By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
During the debates leading to the passing of the Victims Reparations Bill, the Minister for Justice Hon Dawda A Jallow responded to concerns raised by two Foni Representatives that the Government’s White Paper ignored victims killed during a Farafenni attack back in November 1996. The parliamentary inquiry into claims of selective justice from Hon Almami Gibba of Foni Kansala and Hon Bakary Badjie of Foni Bintang forced the Minister of Justice to clarify that their concerns are actually addressed in the Government’s White Paper on the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).
The TRRC was enacted by the previous Fifth Legislature in early 2017 to investigate the Human Rights violations which took place from 1994 to 2017, during the term of former President Yahya A J J Jammeh who fled into exile after losing elections in December 2016. Both Hon Gibba and Hon Badjie are Independent members of the No to Alliance Coalition which is closely linked to former President Jammeh who was indicted for gross human rights violations by the TRRC.
According to the Government’s White Paper, President Jammeh is to be prosecuted amongst numerous other accomplices for killings, enforced disappearances, sexual assault and numerous other alleged crimes as detailed by 15 volumes of the TRRC’s Report. One of the early human rights violations took place in November 1996 at the Farafenni Military Barracks when “rebel forces who wanted to overthrow Yahya Jammeh’s military government” struck and killed “innocent Gambian soldiers, defending the territorial integrity of the country“.
The TRRC inquiry reported that “the attack of the Farafenni Barracks is not the Commission’s focus of investigation, rather, the actions and conduct of security personnel after the rebels were arrested from various locations and taken to the NIA Headquarters in Banjul“.
Some of the Commission’s findings reveal gross human rights violations including the torture and interrogation of Ballo Kanteh by Lamin AMS Jobarteh (nicknamed Babadinding) and Captain Samsideen Sarr (second in command in the Army at the time) at the NIA premises. The TRRC also revealed that “Ballo Kanteh and Yaya Drammeh were further tortured by Harry Sambou, Salimina Drammeh, Foday Barry and an unidentified man referred to as Ninja“.
In conclusion “the Commission found that torture was commonly used by NIA officials to extract a confession. The Commission further concluded that the former dictator President Yahya Jammeh knew or had reason to know about the tortures of the Farafenni attackers during their interrogation at NIA premises”. Given the weight of evidence submitted to the TRRC “the Commission, therefore, holds Yahya Jammeh, Foday Barry, Salimina Drammeh, Lamin AMS Jobarteh (Babandinding), and Baba Saho responsible for the tortures of Ballo Kanteh, Omar Dampha, and Essa Baldeh at NIA premises“.
Parliamentary Inquiry into “Selective Justice”
However, that was not the only story as there were at least six soldiers who died defending the country from alleged “rebel forces who wanted to overthrow Yahya Jammeh’s military government” whom the two Foni NAMs are raising concerns were not considered by the TRRC. In reaction to this the Minster for Justice had some revelations to clarify that this was not the case.
During the Hon member for Foni Kansala’s deliberations, he argued that “a brother has lost his life. Today when you go to Farafenni Barracks he has been named a particular house in which to recognise his efforts. But he was butchered. All his private parts were cut off. Families are denied to be heard. So, victims’ reparations, victim bill, others who are more heard by the TRRC are more recognised and more satisfactory but others who were left and rejected totally“.
However, Hon Gibba recognised that “thanks to this Bill I’ve seen a part where they will also be included. But the shameful part of it is why were they rejected to be heard because of [politics]?”
Hon Badjie also argued that looking “at the Farafenni Attack, those that attacked and butchered innocent Gambians were hailed as heroes. They sat at the TRRC and demonstrated how they killed innocent Gambians. Are their families not victims? Who are the victims that we want here per se?”
According to the Foni Bintang representative, he believes that “those people also are victims that were attacked at Farafenni. They have families and their condition should also be known by all and the reparations should reach out to them because these were young innocent Gambian soldiers that were butchered and killed. People who wanted to overthrow a legally elected government were hailed as victims and praised as victims. Who are the victims we are shouting for here? Whatever we are to say we should not cry for the sake of social media, we should cry for the sake of our graves“.
Minister Jallow Debunks Claims Government Ignored Victims
Speaking after members submitted their deliberations on the merits of the Bill, Minister Jallow responded by saying “The Farafenni attack victims have not been forgotten. Yes, the TRRC did not treat the subject exhaustively but if you look at the government white paper, that is one of the grounds where the government white paper differed with the TRRC“.
He went on to note that “one of [the instances where the government differed with the TRRC] is the Farafenni Attack and I will read to you paragraph 427 of the White Paper on the TRRC. It says and I quote:
“The Government further notes with dismay that the Commission failed to enquire further into the cold-blooded killing of 6 young soldiers nor did it make any attempts to establish their victimhood and that of their survivors. It is the Government’s position that Corporal Saihou Sidibeh, Corporal Essa Keita, Private Ebrima Manneh, Staff Sgt. Lamin Badjie, Private Bakary Saidy and Private Ebrima Bojang died defending the territorial integrity of The Gambia and shall be given due posthumous honours by the Gambia Armed Forces. Their survivors shall equally be classified as victims and shall be eligible to receive reparations.”
After quoting one of the sections of the Government’s White Paper Minister Jallow expressed his belief that the Farafenni Victims have been “clearly covered in the government White Paper so it has not been left out, it is adequately covered so they were not covered at the TRRC but we took care of it when we were developing the White Paper“.