from GMD1 million (about US$38,388) to GMD10 million (about US$383,880). (Id.)

The specifics of the amendments made to the Criminal Code Act and the Trafficking in Persons Act 2007 are not clear. On October 4, 2010, the National Assembly approved an amendment to the Trafficking in Persons Act in which it made the “grave” form of the offense of trafficking in persons (i.e., when it involves the rape or death of the victim or when the victim is a child) a capital offense. (Hanibal Goitom, Gambia: National Assembly Approves Amendment to Anti-Human Trafficking Law, GLOBAL LEGAL MONITOR (Oct. 13, 2010)). A change in this law to make it compatible with the 1997 Constitution probably focuses on the definition of the term “grave” as it applies to trafficking of children, because imposing a death sentence for trafficking in persons that involves rape or death appears to be covered already under the clause of section 18 of the Constitution on offenses involving violence resulting in death.