The Gambia Human Rights Commission has expressed extreme concern about the rising religious tension and intolerance within the country that have been making headline news over the past few weeks.
A statement made available on Wednesday referred to the tense religious exchanges on social media, threats against individuals, intra-faith divisions, and attacks on two Churches in Tallingding and Bakau as stark reminders that ‘we can no longer take our religious tolerance for granted’.
“We wish to remind everyone that The Gambia is a country of many faiths and as such religious diversity and tolerance should be a key feature of our public and social life.
“Each faith has played and continues to play a profound role in the development of the country and our collective identity and values. People of all faiths should live in peaceful co-existence and avoid inciting hatred between different religions and religious sects.
“It is therefore important that our diversity unites and not divide us and leads to collaboration and communal harmony.”
“Our 1997 Constitution guarantees to all persons in the country the right to freedom of religion and belief and the right to freedom from discrimination on the grounds of religion or other beliefs.
“The Gambia is also a signatory to several regional and international human rights treaties that also recognize and protect the right to practice and manifest any religion,” the statement said.
The commission noted that growing religious intolerance, discrimination, social hostility, and incitement to violence based on religion or belief was worrying.
The Commission urged the Government to take immediate steps towards defusing the spread of intolerance and to guarantee the protection of the rights of all faiths.
“We must all promote peaceful and sustainable co-existence amongst all people,” the statement said.
The Commission further urged the government to continue to speak out against all forms of religious intolerance emanating from any sect or group and to expedite the implementation of recommendations on Religious Freedoms of the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC).
A government White Paper on the recommendations accepts “to encourage and foster religious tolerance and social cohesion and establish interfaith consultative bodies that will be mandated to carry out activities that will help strengthen religious tolerance and social cohesion”.
“Everyone, including the Government, CSOs, faith-based organizations, and religious bodies, have a responsibility to build and maintain harmonious and positive relationships and to promote mutual respect and understanding.
“The Commission is committed to working with the Government and all stakeholders to ensure religious tolerance and harmony prevail in the country and is hopeful that the Government will take constructive steps towards providing equal rights for all religions and religious groups in The Gambia,” the statement said.