Gambia: Fresh concerns over ‘enforced disappearances’

By Sanna Camara

The Gambia government has again come under the spotlight for the detention incommunicado of dozens of her citizens including women, elderly people, and a child. Many of these are believed to be in ill-health, rights groups said.

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A joint statement released by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch today lamented that Gambian authorities have deprived these people “of all contact with the outside world, dozens of friends and relatives of people accused of involvement in a coup attempt since January 2015.”

“This amounts to enforced disappearance, a serious violation of international law,” the statement said, adding that The Gambian government should urgently reveal their whereabouts.

Charge or release them

The release said that the authorities should “either charge them with a recognizable offense if there is sufficient evidence or immediately release them.” 

“Gambian authorities are ignoring basic human rights standards by detaining people incommunicado, raising grave concerns of enforced disappearance,” said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“Because their whereabouts are unknown and necessary safeguards are not in place, they are at high risk of torture and other abuses,” said Bekele.

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Daniel Bekele, Africa director at Human Rights Watch

Security agents picked up families, friends

On December 30, 2014, armed men attacked the State House in the capital, Banjul, but were repelled by Gambian security forces. In the days that followed, state security agents, including soldiers and plainclothes National Intelligence Agency (NIA) agents, picked up the associates, friends, and family members of people accused of involvement in the coup attempt.

Those detained were taken to the intelligence agency’s headquarters, where most are believed to have been held incommunicado since then.

A number of family members of detainees have told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch about the detention of their loved ones.

“But many are afraid to speak out. Relatives outside the country have told the two organizations that some family members have been threatened with arrest by state security officials if they continue to seek the whereabouts of their relatives, the statement indicated.

Christof-Heyns

At least 52 people detained

The United Nations special rapporteur on torture reported in March 2015 that at least 52 people had been detained, most by men in civilian clothing thought to work for the state intelligence agency.

Several were released between February and May, and it is unclear how many still remain in incommunicado detention.

One of the relatives being held is Yusupha Lowe, the 16-year-old son of Bai Lowe, a man suspected of taking part in the December 2014 coup and then fleeing the country.

Marta Colomer Aguilera
Marta Colomer Aguilera West Africa Campaigner for Anglophone West and Central Africa Regional Office

His family received informal reports that he had been held at the intelligence headquarters in Banjul since January but credible sources in recent days have told Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that he is no longer there.

Government refused to provide information

The government has refused to provide information about his whereabouts to family members and there are growing concerns about his safety, the rights group have said.

Mariam Njie, the mother of Alhaji Jaja Nass, who was killed during the attempted coup, was detained on January 5, and relatives believe she was taken to the intelligence agency headquarters.

Meta Njie, the mother of Col. Lamin Sanneh, who was also killed during the attempted coup, was detained on January 1.

“Authorities have not released any information about her whereabouts and family members have not had responses to their inquiries. Both women are in their late 60s,” the statement said.

Essa Bojang, the father of a suspected coup plotter, Dawda Bojang, who fled after the attack, was picked up by plain clothes men thought to be intelligence agents and uniformed soldiers on January 1. He is also in his 60s and has a physical disability.

Relatives believe he is being held at the intelligence agency headquarters but have had no response from authorities to requests for information about his whereabouts and wellbeing.

“Prolonged incommunicado detention and other due process violations flout Gambia’s obligations under its own constitution, which requires authorities to bring detainees before a court of law within 72 hours,” the rights groups said.

It is also against Gambia’s obligations under the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

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