The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) is to look into how at least 56 West African nationals, including 44 Ghanaians, died in 2005 when it resumes public hearings on October 12, in Banjul.
The TRRC took two breaks this year following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Baba Galleh Jallow, the TRRC Executive Secretary, explained in a statement: “The decision to resume public hearings was taken after careful consultations and considerations of the COVID-19 situation in the country.
“The TRRC is also cognisant of the palpable desire of the Gambian public for hearings to resume.”
The families of the West African migrants who were killed and 11 human rights organisations around the world have been pushing for the last 15 years to find out what happened to the victims who were allegedly murdered by members of the Gambian security forces acting on the orders of then-President Yahya Jammeh.
“A credible international investigation is needed if we’re ever going to get to the bottom of the 2005 massacre of West African migrants and create the conditions to bring those responsible to justice,” said Emeline Escafit, legal adviser at TRIAL International.
“Until now, information has come out in dribs and drabs, year after year, from different sources.”
On July 22, 2005, Gambian security forces arrested the migrants on suspicion of involvement in a coup attempt after their boat, which was bound for Europe, landed in The Gambia.
Over the next 10 days, the migrants – 44 Ghanaians, nine Nigerians, two Togolese, and nationals of Cote d’Ivoire and Senegal, plus one Gambian – were killed in The Gambia or taken across the border into Senegal, shot and their bodies dumped in wells.
“I have been fighting for 15 years for truth and for justice for my companions who were killed,” said Martin Kyere from Ghana, who jumped into the forest from a moving truck carrying other detained migrants who were killed shortly afterwards.
When Mr Kyere returned to Ghana, he began rallying the victims’ families.
“African leaders say that migrants should be treated with dignity, but for us, honouring their memory means justice, not lies and cover-ups.”
The groups seeking justice for the Ghanaian victims include Africa Legal Aid (AFLA), based in The Hague, and the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative Africa Office, which established the Gambia Task Force in 2007.
During the 17th Assembly of States Parties (ASP) to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2018, AFLA convened a side event on bringing Jammeh to Justice.
Mr Kyere, one of three Ghanaian survivors of the 2005 massacres, was invited to the AFLA meeting at which he asked why there had been no justice for the West African migrants.
“In Ghana, we have Circuit Courts, we have High Courts, we have the Appeal Court, and we have the Supreme Court,” he said.
“In Africa, we have the ECOWAS Court and the African Court, so why can’t there be justice for Jammeh’s victims?”
A campaign group, Jammeh2JusticeGhana, launched in Accra in 2018, called for prosecution of Mr Jammeh.
“Bringing Jammeh to trial in Ghana would be only a first step to ensure that the former Gambian strongman does not escape the wings of justice,” said Evelyn Ankumah, AFLA Executive Director.
During the launch, the Chairman of the event, Justice Emile Short, the first Chairperson of the Ghana Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice, and former ad litem Judge at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, highlighted the judicial options available for Mr Jammeh to be prosecuted by the Ghanaian government.
Pointing out that extradition of Mr Jammeh to Ghana would be required, Justice Short opined: “Given the evidence that has been compiled, and the gravity of the offences, which have been demonstrated by those who have testified to it, I think that a momentum can be gathered to ensure international support for a request for extradition of Yahya Jammeh to Ghana to face trial.”
In December 2019, President Nana Akufo-Addo told the media that having heard the confessions by the Junglers, members of Mr Jammeh’s death squad, the Gambian government should “instigate the trials” of the people who had been named.
The Gambian government said that it was awaiting the recommendations of the TRRC, expected in 2021, before deciding on which Jammeh-era crimes to prosecute.
The Commission’s initial plan was to finish public hearings this month.
“However, as a result of two suspensions of public hearing due to the Covid-19 situation, that is clearly not possible,” said the TRRC’s Jallow.
“As things stand, hearings may continue into the first quarter of 2021.”