In 2016, Adama Barrow was elected president of The Gambia, putting an end to the 24 years rule of former president Yahya Jammeh. A Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission was established to document violations committed from 1994 to January 2017 and oversee reparations to victims. In September 2018, Gambia ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty, and President Barrow commuted the death sentences of 22 prisoners to life imprisonment in May 2019. On 9 May 2018, the Gambian Supreme Court ruled the criminal defamation law and the law on false news on the internet unconstitutional, but the law on sedition in relation to the president remains.
Despite the Barrow administration’s 2017 pledge to create a more conducive environment for NGOs, the law continues to require NGOs to register with the National Advisory Council. It provides the council with the authority to deny, suspend, or cancel the right of any NGO to operate in the country.
Freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and freedom of expression were threatened with the crackdown on the protest movement against Barrow's decision to remain president for five years instead of the three he had previously promised. In January 2020, police fired tear gas and arrested 137 people during one such demonstration. The “3 years JOTNA movement”, a group that led weeks of protests calling for Barrow's resignation, was banned by the government for subversion, violence and illegal activities. The government ordered two radio stations, Home Digital FM and King FM, to shut down, and arrested their directors, accusing them of inciting violence, broadcasting an anti-Barrow protest and threatening the security of The Gambia.
On 30 June 2020, human rights defender Madi Jobarteh was charged with "false information and broadcasting” in accordance with Section 181A (1) of the criminal code. The charges against him were linked to an interview in which he criticized the government's inaction in investigating the deaths of Haruna Jatta, Ousman Darboe and Kebba Secka, three citizens reportedly killed by Gambian police officers between June 2017 and July 2019. On 10 July 2020, the Inspector General of The Gambia Police Force dropped the charges against him.
Despite the commitments taken by the government for the respect of human rights, there is no law protecting human rights defenders in Gambia.
Despite the criminalisation of female genital mutilation/cutting (FGM/C), this practice is deeply enrooted in society and those reporting and advocating against FGM/C face a hostile work environment. The Gambia provides no protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. Despite President Barrow’s promise not to prosecute same-sex couples for consensual sexual acts, the government has not repealed laws that criminalize same-sex conduct, including the October 2014 law that imposes sentences of up to life in prison for “aggravated homosexuality” offences. With strong social discrimination against LGBTI+ individuals, the environment for human rights defenders working on these rights is particularly hostile.
In September 2020, the National Assembly of The Gambia rejected the Constitution Promulgation Bill. 31 National Assembly members voted in favour of the bill and 23 members rejected the new draft constitution, but it needed 75% of members to support it to pass. The draft constitution has been the product of two and a half years work with a nationwide consultation with Gambians undertaken. The draft constitution included a presidential term limit of two five-year terms and provisions to ensure better rights for vulnerable groups, including women, older members of society, persons with disabilities, children and youth.