Panafrican News Agency

Gambia truth commission commences hearings on 2005 migrant massacre

Banjul, Gambia(PANA) - Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC) is on Wednesday holding hearings at its current session, which began on 22 February, on the 2005 massacre of more than 50 West African migrants.

It was the largest loss of life during the rule of former president Yahya Jammeh, according to Human Rights Watch.

The human rights advocate said about 44 Ghanaians, nine Nigerians two Togolese and nationals of Côte d’Ivoire, Gambia, and Senegal are believed to have been killed over several days in July 2005. Among those scheduled to testify is Ghanaian Martin Kyere, the sole known survivor.

Kebba Bah, a police officer who interacted with the African migrants in July 2005, commenced his testimony on Wednesday.

Human Rights Watch said previous official attempts to investigate the massacre "have been stymied or flawed".

It noted that Ghana attempted to investigate the killings in 2005 and 2006, but was blocked by the then-Jammeh government.

In 2008, the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) formed a joint investigative team, which produced a report in April 2009 that was said to have concluded that the Gambian government was not “directly or indirectly complicit” in the deaths and enforced disappearances.

It blamed “rogue” elements in Gambia’s security services “acting on their own” for the massacre. The UN/ECOWAS report has never been made public, however, despite repeated requests by the victims and by five human rights experts. 

The statement said a 2018 report by TRIAL International and Human Rights Watch, based on interviews with 30 former Jammeh-era officials, found, however, that Jammeh’s closest associates in the army, the navy, and the police detained the migrants, and then the “Junglers”, a unit of Gambian soldiers operating under Jammeh’s orders, summarily executed them.

TRIAL and Human Rights Watch also found that the Gambian government destroyed key evidence before the UN/ECOWAS team arrived.

In July 2019, three former Junglers testified publicly before the truth commission that they and 12 other Junglers had carried out the killings on Jammeh’s orders.

One of the officers, Omar Jallow, recalled that the operation’s leader told the men that “the order from ... Jammeh is that they are all to be executed.”

Human Rights Watch said the upcoming truth commission hearings are expected to shed light on the massacre and the cover-up.

“I have been fighting for 15 years for truth and for justice for my companions who were killed,” said Kyere.

He had escaped from a moving truck carrying other detained migrants who were killed shortly thereafter. Since then he has been organising the families of the victims.

Kyere will be in Banjul for the hearings together with William Nyarko, executive director of the Africa Centre for International Law and Accountability (ACILA), who coordinates the  Jammeh2Justice Ghana campaign.

-0- PANA MSS/MA 24Feb2021