By D. A. Jawo
Once again, most Gambians and friends of the Gambia were no doubt quite embarrassed by the type of undiplomatic language President Yahya Jammeh is alleged to have used against no less a personality than the Secretary General of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon and a reputable human rights organization like Amnesty International.
During a recent interview with Jeune Afrique weekly magazine regarding their calls for an independent investigation into the alleged deaths of opposition members in police custody, President Jammeh was quoted saying; “Ban Ki-moon and Amnesty International can go to hell. Who are they to demand that” he conducts an investigation into the deaths in custody.
In an apparent confirmation of the death of at least one opposition member in custody, he said; “I don’t see the point. People die in custody or during interrogations, it is really common. This time, there is only one dead and they want investigations? I will not. No one can tell me what to do in my country.”
It is indeed quite hard for any reasonable being to justify the torturing to death of peaceful demonstrators, let alone the head of state who has an obligation to protect all Gambians regardless of their political affiliation. However, the very fact that he has confirmed the death of UDP activist Solo Sandeng in custody during interrogation, everyone expected him to not only publicly condemn it but to also promise an immediate investigation to identify those responsible for such a heinous act. No one in his/her right frame of mind would have expected him to react in such an undiplomatic manner as well as say; “I don’t see the point” of investigating the death in police custody because “People die in custody or during interrogations”.
This is by all accounts the most irresponsible statement any head of state has ever been quoted making.
The fact that he also went on to say; “This time, there is only one dead….” gives the impression that there had been more such deaths in the past. That of course reminds Gambians of the still unclear circumstances of the ‘disappearances’ of the former NIA Director General, Daba Marenah and four other detainees during the aftermath of the 2006 alleged coup attempt. We were told by the regime that the detainees ‘escaped’ while they were being transferred to Janjanbureh prison, which explanation hardly anyone ever believed. A press release issued at the time said they ‘escaped’ when the vehicle they were being transported was involved in an ‘accident’, and yet there has never been any disclosure of the registration number of the vehicle involved, where the ‘accident’ happened or even an eyewitness account of the ‘accident’. No doubt most people treated it as the fairy tale that it actually sounded like.
There has also been several other unexplained ‘disappearances’ and deaths in custody since the coming into power of the AFPRC/APRC regime about 22 years ago. Yet, hardly anyone has ever been apprehended for those violations of personal liberty, thus confirming this regime’s impunity credentials.
Therefore, President Jammeh’s refusal to carry out investigations into the deaths of opposition activists in custody is yet another carte blanche to his security thugs to continue to torture innocent Gambians to death with impunity.
It is indeed a shame that while all these naked human rights violations against innocent Gambians are going on, both the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union (AU) are keeping mute as if everything is fine. Gambians are even more disappointed with ECOWAS when it is considered that President Macky Sall of Senegal, who knows to his fingertips the situation in the Gambia, is the current chairman of the regional bloc.
Therefore, in view of the apparent failure of the regional blocs and the United Nations to take any action, one would wonder to whom innocent Gambians can now turn to for help against the continuous harassment, including arbitrary arrests, imprisonment, torture and ‘disappearance’, they are being subjected by the regime’s thugs.