International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances: A Tribute to Gambian Journalist Chief EbrimaManneh

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Death is an inevitable end and people who lose a loved one to death eventually come to terms with the parting of a loved one knowing that at some time or another they also will go.   The family and friends of victims of enforced disappearance do not have the privilege of closure.

For the past 11 years, the family, friends and colleagues of Gambian journalist Chief EbrimaMannehhave been trying to find out the truth behind his disappearance so that they can at least have closure with very little success.

Arrested at work by The Gambia’s Intelligence Agency (NIA) on July, 7, 2006, the Gambia government denied having him in custody and disproved all claims about knowledge of his whereabouts.  This is despite overwhelming eyewitness evidence that the NIA arrested and detained Manneh incommunicado on the orders of the Jammeh government.  In addition they gave conflicting reports about Manneh.  The President said on the state television that he had died on the high seas while attempting to get into Europe illegally.  The Vice President and Intelligence services reported that he was seen in the USA.  All this contributed to making the family further distressed and confused.

Enforced disappearance is the cruelest of crimes not only because of what it does to the victim but also because of the mental anguish that the family and friends of the victim have to suffer.   Every day they wake up not knowing whether their loved one is still alive or dead and the circumstances surrounding their death and what has happened to their body and if alive where s/he is being held, or how they are being treated. It is psychological abuse in its highest forms as this uncertainty stretches for weeks, months and even years of emotional distress.

On top of this, when a key family member disappears, financial security can disintegrate. The disappeared person is often the family’s main breadwinner.  Such has been the fate of the family of Chief EbrimaManneh.  His aged father sorrowfully and persistently asked the APRC government to provide answers for his son’s whereabouts to no avail.

Manneh’s arrest was at a time when the state was cracking down on journalists after the government’s announcement of a foiled coup in March 2006. It also coincided with government’s plans to change the media laws. Journalists working with the Daily Observerwho were perceived to be critical of government and the censorship acts were largely seen as opposition elements and specially targeted.  The new management of the paper who were largely pro Jammeh threatened staff with dismissals whilst state operatives harassed them with arrests, detentions and physical and mental abuse.

On top of being an employee of the Daily Observer, Chief Manneh was also a BBC Correspondent.  His arrest was based on the accusation that he gave “damaging” information to a BBC journalist during an African Union Summit in 2006.  His colleagues say he also tried to to republish a BBC story criticizing President Yahya Jammeh.  After his arrest, Manneh was spotted with prison, police and NIA officers as he was moved between various police stations and detention centres. In 2007, reports were received that Manneh was hospitalized for high blood pressure at The Gambia’s main hospital and was being watched by paramilitary officers.

Due the persistent denials by The Gambian government, the Media foundation for West Africa (MFWA) filed a suit at the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice for the Court to compel The Gambian authorities to release Chief Ebrima Manneh. On June 5, 2008, the ECOWAS Court held The Gambia responsible for the disappearance of Manneh and his illegal arrest and detention and ordered The Gambia to immediately release him and pay $100,000 in damages to Manneh or, in his absence, to his family.

True to form the APRC government ignored the Court’s decision.  In spite of the fact that it is a member of ECOWAS and bound to fulfil its obligations to the sub-regional body. To date,  Manneh’s whereabouts remain unknown and his family continue to live in  pain and in limbo of not knowing where he is.  Because of this open display of impunity the MFWA called on ECOWAS in 2016 to ensure that The Gambia complies with the then eight-year-old judgement for Manneh as the country’s persistent non-compliance is a violation of its statutory obligations and urged the ECOWAS Court to invoke Article 77 of its Revised Treaty to sanction The Gambia for non-compliance and restore confidence in the Court.

The United Nations has set aside August 30 as International Day of the Victims of Enforced Disappearances, also known as International Day of the Disappeared to raise public awareness of the fate of individuals who became victims of forced disappearance, a form of human rights violation.

The UN encourages the organizationof and participation in events aimed at drawing attention to the fate of imprisoned individuals. Enforced Disappearances usually occur when a person is secretly abducted or imprisoned with the authorization, support, or acquiescence of a political organization or state. Victims of enforced disappearance are imprisoned at places unknown to their relatives and are placed outside the protection of law.

Enforced disappearance is typical tool for dictatorships to spreadterror within the society. The Jammeh government usedit effectively to repress political opponents, journalists and perceived critics. Even though there are public confessions from State sponsored hitmen that they killed Chief EbrimaManneh, it is expected that the Commissions of Inquiries set up by the new Government will expose the truth about the circumstances surrounding the disappearance of Manneh.

The truth will give his family, friends and colleagues the closure they need to get on with their lives.

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