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17.10.2007 General News

The Gambia massacre remains a government nightmare

By daily Express- Nii Kwaku Osabutey ANNY

When President Kufour first addressed Parliament in 2001, five weeks after being sworn in as president, he said “it is the responsibility of the state, the government and the community to take care of those who cannot stand on their own two feet. It is the mark of a civilized people to help the weak and the disadvantaged.”

Six years down the line it appears his government's commitment to the above statement has been subjected to serious test following what human rights groups say is the snail pace at which investigations are on-going into a number of human right related cases. Key among them for some groups is the death of the 44 Ghanaians in the Gambia.

The 44 Ghanaians and other African migrants said to be on their way to board a vessel from Gambia to Europe, were reportedly butchered to death in cold blood by the Gambian gendarmerie at the behest of President Yahaya Jammeh in July 2005.

The gruesome incident only came to light following the account narrated by the sole survivor of the incident Kyere, and subsequent pressure mounted by human rights groups to ensure that justice is served to Kyere and his departed colleagues.

Kyere, now 28, is on record to have accused the Gambian gendarmerie of cruelly killing the 44 Ghanaians as well as the others.

"I didn't know these people would do these things," Kyere said. "If anything, I thought they might collect money and send us back. We never thought these people would kill us."

Mr. Kyere said one night, himself and seven others were bundled into a pick-up vehicle, with their hands tied. When one of them complained of shoulder pain, a soldier cut off his arm and blood spurted into the back of the pick up.

According to him, as the pick-up went deeper into the forest, he loosened his knots and jumped out. Soldiers shouted and fired in his direction. As he cowered in the woods, he heard more gunshots and cries for help.

Government, through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, soon commenced an investigation into the matter. But it has been over two years and nothing concrete has come out.

The Regional Coordinator of the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) Nana Oye Lithur, one the several HR lawyers vigorously pushing for justice against the Gambian government says she is not happy with the way government is going about the investigation.

“…...for how long are we going to wait, because we received a letter from the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Nana Akuffo Addo on 15 January where he said they were about concluding their investigation report,” she told the dailyEXPRESS “… and in November they are even still going back to Gambia and still concluding their report.”

She said the current posture by government does not give enough weight to their commitment to unravelling the mystery surrounding the Gambia massacre.

“We are wondering why the Ghana government seems to be treating Gambia with kid gloves,” she said. “We are not saying go out, declare war but at least we need to see that you're doing something about the situation as this silence and lack of proactive response is very worrying.”

Sources at the Foreign Affairs Ministry say officials are still putting pieces of information together following a recent trip to Gambia.

Oye Lithur however told the dailyEXPRESS “it's important for government to be updating Ghanaians consistently.” She said the incident is a human rights issue and that it's a test case to show government's commitment to protecting its citizens which is enshrined in the constitution.

“You're supposed to protect human rights and this is a situation where people's human rights have been violated and, what action are you taking as a government,” she asked rhetorically.

According to her, two years is more than enough for the chapter on the Gambia mess to be cleared. Something she said has given Jammeh the right to act with impunity.

“If the African leaders are going to sit down and watch an African leader to violate people's rights with impunity then, we human rights defenders in Africa, particularly CHRI and African legal aid, will not sit down,” the affable Oye Lithur said.

She added that, “what ever it takes to bring justice for this 44 we're going to do.”

According to her, other rights groups across the continent would be mobilised to put pressure on Yahaya Jammeh to ensure that his penchant for violating people's rights is brought to an end.