The Gambia has accepted a recommendation of its Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) to prosecute former leader, Yahya Jammeh, and 13 others for the killings of unarmed economic migrants from some ECOWAS countries in 2005.
A Government of The Gambia White Paper on the recommendations of the TRRC, issued on May 25, 2022, agreed that a paranoid Jammeh sanctioned the executions, aided by the 13 others it called “enablers and accomplices”.
It described the extra-judicial killings as brutal and state-sponsored.
The 13 others named to face prosecution include Ousman Sonko, Solo Bojang, Malick Jatta (Alfidie), Sanna Manjang, Kawsu Camara (Bombardier) and Tumbul Tamba.
The rest are Bai Lowe, Nuha Badjie, Landing Tamba, Alieu Jeng, Omar A. Jallow (Oya), Buboucarr Jallow, Lamin Sillah.
Yahya Jammeh is currently in exile and is thought to be in Equatorial Guinea.
The victims, who were part of economic migrants travelling to Europe through The Gambia, were executed upon false assumption that they were mercenaries or coup plotters.
The commission found out that on July 21, 2005, the West African migrants and victims, many of whom were from Ghana, travelled on a boat from Mbour in Senegal and arrived near Barra in The Gambia on the morning of July 22, 2005.
Through the testimonies of multiple witnesses who testified before the commission, it found that there was nothing in the appearances or behaviour of the migrants which suggested or might have suggested that they were something else other than migrants.
“The commission asserts that even if they were criminals or broke Gambian law in any way or form, due process should have been adhered to. Despite being economic migrants, the Commission affirms that former President Yahya Jammeh, in his fear and paranoia, backed by state agents under his command, already made up their minds, and the migrants were extrajudicially executed,” the White Paper stated.
As part of the recommendations, the government was to establish an international joint investigation team (Joint Forensic Investigation Team) based in The Gambia, which would comprise forensic investigators and scientists from The Gambia, Ghana, Senegal and Nigeria, with the relevant skills, training and background to carry out certain tasks.
The tasks include identifying the exact locations where the victims were buried, including the wells and graves mentioned by the witnesses that were located in both The Gambia and also in the Cassamance region of Senegal.
The team are to ensure the security and full protection of all the sites where the remains were buried and yet-to-be-exhumed for the purposes of protecting the human remains and from tampering with the evidence.
Among other things, the team is to be given the mandate to exhume and conserve the remains of the victims that may be found in those wells or graves.
The commission recommended the banning of the Interior Minister of the Gambia, Yankuba Sonko, and a former Commissioner of the Gambian Police Force, Malamin Ceesay, who confessed that he presided and directly participated in a sham and deceptive investigation to cover up the killings and exonerate Yahya Jammeh’s regime, from holding public office with the Gambia government for 10 years for the roles they allegedly played.
On July 22, 2005, over 67 economic migrants (including 50 Ghanaians, seven Nigerians, two Senegalese, three Ivorians, and two Togolese) entered The Gambia hoping to get to Europe via the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea.
They were advised by their agents to travel to The Gambia where a boat would be on standby to transport them to Europe.
However, upon arrival, their agent/smuggler abandoned them.
Many of the migrants were, subsequently, detained, perceived as mercenaries, arrested, and executed by Gambian State Agents comprised of the Marine Unit, police officers from the now defunct National Intelligence Agency (NIA), and the Junglers.
The execution was reportedly done by an old well.
On July 23, 2005, dead bodies were discovered in a forest at the Tanji Bird Reserve towards Tanji Village. The discoveries were reported to the police by a passer-by.
Following local and international outcry from human rights activists/groups, President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, who was then the Foreign Affairs Minister, met with President Yahya Jammeh, and an investigation was launched in 2005 to investigate the killings of the migrants.
The investigation panel was headed by Malamin Cessay, a former Commissioner of the Gambian Police Force.
However, the investigation was blighted with falsehoods, cover-ups and destruction of evidence.