By Banna Sabally
On the 10th and 11th of April in the year 2000, students across The Gambia descended on the streets to protest against the “injustice inflicted on their fellow students by security forces.”
The demonstration ended bitterly, resulting in gross human rights violations. The students were arbitrarily arrested, unlawfully detained, tortured and some demonstrators gruesomely killed by law enforcement.
Others have to live with lifetime injuries from gunshot wounds that have yet to heal 22 years on. They need urgent medical attention.
At the time of the demonstration, former President Yahya Jammeh, was out of the country, leaving his Vice President Dr. Isatou Njie-Saidy in charge of the country.
Why the protest?
The nationwide students’ demonstration emanated from the physical assault, and later death of a 15-year-old Grade 10 student Brikama, Gambia’s West Coast Region; and the rape of a Grade 7 student from Brikama Ba, Gambia’s Central River Region.
Ebrima Barry was physically assaulted by fire officers in Brikama and died shortly after, according to a report by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC). Binta Manneh, who had represented her school at the Inter-Secondary Schools Sports Competition at the Independence Stadium in Bakau was raped at the said venue by a security officer.
After the two incidents, The Gambia Students Union (GAMSU) believed the government failed to sufficiently address both cases. In the interest of its members, GAMSU engaged the government seeking redress for the two incidents.
However, negotiations proved unsuccessful to the satisfaction of GAMSU, culminating in the Union’s decision to hold a “limited peaceful demonstration.”
The demonstration was scheduled to take place on 10 April, 2000 at the gate of the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI) in Kanifing where the students’ procession was due to commence.
That morning, hundreds of students gathered outside GTTI marking the first demonstration of its kind in The Gambia.
Deaths and injuries
The TRRC during its public hearings established that a total of 15 people were killed by State Security Officers during the demonstrations.
Twelve (12) of the those killed were students; 2 were toddlers (one of whom was a 3-year-old – shot in the head by security personnel, and a Red Cross volunteer. The third child was trampled upon by students fleeing for their lives from the PIU’s direct assault.
Evidence of torture of students detained was also established by the Truth Commission. A student who was illegally detained and tortured at Janjanbureh Prison died shortly after his release.
The Commission found that no coherent plans were put in place by the security forces to deal with the situation. In the Serekunda area, forces fired tear gas and live bullets at the students, killing 12 of them, a Red Cross volunteer, and a toddler.
Officers Gorgui Mboob, Inspector Darboe, Modou Lamin Fatty, Abdoulie Bah, Modou Cham, and Modou Gajaga unlawfully entered St. Augustine’s High School in Banjul and fired a tear gas canister into a classroom full of students.
On 11 April 2000, news of the fatal killing, wounding and brutalisation of the student reached other students in the rural areas. To show support for their fellow students who were brutally killed and wounded by the security forces, students in the rural areas turned out in large numbers to demosntrate.
The Gambia National Army (GNA) was deployed to deal with the situation in the Central River Region (CRR) and Upper River Region (URR), while the Police were deployed in the North Bank Region (NBR).
The Commission from the testimonies learnt that security forces fired live bullets at students killing 2 in the Brikamaba area, wounding several, physically assaulted students, and detained some at Armitage High School and Janjanbureh prison.
Several students across the country “suffered serious wounds” and had to be hospitalised and many others were arrested.
State Agents were also found to have conspired to cover up the full extent of the police actions by giving false testimonies, concealing evidence, and fabricating evidence at the Commission of Inquiry into Public Disturbances of 10 and 11 April 2000 thatb was set up by the Jammeh government.
According to the TRRC, the sole purpose of the testimonies of state agents was to mislead that Commission.
What the witnesses say
Binta appeared at the Truth Commission’s public hearings on 20th August, 2019 and explained what happned.
“I saw two uniformed men on my way to the shop to buy biscuits at night, one of them grabbed my hand and told me that they are servicemen. He pulled my hand to follow him them to the darkness behind the stadium and unzipped his trouser but his colleague ran away,” Binta Manneh started crying as she recollects the incident,” she testified.
“He pressed his elbow on my chest and forcefully penetrate me. After he left, I was feeling too much pain on my private part that was oozing blood profusely,” Manneh, who was only 16 when the incident happened, said fighting back tears.
Although the former president, Yahya Jammeh, who now lives in exile, didn’t appear before the Truth Commission, his deputy, former vice president, Isatou Njie-Saidy testified before the Commission on 3rd October, 2019.
While testifying before the commission, she denied all accusations made against her saying “I don’t know” or “I don’t remember” or “it could be”.
she also denied giving orders to deploy an army. “They brief me on the issue but the decision was made long time ago, I can’t remember. We don’t keep minutes, it was an emergency,” she said.
Who ordered the killings?
Acting on the others of the executive, the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) and the Gambia National Army (GNA) were deployed to disperse the crowd.
The senior security personnel on duty on that day included the former Army Commander Baboucarr Jatta, the Deputy Inspector General of Police Sankung Badjie, and the former Secretary of State for Interior, Ousman Badjie.
Jai Sowe, the Commanding Officer at Banjul Police Station, was said to have unlawfully authorised the supply of firearms and live ammunition to Police Officers, including Gorgui Mboob, Yorro Mballow and Ousman Cham, the Commission said.
Isatou Njie-Saidy is said to have instructed Baboucarr Jatta to deploy the Army who were armed with AK 47 rifles and live rounds, culminating in the eventual tragedies of 10 and 11 April 2000.
Recommendations and government’s position
Following the submission of the TRRC report and recommendations, the Gambia government published a White Paper on 25 May, 2022. The government has accepted all the 17 recommendations from the Truth Commission.
Below are some of the notable ones to be accepted:
- Yahya Jammeh to be prosecuted for all the atrocities he had committed against the students – namely: arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, tortures, assaults causing harm, and killings of the demonstrators by reason of the orders and instructions he had given; and failing to investigate and prosecute members of the security forces who committed the violation, and for seeking to seal them from responsibility via the Indemnity Act.
- To Prosecute former Vice President Isatou Njie Saidy, Baboucarr Jatta, and Ousman Badjie for the arbitrary arrests, detentions, tortures, injuries, and killings of the demonstrators.
- To ban Isatou Njie-Saidy from holding public office for a period of 10 years, and Yahya Jammeh for life for their roles in the massacre of the students on 10 and 11 April 2000.
- The dismissal of Corporal Lamin Camara from office if he is currently employed and banned from holding any public office for a period of 5 years for knowingly providing false information.
- Ban Gorgui Mboob from holding public office for 5 years.
- Put in place mechanisms to facilitate and enhance setting up an official channel of communication to deal with student complaints on a timely and effective basis.
- Ban all those recommended for prosecution from holding public office for a period of not less than 5 years if they have not been prosecuted or if they have been granted amnesty.
- That 10th and 11th April be declared school holidays. Failing that, other arrangements should be developed to memorialise the sad and historic events that transpired on those two days in 2000; and ensure that they never happen again.