Since Jammeh came to power in 1994, state security forces and paramilitary groups such as the Jungulers have extrajudicially executed dozens of people.
Many others were forcibly disappeared and are presumed dead. Most of those killed or “disappeared” were critics of the government, opposition activists or those suspected of supporting the overthrow of Jammeh’s government. No one has been brought to account for these abuses.
An emblematic case of the government’s disregard for the right to life is that of Deyda Hydara, an outspoken critic of the government, editor of The Point newspaper, and then-president of the Gambia Press Union. On December 16, 2004, alleged Jungulers fatally shot Hydara in his car as he was driving home with two colleagues. The killing happened on the eve of The Point’s 13thanniversary, and just days after Hydara vocally opposed legislation that imposed prison sentences for defamation and sedition, increased registration fees for media outlets by more than 300 percent, and required newspaper owners to put their homes as security for payment of fines and legal judgments.
A former Junguler who, as a driver, took part in the operation in which Hydara was killed, told Human Rights Watch that Hydara was shot and killed by members of the Jungulers.
My fellow Jungulers were given a list of 22 people and told to kill them. On the list were politicians, journalists, people who he [Jammeh] feels are a threat to him. Deyda Hydara was on that list. It happened at night on the Sankung Sillah road. When he came, we blocked Hydara’s vehicle in between the two taxis, and shot at him. Then one junguler went up close and shot him again.
In June 2014, the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice ruled against Gambia for failing to properly investigate the killing and ordered the government to pay damages to Hydara’s family. At time of writing, the government has yet to comply with the ruling and no one has been held accountable for Hydara’s killing.
In July 2005, Junguler paramilitaries summarily executed over 50 migrants who had been detained after arrival in Gambia. According to the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, which went to Ghana in 2007 to investigate the incident, a group of 44 Ghanaians and 15 other African nationals were detained on a beach in Gambia after having been brought there by human traffickers who had promised to take the men to Europe. The men were detained on suspicion of intending to overthrow the Gambian government. They were held for several days without charge at the Naval Headquarters in Banjul, before being divided into groups and executed. A joint UN-ECOWAS fact-finding mission found in 2009 that the Gambian government was not to blame but that “rogue elements” in Gambia’s security services were responsible for the killings.
A former Junguler who took part in the operation in which the men were killed, told Human Rights Watch that he was ordered to drive the migrants in small groups to a field near Kanilai, the president’s village, where two Jungulers then shot the men in several groups. He said eight others were killed with machetes in Brufut, a few kilometers from Banjul:
I was stationed in Kanilai when they came with them [the migrants] from Kombo, Banjul area. We took them from Kanilai, just two by two, and dropped them at the border; someone else would take them into the bush where two Jungulers were waiting. Then shortly after, we heard gunshots, so then we turned the car around and went back to get two more. Some of them were scared because they knew they were going to die. The Jungulers dumped the bodies in a big well at Yunor, an abandoned village on the Senegalese side of the border, not far from Kanilai.
Only eight bodies were eventually found, six of whom were Ghanaian. The Gambian government agreed to arrest and prosecute those involved, and to make financial contributions to the families of the six Ghanaians killed, in addition to exhuming and repatriating the six bodies to their families in Ghana. While the Gambian government contributed to the funeral costs of the six, they have not paid compensation to the families. The Gambian government conducted no further investigations, and none of the alleged perpetrators, some of whom were named in the UN-ECOWAS report, have been prosecuted for their alleged involvement in the killings.
A former Junguler told Human Rights Watch that in July 2005, he saw Jungulers kill two men, Haruna Jammeh, relative of President Jammeh, and former NIA director Jasaja Kujabi,and one woman, Masireh Jammeh, also a relative of Jammeh and a former state house employee.
The government has been credibly implicated in more than a dozen extrajudicial executions of those implicated following coup attempts in 2006 and 2014. Most of the victims were current or former members of the security services.
In March 2006, after an attempted coup was thwarted, security forces detained 50 suspects, several of whom were held in prolonged detention at NIA headquarters. The whereabouts of five soldiers suspected of being involved in the coup plot remain unknown. The government maintains that they escaped while being transferred from Mile 2 prison to Janjanbureh prison, but the government has never investigated their disappearance.
A former member of the Jungulers told Human Rights Watch the five soldiers were tortured and that they believed they were killed by the Jungulers. While he was posted at Mile 2 security wing, his fellow Jungulers removed the five detainees and returned them to their cells the following day with visible signs showing that they had been tortured, including marks on their bodies from beating and problems with their eyes, reportedly due to a common torture method in which a polythene bag is tied tightly over the victim’s head:
The five were held at Mile 2 security wing, not NIA [headquarters]. And instead of taking them to court, they were just tortured seriously. And after that serious torture, they were taken to Kanilai and killed by the Jungulers. I did not see the bodies but I saw them take those people while they were still alive. They said they had escaped, but when they came back, my fellow Junguler told me they had killed all five of them – Mangifi Corr, Alieu Ceesay, Ebou Lowe, Alpha Bah and the former NIA director Daba Marenah.
The government reported that during the course of an attempted coup in December 2014, security forces killed four coup plotters. However, photographic evidence suggests that three of those killed (the fourth escaped to Germany) had actually been tortured and executed while in custody. Mobile phone images obtained by Human Rights Watch show three bodies, whom family members and former security personnel were able to identify as Lamine Sanneh, Njaga Jagne and Alhagie Nyass – three of the men named by Gambian authorities. Three images, taken at night, show the naked torsos of each man; two of these images show pools of blood on the ground behind their heads. Two other images each show a body with arms and ankles tied with rope. One image, taken in daylight, appears to show the three bodies in a row, not bound by rope. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial and unlawful killings noted in his June 2015 report that, “if the photographs are authentic, they raise questions about circumstances that led to their deaths.”
In January, the United Nations Office of West Africa (UNOWA) offered to assist with an investigation into the events surrounding the December 2014 coup attempt, but the Gambian government did not accept the offer.