For Immediate Release - HRW and TRIAL release
Ghanaian Groups Urge Prosecution of Yahya
(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
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
in January that he would “analyze [any extradition request]
with [his] lawyers.” A week later, however, he said
“we 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
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.”
about the Campaign
to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice, please visit:
details about the killings and the accounts of those interviewed, please see
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
In Accra for TRIAL International, Bénédict De Moerloose (English, French,
Spanish): +41 79 192 37 44; or email@example.com;
In Banjul, for the Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his
Accomplices to Justice, Marion Volkmann (English, French, German): +220 212
4243 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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
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.