By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Gambia’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) have published their 2019 Annual Report highlighting that people have reported being tortured leading to the death of at least one at the hands of Anti-Crime Security Officers in 2019. The report failed to highlight the death of Kebba Secka, a University of the Gambia Student stabbed to death by a Police Officer, alleged human rights violations of Haruna Jatta, the arbitrary detention of 30 suspects in Mile 2 central prison and their subsequent release with no case to answer.
NHRC’s 2019 Annual Report details that allegations of torture “meted on one Ousman Darboe and Ali Cham, commonly known as Killa Ace, a singer and youth activist, who was tried and convicted by the Kanifing Magistrates Court on 13 January 2020”. Speaking to the NHRC Chairperson, Mr Emmanuel Daniel Joof confirmed that only two high profile cases were investigated. These are the cases concerning Ousman Darboe, a Serrekunda Market vendor who died after being tortured at the Anti-Crime Unit in Bijilo and the caste incident in Koina, Basse in the Upper River Region.
A review of some of the main incidents of human rights violations in the Gambia shows that several cases were omitted in the NHRC 2019 Report. This prompted my inquiry with the NHRC Chairperson on why some cases were omitted in the report.
Omission of Haruna Jatta – Shot by Foreign Forces
Speaking to the NHRC Chairperson I questioned him on the death of Haruna Jatta, a Gambian shot in the Foni’s by Foreign Forces, and if any investigations were conducted around his death. To this, he first explained that the Commission was not set up yet by that time. “If I remember it’s either we were just sworn in or before we were sworn in,” he said.
However, I insisted that because the Truth, Reparations and Reconciliation Commission shall cover human rights violations during the previous administration it’s expected that the NHRC would investigate all human rights violations occurring in the current administration.
“The only conversation I’ve ever had because nobody brought any formal complaint to us. To be honest with you we have not commenced an investigation but I had one time engaged the Minister of Justice in a personal conversation” he said.
Ali “Killa Ace” Cham and Omission of Kebba Secka Killing
Ali “Killa Ace” Cham’s case has been mentioned in the report, however, it wasn’t clear if his case was investigated. I also asked the Chairperson on the killing of Kebba Secka which was omitted in the report and if it was also investigated. To this Chairperson Joof admitted that “you are right we should have mentioned the case [Kebba Secka]. In our rules of procedure, we investigate when somebody brings the matter to us or we have information. In the case of Kebba Secka when we made enquiries straight away, we were informed that he [the suspect] was charged. We do not interfere when a matter is in court we monitor. We cannot also usurp the powers of the courts”.
“We should have highlighted in our report that sometimes we start an investigation but when it is in court what we do is we just monitor the court sittings. This was the same situation with Ali “Killa Ace” Cham. In our next reports we will make sure it’s very clear when we have started cases which have progressed in court and why we have stopped” he said.
“In these incidents, we wrote to the Ministry of Justice we wrote to the Police to find out and they gave us information and because the matter was in court, we said ok, we’ll leave the court to finish their job and we’re monitoring. There are instances when we engage them, they asked for some time and they eventually dropped the charges. This has happened” he concluded.
Ousman Darboe – Pathologist Interviewed
One high-profile incident which was investigated was the Ousman Darboe case, to date, nobody has been charged for his death. It was alleged that Ousman Darboe died after being released after a torture session in Anti-Crime Unit’s Headquarters in Bijilo. However, conflicting reports indicate that Mr Darboe, a Sierra Leonean national died from an asthma attack. Gainako has spoken to Ousman Darboe’s brother who says he was never an asthmatic patient nor did he ever carry an inhaler.
When we questioned the NHRC Chairperson on the progress of the Ousman Darboe case, Mr Joof told Gainako’s Flex Dan that “the investigations started last year and the report was finalised this year. The recommendations and findings were sent to the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Interior.”
This prompted a follow up on when the report will be made public, “all these things will be made public” he said. “Usually we write to the authority involved that these are our findings. The law gives them 30 days to respond and tell us. If they don’t this is where remedial measures come in. We can even go to court to enforce”.
“In this particular case, I remember they quickly responded with the actions they have taken. We even decided to interview the pathologist. We have recruited four Police Officers as investigators to get information so we don’t just depend on information from the Police” he said.
Caste System and Violence in URR
The second case which was investigated was the Caste System and violence in Koina, Basse in the Upper River Region. “The caste system in the Upper River Region (URR) that one again our preliminary findings can be made public. We sent one of our Commissioners there with an investigator on a three-day fact-finding mission. That area is also a flash-point which started with a killing” he said.
“We sent a preliminary report which was sent to the Ministry of Interior and Ministry of Land and Religious Affairs. These are the two major investigations we have conducted since when we got our full staff” he concluded.