Sunday, February 5, 2023

Truth Commission Says NIA Operatives Acted With Total Impunity, Disregard For Human Life

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Old building of defunct NIA Headquarters; DG Sowe talking to former TRRC Chairperson Dr. Lamin Sise, Lead Counsel, Essa Faal and Commissioners of the TRRC respectively 

The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission in its Investigative Report alleged that operatives of the defunct National Intelligence Agency (NIA), acted with total impunity and disregard for human life.

As we move to the institutional hearings of the TRRC Report and recommendations to the Government of The Gambia as well as the Government position on the ‘White Paper,’ we continue from where we stopped in Theme 15 of the Report, talking about the most feared Security Institution under the former regime. 

The Commission investigated various matters pertaining to the NIA’s gross abuses and violations. Some of the areas investigated by the Commission with its findings are outlined below:

2000 Coup Plot:

  • The Commission found that Lt. Lalo Jaiteh, Lt. Omar Darboe, Ebrima Barrow, and Ebrahima Yarbo and Dumo Saho were arrested in 2000 relating to an alleged coup plot and brought before the NIA investigative panel. On the orders of Foday Barry, Omar Darboe was tortured twice by soldiers at the NIA, and in the presence of Sukuta Jammeh among others. The acts were s inflicted upon Omar Darboe in order to extract a confession from him. On the orders of Biran Jobe, and in the presence of other members of the investigative panel including Tijan Bah, Baba Saho, Foday Barry, Ousman Jallow, Salimina Drammeh, Ousman Sowe, and Sukuta Jammeh (deceased), Ebrima Barrow was sexually torture and severely beaten by Edrissa Jobe (Alagie Morr). Although members of the NIA named above who appeared before the Commission denied any participation in torture, the Commission unanimously believed the testimonies of Lt. Omar Darboe and Ebrima Barrow, and found the testimonies provided by the NIA officials lacking in truth and designed only to extricate themselves from any responsibly.
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Torture of NAWEC Staff

  • To spy on citizens with the view to keep Yahya Jammeh in power, the NIA deployed agents to various governmental offices including the National Water and Electricity Corporation (NAWEC). During their operation, they committed numerous human rights violations and abuses. Between 2001 and 2003, the NIA operative Omar Cham was posted to NAWEC where he admitted to the Commission of torturing NAWEC staff including Gibril Wakka, Musa Oldie Jawo, Famara Naso, Simon Grant, and Sainabou Keita. He however denied torturing Ebou Khan and Bakary Saho but Commission did not believe him.

2006 Failed Ndure Cham Coup

  • In March 2006, the former CDS Ndure Cham attempted a coup d’état against Yahya Jammeh’s government however the coup failed. Lang Tombong Tamba, who was then the Deputy CDS ordered the arrests of several soldiers involved. An investigation was held into the failed coup by a panel at the NIA headquarters. The Commission found that the investigation panel “hired independent witnesses” which the Commission deemed improper. The Commission also found the investigation panel to have engaged in the fabrication of evidence, and that suspects were coerced to write statements of confession which conformed to what the panel wanted. Further, the panel’s independent witness who was not even present during the writing of the confessions attained through torture, signed the statements. On occasions, former President Yahya Jammeh would ask Junglers carrying out the acts of torture to put their phones on loudspeaker or on video so he could hear the screams and agony of the victims.

Recommendations from the TRRC and the position of the Government:

  • The Commission, having considered the totality of the evidence, made the following recommendations:
  • Prosecute Yankuba Badjie, the former Director General of the NIA, and Sheikh Omar Jeng for their complicity in the unlawful detention and torture of Tumani Jallow and Abdoulie Gaye at the NIA and for their roles in handing over Tumani Jallow and Abdoulie Gaye to the Junglers knowing reasonably well that they were highly likely to be tortured and killed.
  • The Government accepts the recommendation of the Commission.
  • Prosecute Yankuba Badjie, Sheik Omar Jeng and Tamba Masireh for their role in the torture against Solo Sandeng and the April 14th 2016 UDP demonstrators at the NIA
  • The Government accepts the recommendation of the Commission and notes that the prosecution of the above-named persons is currently ongoing for the death of Solo Sandeng while in NIA custody. Notwithstanding, the Special Prosecutor Office to be created will be tasked to conduct a thorough investigation on the events of 14 April 2016.
  • Prosecute Edrissa Jobe (Alagie Morr) for the torture against Lamin Karbou and others at the NIA.
  • The Government accepts the recommendation of the Commission but notes that Edrissa Jobe (Alagie Morr) is currently out of the jurisdiction. The Government will collaborate with the relevant authorities with the aim of securing his arrest and return to The Gambia to face charges bearing in mind that torture is an international crime. Whilst the Government will welcome his arrest and prosecution internationally it also reserves the right to secure his return to The Gambia and be charged and tried domestically.
  • Prosecute Lamin Darboe, the head of the Special Operations Unit, for his role in all the tortures committed by Special Operations at the NIA.
  • The Government accepts the recommendation of the Commission.
  • Reprimand Basiru Sey, Alasan Baldeh and Gibril Kanyi for all the tortures they committed as members of the Special Operations Unit.
  • The Government takes note of the recommendation of the Commission but equally notes that torture is a serious crime and a serious violation of human rights. The Government recognizes the need to balance investigations and prosecutions from the recommendations stemming from the Commission to ensure successful convictions of those who bear the greatest responsibility for the violations committed.
  • Reprimand Lt. Col Amadou Bojang, Ebrima Ceesay, Babucarr Trawally, Alpha Bojang and Babucarr Singhateh for the torture and unlawfull detention of Pa Alasan Jallow, Ebrima Keita and Musa Fofana.
  • The Government takes note of the recommendation of the Commission but equally notes that torture is a serious crime and violation of human rights. Government recognizes the need to balance investigations and trials from the recommendations stemming from the Commission to ensure successful convictions of those who bear the greatest responsibility for the human rights violations. The Government directs the relevant authorities to make further investigations to dismiss and ban Lt. Col Amadou Bojang, Ebrima Ceesay, Babucarr Trawally, Alpha Bojang and Babucarr Singhateh from working in the security services and consider the possibility of charging them with torture domestically.
  • Ban Ousman Sowe, the current Director General, from holding public office with the government of The Gambia for a minimum period of 10 years for the destruction and concealment of evidence at the NIA;
  • The Government notes that while the actions alleged above are said to have happened in May 2017, The TRRC’s mandate covers the period from July 1994 to January 2017. The Government is therefore of the view that this recommendation goes beyond the scope of the TRRC’s mandate.
  • Ban the following present and former NIA officials who directly and indirectly participated in the torture of detainees and other gross human rights violations and abuses from holding any office with the government of The Gambia for a minimum of 10 years which the Commission believes commensurate with the severity of their actions: Lamin Bo Baaji, Tejan Bah, Foday Barry, Ebrima Jim Drammeh, Salimina Drammeh, Momodou Hydara, Ousman Jallow, Lamin Jobarteh (Babadinding), Baba Saho
  • The Government accepts the recommendation of the Commission subject to an internal review and consultations with Security Council.
  • Ban Harry Sambou and Samsideen Sarr from holding public office for five years for their participation in the torture of Omar Dampha and Ballo Kanteh respectively.
  • The Government partially accepts the recommendation of the Commission. The Government notes that while Harry Sambou was given the opportunity to testify before the Commission Samsideen Sarr was not afforded a similar opportunity in spite of his well-publicised calls for an opportunity to appear before the Commission and respond to the allegations levelled against him by Ballo Kanteh. It is the Government’s view that this is inconsistent with his right to fear hearing. The Government further notes with dismay that the Commission failed to enquire further into the cold-blooded killing of 6 young soldiers nor did it make any attempts to establish their victimhood and that of their survivors. It is the Government’s position that Corporal Saihou Sidibeh, Corporal Essa Keita, Private Ebrima Manneh, Staff Sgt. Lamin Badjie, Private Bakary Saidy and Private Ebrima Bojang died defending the territorial integrity of The Gambia and shall be given due posthumous honours by the Gambia Armed Forces. Their survivors shall equally be classified as victims and shall be eligible to receive reparations.
  • Completely overhaul and re-orientate the NIA to ensure that its principal function and duties are limited to its traditional intelligence gathering role and such related responsibilities.
  • The Government notes the recommendation of the Commission and can confirm that the NIA Act is being reviewed with support from key stakeholders and development partners such as DECAF.
  • Completely strip the NIA of its policing powers which allowed the institution to concern itself with ordinary matters that traditionally falls within the jurisdiction of the police in the exercise of its law-and-order duties.
  • The Government takes note of the recommendation of the Commission and reaffirms its commitment to reforming the NIA.
  • Disband immediately the Special Investigations Unit of the NIA which over the years had been used to oppress and brutalise perceived opponents of Yahya Jammeh and those who befell the misfortune of coming into contact with the NIA
  • The Government notes the recommendation of the Commission. The Special Investigation Unit of the NIA was used to oppress and brutalise opponents of the Government but notes that in a fully functioning democracy, the Special Unit has an important role to play in national security. The Government therefore cannot accept this recommendation fully to out rightly disband the Unit but reaffirms its strong commitment to reforming the NIA as part of the ongoing security sector reform process to ensure the excesses of the past are not repeated.
  • Remove immediately the extensive legal powers given to the NIA to investigate and concern itself with the private issues and lives of citizens and businesses.
  • The Government accepts the recommendation of the Commission noting that no such legal powers are conferred by law. Notwithstanding, the Government reaffirms its commitment to implementing security sector reform to address violations of individual’s rights by security personnel.
  • Overhaul the recruitment process of NIA personnel and introduce more stringent essential requirements at the minimum to ensure the institution hires individuals who possess minimum academic qualifications and professional experience to effectively and competently carry out the required functions of the institution.
  • The Government accepts the recommendation of the Commission. The enactment and implementation of the Vetting Bill will ensure that the NIA management is manned by suitably qualified and experienced personnel.
  • Remove all detention facilities at the NIA to ensure that the culture of arbitrarily detaining suspects completely ceases.
  • The Government accepts the recommendation of the Commission. Arbitrary detention of individuals is unacceptable and any detention must be lawful and in compliance with the country’s human rights obligations, however, it recognizes the importance of state security, and to strip the NIA of a detention facility may interfere with national security. Based on the foregoing, the Government is unable to accept this recommendation in its totality but is committed to taking relevant measures to ensure minimum standards for all detention facilities and that any detention is in line with minimum international standards.
  • All NIA staff undergo adequate and comprehensive training to inculcate the culture of discipline and values that promote respect for fundamental human rights and freedoms and upholding the rule of law in a democratic system.
  • The Government accepts the recommendation of the Commission and is committed to implementing this recommendation as part of its security sector reform agenda.
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