Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Gambia: Ex-President Jammeh tied to 2005 murders of Ghanaian and Nigerian migrants

                                 For Immediate Release  -  HRW and TRIAL release

                               Ghanaian Groups Urge Prosecution of Yahya Jammeh

(Accra, May 16, 2018) – A paramilitary unit controlled by then-Gambian president Yahya Jammeh summarily executed more than 50 Ghanaian, Nigerian, and other West African migrants in July 2005, Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International said today.

Interviews with 30 former Gambian officials, including 11 officers directly involved in the incident,
reveal that the migrants, who were bound for Europe but were suspected of being mercenaries intent on overthrowing Jammeh, were murdered after having been detained by Jammeh’s closest deputies in the army, navy, and police forces. The witnesses identified the “Junglers,” a notorious unit that took its orders directly from Jammeh, as those who carried out the killings.

“The West African migrants weren’t murdered by rogue elements, but by a paramilitary death squad taking orders from President Jammeh,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch. “Jammeh’s subordinates then destroyed key evidence to prevent international investigators from learning the truth.”

Martin Kyere, the sole known Ghanaian survivor; the families of the disappeared; the family of
Saul N’dow, another Ghanaian killed under Jammeh; and Ghanaian human rights organizations on May 16, 2018, called on the Ghanaian government to investigate the new evidence and potentially seek Jammeh’s extradition and prosecution in Ghana.

Jammeh’s 22-year rule was marked by widespread abuses, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detention. He sought exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017 after losing the December 2016 presidential election to Adama Barrow.

The insiders interviewed by TRIAL
International and Human Rights Watch include some of the highest-ranking security commanders in the Gambian government at the time, as well as several officials present at the arrest, detention, and transfer of the migrants, a Jungler who witnessed the killings, and two who participated in a subsequent cover-up. Another Jungler who witnessed the killings was interviewed on the radio.

They said that the migrants – including some 44 Ghanaians and several Nigerians – were arrested in July 2005 at a beach where they had landed, then transferred to the Gambian Naval Headquarters in Banjul, the capital. They were detained there in the presence of the inspector general of police, the director general of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the chief of the defense staff, and the commander of the National Guards. At least two of them were in telephone contact with Jammeh during the operation. The head and several members of the paramilitary Junglers were also there.

The officials divided the migrants into groups and then turned them over to the Junglers. Over one week, the Junglers summarily executed them near Banjul and along the Senegal-Gambia border near Jammeh’s hometown of Kanilai.

Kyere was detained in a Banjul police station, then driven into the forest. In February 2018, he explained to Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International how he escaped, just before other migrants were apparently killed.

“We were in the back of a pickup truck,” he said. “One man complained that the wires binding us were too tight and a soldier with a cutlass sliced him on the shoulder, cutting his arm, which bled profusely. It was then that I thought, ‘We’re going to die.’ But as the truck went deeper into the forest, I was able to get my hands free. I jumped out from the pickup and started to run into the forest. The soldiers shot toward me but I was able to hide. I then heard shots from the pickup and the cry, in Twi [Ghanaian language], ‘God save us!’”

Kyere helped the Ghanaian authorities identify many of the dead and travelled around Ghana to locate their families and promote efforts to seek justice.

Despite measures in ensuing years by Ghana as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations (UN) to investigate the case, no arrests have ever been made.

The Bulletin of the UN Department of Public Affairs said that an ECOWAS/UN report, never made public, concluded that the Gambian government was not “directly or indirectly complicit” in the deaths and disappearances but rather that “rogue elements” in Gambia’s security services “acting on their own” were probably responsible.

The new evidence makes clear, however, that those responsible for the killings were the Junglers, who were not rogue elements, but a disciplined unit operating under Jammeh.

In October 2017, Gambian and international rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, and TRIAL International, launched the “
Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice” (#Jammeh2Justice), which calls for prosecuting Jammeh and others who bear the greatest responsibility for his government’s crimes under international fair trial standards.

President Barrow of The Gambia has suggested that he would seek Jammeh’s extradition from Equatorial Guinea if his prosecution was recommended by the country’s Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, which is expected to begin work in the next few months with an initial two-year mandate. The government and international activists and academics have said that the political, institutional and security conditions do not yet exist in The Gambia for a fair trial of Yahya Jammeh which would contribute to Gambia’s stability.

President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea said in January that he would “analyze [any extradition request] with [his] lawyers.” A week later, however, he saidwe have to protect him [Jammeh], we have to respect him as a former African head of state, because that is what is going to ensure that the other heads of state of Africa who have to leave power do not fear for subsequent harassment.”

Ghanaian groups noted that the UN Convention against Torture, which Equatorial Guinea has ratified, requires a country in whose territory a torture suspect is found to refer the case for investigation or extradite that person.

“Our investigation has enabled us to get closer to the truth about this horrible massacre,” said Benedict De Moerloose, head of Criminal Law and Investigations for TRIAL International. “The time has now come to deliver justice for the victims and their families.”

For information about the Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice, please visit:

For details about the killings and the accounts of those interviewed, please see below.

For more information, please contact:
In Accra for Human Rights Watch, Reed Brody (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese): +1-917-388-6745; or +233 54 902 2806; or Twitter: @reedbrody
In Accra for TRIAL International, Bénédict De Moerloose (English, French, Spanish): +41 79 192 37 44; or; or
In Banjul, for the Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice, Marion Volkmann (English, French, German): +220 212 4243 or

The July 2005 killings

On July 22, 2005, Gambian police forces arrested approximately 50-56 foreigners in Barra, a town facing Banjul on the opposite shore of the River Gambia. It is difficult to determine the numbers with certainty but it appears the group included about 44 Ghanaians, as many as ten Nigerians, two or three Ivoirians, two Senegalese, and one Togolese. The detained men and women, as well as one additional Gambian who was later arrested, were believed to have been killed in the ensuing week and buried near Banjul and Kanilai. The disfigured bodies of eight of the migrants were found in Brufut, on the outskirts of Banjul, on July 23, the day after their capture. No other bodies have been recovered.

Between March 2017 and May 2018, Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International interviewed 30 former Gambian security officials both inside and outside of Gambia, including 11 officers directly involved in the incident, as well as Kyere, the survivor, another Ghanaian who left the group shortly before the original arrest, the families of 15 of the Ghanaian victims, and two of the Ghanaian investigators. The organizations also translated a
long radio interview with a former Jungler, Bai Lowe.

The migrants – including two women – had set off from a beach in Saly Mbour in Senegal in a hired motorized canoe hoping to meet up with a boat that would take them to Europe. They were unable to make contact with the boat, however, and landed in Barra, where they were arrested on July 22 – “Revolution Day” celebrating Jammeh’s 1994 coup. “They lined us up, pointing guns at us, and marched us to the Barra police,” Kyere said.

Several officials interviewed said that Gambian intelligence had previously received information regarding a planned coup by mercenaries and may have mistaken the migrants for these mercenaries.

Jammeh and his ministers, the chiefs of Gambia’s security forces, and civilian dignitaries were attending a festival at the July 22 Square in Banjul. Several witnesses said that inspector general of police, Ousman Sonko who is currently detained in Switzerland on charges of crimes against humanity was at the ceremony and received a phone call that foreigners had been apprehended. Officers who were there said that Jammeh was informed and he got up and left with his security detail for his nearby compound.

Witnesses said that Sonko asked the Navy to transfer the group by boat from Barra to the Naval Headquarters in Banjul. The naval boat Fatima I had to make two trips. Kyere, who was on the second crossing, observed when they were reunited at headquarters that most of those on the first trip had been beaten and stripped of their possessions. One commander said that at least two of the high-ranking officials at the headquarters, Sonko and the National Intelligence Agency director, Daba Marenah, called Jammeh from the Naval Headquarters.

The head and several members of the Junglers, an unofficial paramilitary unit of about 12 to 25 soldiers drawn from the State Guard, were also at the Naval Headquarters. The Junglers took their name from the fact that some members had received jungle survivor training. They were also known as the “Patrol Team” because their original duties included patrolling the Gambia-Senegal border around the presidential residence in Kanilai. The State Guards from which the Junglers were drawn played a key role in protecting Jammeh, and they received frequent and intense training, from Iran, Libya and Taiwan, among others. From their creation in 2003-2004 until Jammeh’s fall in 2017, the Junglers were implicated in serious human rights violations, including torture, sexual violence, enforced disappearances, and killings.

Throughout the Junglers’ existence, Jammeh was in regular communication, often daily, with its leader, who at the time of the migrant killings was Tumbul Tamba.
One former Jungler said Tamba received direct operational orders from Jammeh and would then convene the Junglers to brief them on the operation and to communicate Jammeh’s orders. “The big man said to ‘finish them,’” was how Tamba would convey orders to kill, said the former Jungler. “Tamba reported after every mission to the president.”

On July 23, the migrants were divided into groups and taken by buses to several locations around Banjul, including the Junglers’ unofficial headquarters, and several police stations and army barracks. Kyere said he was held at the Bundung Police Station. The police also arrested Lamin Tunkara, a Gambian who was working with the captain of the vessel which was to transport the migrants to Europe. Tunkara was later taken in the same pickup truck from which Kyere escaped into the forest. His family has never seen Tunkara again.

A first group of migrants was taken on July 23 from the Kanifing police station in two vehicles to Brufut, on the outskirts of Banjul. A former Jungler said that eight migrants were then executed by seven Junglers, assisted by several regular soldiers, with machetes, axes, knives, and sticks and left in the bushes near “Ghanatown” in Brufut.  

The migrants were handcuffed while they were slaughtered.  A former police commissioner who arrived on the scene confirmed that the bodies had been badly beaten. “One had had his head smashed with something heavy…another had his face broken completely… [a third] had blood coming out of his ears, nose, eyes.” Two former Junglers said that the migrants were killed this way following a Jammeh directive issued after the 2004 murder of a journalist, Deyda Hydara, not to use guns in killings in Gambia. The discovery of eight dead bodies with cuts and trauma wounds was reported in the Gambian press.