April 10, 11 Victims in Ankara Hospitals, But Health Won’t Replace Justice
Exactly 20 years today, at least fourteen students including a Red Cross volunteer were gunned down by the security officers during a nation-wide demonstration.
The students took to the streets to demand justice for two of their colleagues, Ebrima Barry, who was allegedly killed after being punished by a teacher and Binta Manneh who was allegedly raped by the policemen, all happened in the first quarter of the year 2000.
Before the carnage, the Gambia Students’ Union (GAMSU) was in the forefront to negotiate with the government authorities regarding the two incidents. But the continuous delay or lack of interest by the government grew frustrations amongst the students across the country resulting in the demonstration. The response from the security which was allegedly sanctioned by the government of the day was bloody.
The questions of ‘who gave an order and who pulled the trigger’ were never responded to for more than two decades despite global cry.
In August last year, the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) which was established by the Barrow government to probe the atrocities committed under the previous administration led by Yahya Jammeh has heard testimonies into the issue. The perpetrators, victims, witnesses and relatives of those who were killed have all testified in televised proceedings.
The then Union’s President, Omar Joof, now in Canada, told the TRRC that they had had several meetings to engage the security chiefs regarding situations of their members. But nothing came out of it.
Even after the change of government, victims continued to be confronted with the health and justice causes. And the Barrow government has been blamed for ignoring their plights, even though the TRRC facilitated their treatment in Turkey. To them, it’s the TRRC and not the government that assisted them thanks to the Turkish government.
“Thanks to the TRRC, we secured this treatment in Turkey,” Abdoukarim Jammeh, a victim and right activist since dictatorship, tells The Chronicle.
“We are happy to be here to receive this treatment because this has been the concern we were battling with for years. We thank all those organisations who made this possible,” he said.
Abdoukarim has so far received two surgeries on his ankle that forced him to limp for two decades. His doctor is currently providing him the necessary physiotherapy. According to him, his health is improving fast as he is now able to move his ankle freely unlike before.
“The TRRC is taking care of our feeding.”
“We still have a problem because we have some of our colleagues who are in The Gambia without getting treatment. We are the lucky once to be part of the first batch but they too deserve this opportunity.”
He appeals to the government or the TRRC to consider his fellows, saying they are tired in The Gambia.
“It’s very difficult to be sitting for 20 years with gun wounds. We know if these were their close relatives [referring to the authorities], they wouldn’t have sidelined them for years even after the change. We urged the authorities to consider these people as their own children and help them accordingly.”
Yusupha Mbaye, whose movement has since been restricted to a wheelchair, is also in Ankara receiving treatment at a specialised military hospital but suffered a setback.
“…I was taken to a military hospital where I should get my treatment. The hospital specializes in gun injuries.
“I met the specialist and he checked on me. He asked if I preferred to be admitted and I said yes. But when they checked their situation, there was no space at the time and the appointment was scheduled for April, this month.”
He said the coronavirus has further delayed his treatment due to lockdown declared in the country.
The third person to benefit from the Turkish government treatment package is Oumie Jagne “We are having a good treatment here. The doctors are treating us very well here.”
Both Oumie and Yusupha testified before the TRRC last year, providing evidence into what sorrowfully turned around their lives.
Justice is calling
Although Abdoukarim is hopeful that there could be justice, his hope is in the TRRC and not in government.
“I already lost fate in this government. If you monitor the situation you would realise that victims and perpetrators are seeing each other every day and everywhere.
“I don’t say they should kill them or do any wrong to them but the notorious perpetrators, we the victims say those people should be kept confined till further notice because any time we set our eyes on them we are provoked.”
For Oumie, who was repeatedly shot in her shoulder as she tried to rescue her late sister, a student on the 10th day of April around Iceman junction in Kanifing, they can only settle for justice and not only treatment.
Metals were inserted in Oumie’s hand to help support her movement since the carnage. But she couldn’t cook or launder as she relies on people for two decades.
“We need justice. Justice must be done and we need it now. The president should stand with us to get justice immediately. We also need them to help other victims to be treated.”
Like Abdoukarim, Yusupha doesn’t have hope in getting justice from this government. “When it comes to justice, I am not sure because we wrote a petition to the Ministry of Justice in 2017 and since then we didn’t hear anything from them.
“They didn’t reply to us and they didn’t tell us anything so since then I have started having doubts in this government. If they were to accept our petition, I guess by now we should have justice. The April 10, 11 issue is written in black and white, they know everything about it but still nothing.”
However, he hailed the work of the TRRC, a transitional justice mechanism which sent them to treatment with the help of Turkish government and other stakeholders.
‘Ban the APRC’
Abdoukarim Jammeh has called for the banning of the APRC, a party that was established by the former leader Yahya Jammeh. He said the party officials are continuously provoking them.
“The APRC and Yahya Jammeh are the perpetrators and that party should be silenced. They shouldn’t be allowed to be releasing statements that anger the victims in the name of democracy. Anyone who does that should be charged and be brought to justice because they are deliberately angering us.”
According to him, APRC is a problem to the victims and urged the government to use its powers and silence them.
“If they [APRC] cannot help us, they should remain silent but not be disputing facts of our encounters even when some perpetrators have in fact openly confessed to doing such things.
“This is creating a big anger in victims and it could lead to a problem. We’re victims and we don’t want to be causing problems. We appeal to the government to give us protection. If the APRC insisted not to change, they should ban the party. They should be banned to be silenced.”
Victim’s day and monument
Abdoukarim has appealed to the Barrow-led government to dedicate to them the Youth Monument at Westfield that will be used to remember both April 10, 11 victims as well as April 14, 16 political victims.
“We want the youth monument to be given to the victims so it can be a memorial ground for us. So that we can commemorate this day at the ground annually and the victims and survivors’ names be written there for posterity.”
“The day can be a public holiday to serve as a reminder and a national prayer day as well for those who stood for justice and got problems. It wouldn’t just be for the April 10/11 but even April 14/16 victims. We can all share the place and commemorate the day,” he said.
He testified before the TRRC in August last year indicating that he was mercilessly beaten by the security officers.