Testimonies before Gambia’s Truth Commission has linked ex-President Yahya Jammeh to 2005 massacre of 59 migrants, including nine Nigerians, a report by Human Rights Watch and Trial International said on Friday.
The group is therefore seeking support from Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia and other African countries for alleged criminal investigation and the prosecution of Jammeh and others who are responsible for the massacre of the migrants and other serious crimes by his government.
According to the group: “ From February 24 to March 11, 2021, witnesses told the Gambia Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) that migrants bound for Europe from Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo, plus their Gambian contact, were held by Jammeh’s top lieutenants in the security services before being murdered by the “Junglers,” a notorious paramilitary unit that took its orders directly from Jammeh.
“Well-placed witnesses have implicated Yahya Jammeh in killing citizens from nine West African countries,” said Reed Brody, senior counsel at Human Rights Watch.
“All those countries – Nigeria, as well as The Gambia, Ghana and the other countries – should support a criminal investigation and, if warranted, the prosecution of Jammeh and others who bear the greatest responsibility for the massacre of the migrants and other serious crimes by his government”, it stated.
The Human Rights Watch said witnesses, including the former chief of defense staff and former senior officers of Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency (NIA), testified that then-police chief Ousman Sonko—who is currently under investigation in Switzerland on charges of crimes against humanity—informed Jammeh during a national ceremony on July 22, 2005, that a large group had been apprehended on a beach near Barra, across the river from Banjul, the capital.
“One of those men was Paul Omozemoje Enagameh of Nigeria, whose brother, Kehinde Enagameh, was among those killed, according to a Nigerian investigation carried out in 2008. Another Nigerian, John Amase, was identified at the recent hearings. The other seven Nigerians have not been identified.
“After allegedly speaking with Jammeh, Sonko instructed officers to ferry the migrants, who were suspected of being mercenaries, to Naval Headquarters in Banjul. All the Gambian security service chiefs—from the police, army, navy, NIA and national guard—then converged on naval headquarters, as did several Junglers, who beat and kicked the migrants and, one officer testified, “treated them like animals.”
“Several officers said that it was already clear that the men and two women were migrants and not mercenaries, as they carried no weapons or anything suspicious. The migrants were then distributed to various detention centers around Banjul.
“The exposed bodies of a first group of eight migrants were found the next morning, July 23, 2005, near “Ghana Town,” a settlement of Ghanaian descendants in Brufut, just outside Banjul. “
The group said Pa Amady Jallow, then-crime management coordinator, also testified that the bodies showed signs of bad beatings, their skulls broken in, blood and brains oozing out.
“Jallow said that when he reported this information to the police chief, Sonko, he was uninterested, and three times hung up the phone on him before Sonko’s deputy informed Jallow that he was immediately being transferred to traffic duties.
“Jallow told the commission that his offense was “trying to investigate a heinous and barbaric crime perpetrated … in the name of … the president.
” Jallow also said he was informed years later by another police officer that an additional nine Nigerians had been buried in a mass grave near where Jallow saw the exposed bodies. The commission has said that it intends to search that site.
Human Rights Watch also said one Ismaila Jagne, the community leader of Ghana Town, testified that two Ghanaians who sought refuge there on July 23 explained that they had been transported nearby, with eight others, by soldiers in black uniforms (as worn by the Junglers) but were able to escape while the remaining others were being taken away two by two.
“Jagne brought the two Ghanaians to the police in Brufut for their security. When Jagne returned to bring the men food, the officers told him the two men had been taken away.
“An August 2005 Ghanaian delegation led by then-foreign minister, and current president, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, reported that Brufut records showed that the men were transferred on July 24 to police headquarters. The two men, identified as Bright Antwi and John Kweku, are among those missing.
“Some days later, the remaining migrants still in custody, about 40-45, were taken in vehicles and executed in Senegal, just across the border from Jammeh’s hometown of Kanilai.
“In a July 2019 truth commission session focused on the Junglers, three former Junglers, all serving members of the Gambian National Army, testified that they and 12 other Junglers whom they listed had carried out those 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 they are all to be executed.”
“Martin Kyere from Ghana, the sole known survivor of the killings along the Gambia-Senegal border, described for the TRRC how he jumped into the forest from a moving truck carrying other detained migrants. Kyere When Kyere returned to Ghana he began rallying the victims’ families. “African leaders say that migrants should be treated with dignity, but for us, honoring their memory means justice, not lies and cover-ups,” said Kyere.
“Junglers and other witnesses testified that the Junglers were under the direct control of Jammeh, listed a series of assassinations carried out by the Junglers on Jammeh’s orders, and said, in the words of a former Jungler, Alieu Jeng, that the Junglers “never operated on anything that is their own orders or will, all the orders come from the top [Jammeh].”
The report said former Interior Minister Baboucarr Jatta accepted the assertion by the TRRC lead counsel, Essa Faal, that the killings were a “state-ordered execution by soldiers from the State House [Jammeh’s residence]” and said that he believed the soldiers were acting under Jammeh’s orders.
“The exact number of migrants killed is still unclear. Gibril Ngorr Secka, director of operations at the NIA, presented the commission with a list of 51 migrants the police counted at one station, including nationals of Ghana (39), Sierra Leone (3), Côte d’Ivoire (2), Senegal (2), Togo (2), Liberia (1), Nigeria (1 – John Amase), and Congo (1). While that number omits some migrants who have previously been identified, as well as eight other Nigerians arrested and killed, including Paul Omozemoje Enagameh , it is the first official list of the migrants.
“TRRC testimony also described the Jammeh government’s persistent efforts to cover up the crime, first to stymie Ghana’s attempt to learn the truth. The former foreign minister Lamin Kaba Bajo agreed that a letter he sent to his Ghanaian counterpart Nana Akufo-Addo in December 2005, calling the story of the sole massacre survivor Martin Kyere “a “fabrication” and saying that the migrants had probably “escaped to Senegal” was a “cock and bull story.”
“The cover-up kicked in to high gear in advance of a 2008 investigative mission by the United Nations and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) when the government appointed a “task force” that included several cabinet ministers to deal with the investigators.
“Former Chief of Defense Staff Assan Sarr, who had also been at naval headquarters, said that when a UN/ECOWAS investigation team came in 2008, he was told by then-police chief Ensa Bajie in the presence of the then-crime management coordinator, Yankuba Sonko, Gambia’s current interior minister, not to “jeopardize or tarnish the image of this country … and in the event they call us, we should be mindful of what we say or do.”
A police officer from Barra, Babucarr Bah, said that Yankuba Sonko told him, “make sure you don’t say anything” to the investigators, and that on Sonko’s instructions, “we took them to bars, gave them alcohol and women.” Sonko denied this allegation in his own testimony. Bah also said that around December 2005, Ousman Sonko, the former police chief, told him to falsify the July 22, 2005 diary entry from the Barra police station where the migrants were initially arrested and that the diary entries were then completely rewritten. Copies of the diary with the entry for July 22 removed were presented to the truth commission.
The TRRC testimony corroborates the findings of a 2018 report by Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International, who interviewed 30 former Gambian officials, including many of the commission’s witnesses.
“Now that the information we had gathered has been corroborated, it’s all the more important for Jammeh to be called to face up to his responsibilities,” said Emeline Escafit of TRIAL International. “The time has now come to deliver justice for the victims and their families.”
“The recent testimony casts further doubt on the UN/ECOWAS report 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 UN human rights experts.
“Since it began hearings in January 2019, the Gambian truth commission has also heard testimony that Jammeh participated in the rape and sexual assault of women brought to him, forced HIV-positive Gambians to give up their medicine and put themselves in his personal care, and was responsible for ordering the killing and torture of political opponents and “witch hunts“ in which hundreds of women were arbitrarily detained. Jammeh has lived in exile in Equatorial Guinea since his departure from Gambia in January 2017.”
The Truth Commission is tasked with the “identification and recommendation for prosecution of persons who bear the greatest responsibility for human rights violations and abuses.
It is expected to deliver its report in July. The Gambian government will then decide how to respond to the recommendations.
Netherlands, IOM launch Global Migration Initiative to protect people on the move
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands launched the Cooperation on Migration and Partnerships for Sustainable Solutions initiative (COMPASS) at the beginning of 2021. COMPASS is a global initiative, in partnership with 12 countries, designed to protect people on the move, combat human trafficking and smuggling, and support dignified return while promoting sustainable reintegration.
The initiative is centred on a whole-of-society approach which, in addition to assisting individuals, will work across all levels – households, communities, and the wider communities – and encompasses the following partner countries: Afghanistan, Chad, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, and Tunisia.
“We want to mobilize families, peers and communities to encourage informed and safe migration decisions, protect migrants, and help those returning home reintegrate successfully,” said Monica Goracci, Director of the Department of Migration Management at IOM.
“One key component is also undermining the trafficking and smuggling business models through the promotion of safe alternatives and information sharing to reduce the risks of exploitation and abuse by these criminal networks.” Vulnerable migrants, including victims of trafficking and unaccompanied or separated children, will have access to a broad range of protection and assistance services such as mental health and psychosocial support, while migrants in transit who wish to return home will be supported with dignified return and reintegration.
Community level interventions will focus on improving community-led efforts to address trafficking in persons and smuggling of migrants, and support sustainable reintegration of returning migrants. COMPASS will work with national and local governments to enable a conducive environment for migrant protection, migration management and international cooperation on these issues.
“The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is pleased to launch the COMPASS programme in cooperation with IOM, an important and longstanding partner on migration cooperation,” said Marriët Schuurman, Director for Stability and Humanitarian Aid of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.
“The programme is a part of the Dutch comprehensive approach to migration with activities that contribute to protection and decreasing irregular migration. Research and data gathering are also important components, and we hope that the insights that will be gained under COMPASS will contribute to broader knowledge sharing on migration and better-informed migration policies.”, added Schuurman. The initiative has a strong learning component, designed to increase knowledge and the uptake of lessons learned, both within the programme and beyond its parameters. COMPASS will actively contribute to global knowledge that supports countries in managing migration flows and protecting vulnerable migrants such as victims of trafficking. The implementation of COMPASS is set to start soon.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands, as the donor to the COMPASS initiative, pledges its active support to partner countries to improve migration cooperation mechanisms within its long-term vision.
IOM, the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, contributes its expertise as the technical implementation partner to the initiative. IOM works closely with governmental, intergovernmental and non-governmental partners in its dedication to promoting humane and orderly migration for the benefit of all.
A child, 40 others drown in shipwreck off Tunisia
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are deeply saddened by reports of a shipwreck off the coast of Sidi Mansour, in southeast Tunisia, yesterday evening. The bodies of 41 people, including at least one child, have so far been retrieved.
According to reports from local UNHCR and IOM teams, three survivors were rescued by the Tunisian National Coast Guard. The search effort was still underway on Friday. Based on initial information, all those who perished were from Sub-Saharan Africa.
This tragic loss of life underscores once again the need to enhance and expand State-led search and rescue operations across the Central Mediterranean, where some 290 people have lost their lives so far this year. Solidarity across the region and support to national authorities in their efforts to prevent loss of life and prosecute smugglers and traffickers should be a priority.
Prior to yesterday’s incident, 39 refugees and migrants had perished off the coast near the Tunisian city of Sfax in early March. So far this year, sea departures from Tunisia to Europe have more than tripled compared to the same period in 2020.
UNHCR and IOM continue to monitor developments closely. They continue to stand ready to work with the national authorities to assist and support the survivors, and the family members of those lost.
Ethiopian migrants return home from Yemen with IOM support in wake of tragic boat sinking
One hundred and sixty Ethiopian migrants have returned home safely from Yemen today with the assistance of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), just one day after a perilous journey across the Gulf of Aden claimed the lives of dozens of people, including at least 16 children.
More than 32,000 migrants, predominantly from Ethiopia, remain stranded across Yemen in dire, often deadly, circumstances.
“The conditions of migrants stranded in Yemen has become so tragic that many feel they have no option but to rely on smugglers to return home,” said Jeffrey Labovitz, IOM’s Director for Operations and Emergencies.
At least 42 people returning from Yemen are believed to have died on Monday when their vessel sank off the coast of Djibouti. Last month, at least 20 people had also drowned on the same route according to survivors. IOM believes that, since May 2020, over 11,000 migrants have returned to the Horn of Africa on dangerous boat journeys, aided by unscrupulous smugglers.
“Our Voluntary Humanitarian Return (VHR) programme provides a lifeline for those stranded in a country now experiencing its seventh year of conflict and crisis. We call on all governments along the route to come together and support our efforts to allow migrants safe and dignified opportunities to travel home,” added Labovitz.
COVID-19 has had a major impact on global migration. The route from the Horn of Africa to Gulf countries has been particularly affected. Tens of thousands of migrants, hoping to work in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), now find themselves unable to complete their journeys, stranded across Djibouti, Somalia and Yemen.
While the pandemic has also caused the number of migrants arriving to Yemen to decrease from 138,000 in 2019 to just over 37,500 in 2020, the risks they face continue to rise. Many of these migrants are stranded in precarious situations, sleeping rough without shelter or access to services. Many others are in detention or being held by smugglers.
“We cannot find jobs or food here; Yemen is a problem for us,” said Gamal, a 22-year-old migrant returning on the VHR flight. “I used to sleep in the street on cardboard. I could only eat because of the charity people would give me and sometimes we were given leftovers from restaurants. I never had much to eat.”
Since October 2020, in Aden alone, IOM has registered over 6,000 migrants who need support to safely return home. Today’s flight to Addis Ababa was the second transporting an initial group of 1,100 Ethiopians who have been approved for VHR to Ethiopia. Thousands of other undocumented migrants are waiting for their nationality to be verified and travel documents to be provided.
Prior to departure on the VHR flight, IOM carried out medical and protection screenings to ensure that returnees are fit to travel and are voluntarily consenting to return. Those with special needs are identified and receive specialized counselling and support.
In Ethiopia, IOM supports government-run COVID-19 quarantine facilities to accommodate the returnees on arrival and provides cash assistance, essential items and onward transportation to their homes. The Organization also supports family tracing for unaccompanied migrant children.
Across the Horn of Africa and Yemen, IOM provides life-saving support to migrants through health care, food, water and other vital assistance.
Today’s flight was funded by the US State Department’s Bureau for Population, Refugees and Migration (PRM). Post-arrival assistance in Addis Ababa is supported by EU Humanitarian Aid and PRM.
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