An outspoken Gambian human rights activist, Madi Jobarteh, has enjoined the government to ensure justice is delivered for students who were massacred by soldiers in April 2000 by prosecuting those involved in the act including former vice president Isatou Njie Saidy.
Jobarteh was speaking to the Kerr Fatou as the country commemorates the 18th anniversary of the massacre that took 15 lives and injured dozens, some of whom are confined to a wheelchair.
Yahya Jammeh, the former autocratic ruler responsible for the crime, has fled to Equatorial Guinea but Jobarteh said the country’s former vice president Isatou Njie Saidy should be questioned.
“The former vice president should answer questions. As the vice president, a member of the cabinet at the highest level of the Government, she takes responsibility for the actions of the government. So for me she needs to face questions in terms of negligence of duty—failing to uphold the rule of law and to defend and protect the human rights of Gambians as enshrined in our constitution, chapter 4. The former vice president is clearly culpable in the committing of this crime,” Jobarteh said.
The demonstration started on April 10 after a student, Muhammed Barry, was reportedly beaten to death by officials of the Gambia Fire and Rescue Service.
The student was said to have been arrested after he made allegations of rape against an official of the Gambia Fire and Rescue Service.
Under his rule, Jammeh introduced a parliamentary act protecting from prosecution all players in the massacre including the soldiers.
Since the fall of the Jammeh regime in 2016, the authorities are yet to repeal the Indemnity Act which sought to protect the soldiers.
However, experts said the indemnity act cannot protect the perpetrators from prosecution since it was preceded by the crime and the law cannot have a retrospective effect.
The April 10 and 11 foundation has submitted a petition to the government when they had their commemoration in 2017 demanding an investigation into the incident and the repealing of the indemnity act but not action was since taken.
“Many promises were made but they are yet to be fulfilled. We are victims with special needs and merit special attention. We take this anniversary under a changed Gambia as a period to remind the authorities and all men and women of conscience that we are still suffering in silence,” Abdoukarim Jammeh, a victim shot on his leg, has told Kerr Fatou.
“A countless number of victims who were subjected to torture are still unknown. Dozens more like my very self are on wheel chairs, crutches and other mobility aids because of injuries from bullet wounds.”
Jammeh was at grade 9 when he was shot on his left leg on a knee cap. As a result of the gun wound, he became a school dropout.
However, the information minister Demba Jawo said Government is interested in ensuring justice for all the past crimes and there is a delay because due process should be followed.
“The government is very interested in ensuring justice for all the past crimes but there is a process to be followed. And one of those is the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission which we are about to established,” Jawo told Kerr Fatou.
“After the TRRC, a comprehensive report will be drafted and government will then know what to do as of the recommendation of the commission… Government will then, as the need be, prosecute those responsible for the crimes.”
Meanwhile, Gambian civil society organizations and the victims are holding a joint press conference at the TANGO conference hall on Wednesday.
By Mustapha K Darboe