Dakar - UN human rights chief Navi Pillay on Thursday said Gambia's execution of nine death row prisoners was an unfortunate setback for human rights as scores of Senegalese protested outside Gambia's embassy in Dakar.
Another 38 convicts face the firing squad in coming weeks after Gambian President Yahya Jammeh ordered the execution of the nine and pledged to carry out all the sentences by mid-September.
Pillay, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said she was appalled by the executions.
"The Gambia has, for almost three decades, been one of the increasing number of states that did not practice capital punishment - until this sudden, grave, unfortunate change of course," she said in a statement.
In Senegal, President Macky Sall called on Prime Minister Abdoul Mbaye at a cabinet meeting to press African and international institutions to condemn the executions and implement sanctions.
Demonstrators implored the international community to intervene after the nine prisoners, including two Senegalese citizens, were executed for their crimes last Sunday in the tiny country which is wedged into Senegal.
The protesters chanted "Yahya assassin! Jammeh criminal!" and "Jammeh to the ICC (International Criminal Court)" as a handful of riot police kept watch.
"We want to alert the international community to say there are 38 people on death row and if nothing is done... these people will be executed and thrown into mass graves," said Alioune Tine of the Dakar-based African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights.
"As we speak no remains are in the hands of families."
Tine said Jammeh was a "modern day Idi Amin," referring to the former Ugandan dictator, adding: "We must absolutely end the regime of this dictator."
Jammeh, a former soldier, seized power in a bloodless coup in 1994.
No fair trial
Sheriff Bojang, a Gambian journalist exiled in Dakar like many of his colleagues who have fled persecution, is the first cousin of Lieutenant Lamin Jarjou - one of three soldiers executed on Sunday.
He said his cousin was accused of involvement in a bloody counter-coup attempt in 1994, and another several years later.
"That is what they said. He was tried, obviously they were beaten, coerced into signing things. We believed there was never a fair trial," Bojang told AFP.
Like most prisoners in Gambia, Jarjou was convicted by judges known locally as "machinery judges", hired by Jammeh from Nigeria. "He has the right to fire and hire them anytime so they only do what he wants them to do," Bojang said.
In all the time Jarjou was in prison, the only person to see him was his brother, for 10 minutes, during a hospital stay, he added.
Amnesty has said many on death row were tried on "politically motivated charges and subjected to torture and other ill-treatment to force confessions".
Jammeh, who claims he can cure Aids, is often pilloried for rights abuses and the muzzling of journalists. He has in the past threatened to cut off the heads of homosexuals and heaps derision on any criticism from the West.
"We have information that he has become completely mad; it is that in fact, there is no explanation," said Diene Ndiaye of Amnesty Senegal.
Meanwhile, Gambian ministers met late Thursday with western representatives, stressing that the executions were in line with the country's laws, the presidency said.
"Every sovereign state has its own national laws, which may be different from other countries, and in the case of the Gambia, the sentences that were handed out were in due compliance with the laws of the country," the statement said.
The "delegates" from the European Union, the United States and Britain were told that "no judicial system in the world is perfect, including in their own countries", the statement added.