By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has informed Gainako Online News that the Drug Law Enforcement Agency the Gambia (DLEAG) has compensated a victim with D50,000 on 31st May 2022. The letter from the DLEAG dated 30th May 2022 and addressed to the NHRC notes that the compensation has been revised to fifty thousand Dalasis (D50,000) for onward delivery to the victim, Sara Jawla.
This is a far cry from two years back when complaints from victims of human rights violations were met with deafening silence, denials and rebuttals. Since the NHRC started receiving and investigating public complaints, Security Institutions have graduated from denials and rebuttals to launching internal investigations, disciplining their officers and paying compensation to victims. This article chronicles three cases where victims have been compensated and depicts how Security Institutions have evolved from denials and rebuttals to become more accountable.
Denials and Rebuttals
The NHRC was enacted in 2017 by an Act of the National Assembly, however, it only became fully operational in 2019. Two of the earliest human rights violations which took place in the Gambia since the formation of the NHRC are the alleged killings of Ousman Darboe and Kebba Secka at the hands of Security Officers. In both instances, no action was taken to address the tragedy of their death and the Police Investigation reports have not been made public.
The late Ousman Darboe was a Sierra Leonean Serrekunda market vendor who was survived by his wife and two children. Speaking to Mr Darboe’s widow on the one-year anniversary of her husband’s death she narrated how Anti-Crime Unit (ACU) Commissioner Gorgi Mboob called her husband to report to the former ACU Headquarters in Bijilo and never returned alive.
Speaking to the young widow she tearfully recalled begging her husband not to report to the ACU HQ. Soon after he reported to the ACU, Mr Darboe was taken to a hospital in Brusubi the same night where he died after he was allegedly tortured.
Mr Darboe’s death sparked public outrage and an unplanned protest ensued as aggrieved supporters marched to the former ACU HQ. Police claimed that Mr Darboe died from an asthma attack. To date, the coroner’s report on which the Police based their cause of death has not been made public.
Another similar case is the alleged killing of a final year University of The Gambia student Kebba Secka of Kotu who was allegedly stabbed to death by Police Officers in July 2019. In that particular case, two suspected officers were arraigned in court. It’s not clear if the two officers were found guilty of their crimes because the case was frustrated after a court vacation.
These two cases and many others including the incarceration of Ali “Killa Ace” Cham and 30 other youths in Mile 2 highlight the previous patterns of injustice that shackled victims of human rights violations in the Gambia.
- NHRC was Enacted in 2017 and became operational in 2019
- Ousman Darboe killed in 2019 – ACU Commissioner Gorgi Mboob Indicted
- Kebba Secka killed in 2019 – Police Officers Suspected
- Ali “Killa Ace” Cham and 30 Others Incarcerated in 2019 and released with no case to answer – Police and the Judiciary
First Victim Compensation
For a while, it seemed that Victims of Human Rights Violations were left with no means of redress. This all changed after the NHRC made its first monumental breakthrough after a joint investigation on allegations that the former ACU Commissioner Gorgi Mboob had struck a detainee under his custody in his lower abdomen.
After Gainako raised the alarm on the allegations of human rights violations by the ACU Commissioner Gorgi Mboob, the NHRC launched a joint investigation in collaboration with the Police, the Gambia Bar Association and The Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (TANGO). At that stage, the Police didn’t have the determination to investigate their own colleagues and the public didn’t trust the Police to conduct an impartial Police Investigation. In fact, the Police actually labelled the Gainako story raising the alarm as false.
At the end of the investigation, the joint panel concluded that Ebrima Sanneh was to be compensated D20,000 for the human rights violations and that ACU’s Gorgi Mboob was to be disciplined. The former ACU Commissioner bounced back after being redeployed to Farafenni. Most recently the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) has recommended his dismissal and prosecution for his role in the April 10-11 2000 Student Protest.
The Government’s White Paper on the TRRC has also indicated that the former ACU Commissioner should be dismissed and prosecuted.
Second and Third Victim Compensation
The second case of compensation paid to a victim highlights that progress has been made. This case represents the first case where a Security Institution independently investigated a case of human rights violations arising from their officer. The second case is the DLEAG D50,000 Compensation paid to Sara Jawla. NHRC Chairperson Mr Emmanuel Joof revealed to Gainako that besides compensation they recommended for the DLEAG “to reprimand and initiate disciplinary proceedings against the officers involved, the development of a code of conduct etc amongst many other things”.
Chairperson Joof also noted that the DLEAG “have agreed with all our recommendations and they are working towards implementing the midterm and long term recommendations”.
The third case is about Banjulian Rapper, Sheriff “Chipa Yi” Camara, who was beaten by Officers of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU) in a case of mistaken identity. After the case was reported to the Police’s Human Rights Unit and the NHRC the Police investigated the case and disciplined their officers by confining them to barracks for 15 days. In this case, the Police have agreed to compensate the victim with D45,000, however, the payment has not been effected and the victim is demanding more information on the Police Investigation.
Still pending at the NHRC is the case of the United Democratic Party (UDP) supporter who was beaten by a group of Police Officers from the PIU after the National Assembly Nomination of Momodou Sabally was rejected by the Independent Electoral Commission. In this ongoing case, the NHRC issued a statement condemning the authorities for “unacceptable Police brutality against a civilian”.
Our reporter questioned the NHRC Chairperson to provide an update on the case and was informed that the case is being investigated by the Police’s Human Rights Unit and that a complaint was also lodged at the NHRC. The Commission is following the case and will provide an update when the investigation is concluded.
- Ebrima Sanneh D20,000 – ACU Commissioner Gorgi Mboob
- Sara Jawla – D50,000 – DLEAG
- Sheriff “Chipa Yi” Camara – D45,000 (to be paid) – Police Intervention Unit
- Total = D115,000
Who Foots the Compensation Bill?
It’s highly welcomed to see Security Institutions compensate victims and discipline their officers; however, it raises some interesting questions as to who is paying for the compensation? It’s not clear if the D115,000 paid in compensation to victims is coming from offending officers or taxpayers.
Speaking to a number of human rights advocates it’s been recommended for victims to be compensated in full upfront and for the security officers responsible for the violations to pay the compensation in full. That way it will serve as a deterrent for future human rights violations. At the moment it’s not clear if taxpayers are paying for the compensation or if the officers are paying for the compensation.
Most importantly is the issue of addressing the issue of non-reoccurrence. This requires more activities such as looking at the reasons why officers violate the rights of persons in the Gambia. Speaking to the NHRC our reporter is made to understand that the NHRC provides targeted training for such officers who have violated the rights of persons to avoid the reoccurrence of future violations.