(Dakar) – Two Togolese have recently been discovered to be among about 50 West African migrants massacred in 2005 by a paramilitary unit controlled by former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International said today. The victims’ families said that the Togolese government should support efforts in Ghana to investigate and prosecute the case.
In July 2005, the Togolese nationals, Yawovi Agbogbo and Kossi Odeyi, left Senegal on board a motorized canoe with several dozen Ghanaians as well as Nigerians, Senegalese, Ivorians, and one Gambian, with a view to reaching Europe. Three days later, Agbogbo called his family to say that they had been arrested in Gambia, but they never heard from him again.
“We believe Yawovi Agbogbo and Kossi Odeyi were among those murdered along with the Ghanaians by a death squad taking orders from former President Jammeh,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch. “We hope Togo’s government will support efforts in Ghana to bring their killers to justice.”
A report published on May 16, 2018 by Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International, revealed that the migrants were killed after being detained by Jammeh’s closest associates in the army, the navy, and the police. Some victims were cut up with machetes and axes and others were shot. The groups based their report on interviews with 30 Gambian former security officials, including 11 officers directly involved in the incident.
Following the publication of the report, several families of the Ghanaian victims called for justice for their relatives.
“In July 2005, Yawovi had told me he was going to leave for Europe in a boat,” said Nestor Womeno, Yawovi Agbogbo’s brother. “Three days after that conversation, he called me from Gambia to tell me they had been arrested and were in a police station.”
Womeno has not heard from his brother since. He later found out he had been killed, but said he did not know the circumstances until the report was published.
Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International found that on July 22, 2005, the anniversary of Jammeh’s taking power in the Gambia in 1994, the Gambian navy arrested the migrants and accused them of being mercenaries involved in a coup attempt.
Among the group of about 50 migrants, only Martin Kyere, a Ghanaian, is known to have survived. In February 2018, he told Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International that he managed to escape just before other migrants were apparently murdered: “I thought, ‘We’re going to die.’ But as the truck went deeper into the forest, I was able to get my hands free. I jumped out from the pickup and started to run into the forest. The soldiers shot toward me but I was able to hide. I then heard shots from the pickup and the cry, in Twi [Ghanaian language], ‘God save us!’”
Despite efforts by Ghana, whose nationals made up the greatest number of victims – about 40 – as well as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations to investigate the case, no arrests were made while Jammeh was in power.
A joint ECOWAS and UN report, which was never made public, concluded that the Gambian government was not “directly or indirectly complicit” in the killings and forced disappearances but that “rogue elements” in the Gambian security services, “acting on their own,” were responsible.
The evidence disclosed in Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International’s investigations, however, shows that those responsible for these murders were not “rogue elements” but the “Junglers,” a paramilitary unit operating under Jammeh’s orders.
In Ghana, Kyere, the victims’ families, and several human rights organizations have called on the government to investigate based on this new evidence and to ensure that Jammeh is extradited to Ghana for trial. In response, Ghana’s information minister, Dr. Mustapha Abdul-Hamid, announced on May 28 that the Justice and Foreign Affairs Ministries were considering the Ghanaian victims’ request as well as the legal and diplomatic implications.
The two Togolese families added their voices to the appeal for prosecution of those responsible for these killings and said that Togo should support efforts for Ghana to investigate the crime.
“We are calling for justice for our brother and compensation to enable us to support his two orphans’ education,” said Anani Aduro, the brother of Kossi Odeyi.
“Togo, which lost two of its citizens in the massacre, has a real role to play in this case” said Bénédict De Moerloose, head of criminal law and investigations for TRIAL International. “Togo will be able to support Ghana in uncovering the truth about these crimes. Togo will thus be able to participate in a justice effort of paramount importance.”
Jammeh’s 22-year rule in Gambia was marked by widespread abuses, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detention. He sought exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017 after losing the December 2016 presidential election to Adama Barrow.
Following Jammeh’s departure, Gambian and international human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International, opened the “Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice” (#Jammeh2Justice) in October 2017. The campaign calls for the prosecution of the former president and others who bear the greatest responsibility for his government’s crimes, in compliance with international fair trial standards.
President Barrow has suggested that he would seek Jammeh’s extradition from Equatorial Guinea if the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, which is expected to begin work in Gambia in the next few months, recommends prosecuting the former president. However, the government, as well as international activists and experts, believe that the political, institutional and security conditions do not yet exist in Gambia for a fair trial of Jammeh that would contribute to the stability of the country and the region.
President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea has been more reticent. After saying in January that he would “analyze [any extradition request] with [his] lawyers,” a week later he said he wanted to protect Yahya Jammeh “to ensure that the other heads of state who have to leave power do not fear for subsequent harassment.”
The UN Convention against Torture, which Equatorial Guinea has ratified, requires a country in whose territory a torture suspect is found to refer the case for investigation or extradite that person.