Gambian Refugees in Senegal Ask Government to Respect Their Rights

Residents of Kerr Mot Hali, who are currently in exile, have renewed their call to the Gambia Government to respect their rights as citizens of the country.

Forced to flee to Senegal 12 years ago by the former regime, natives of Kerr Mot Hali are still in Senegal as refugees with no access to education, health and other social services. They were forced to exile because of their religious beliefs and practices. They are subscribed to the teachings of Muhammadoul Habiboulahi Secka renowned as Sering Ndigal who passed away sometime 2007.

It is now 1,356 days since the High Court entered judgment in favour of the followers of Sering Ndigal and until today, the Gambia Government through the Ministry of Justice is stopping the enforcement of the judgment.

These people fled to a neighbouring village in Senegal when they were threatened by police officers, who arrested and detained some of them. Since 14th January 2009 to date, they have been living under refuge in Senegal and the current Government is yet to show serious effort for their return to The Gambia. They have two high court judgments in their favour, but the Government is stepping on the enforcement of the judgment in order for them to come back to the country.

Kerr Mot Hali village is in Upper Saloum, Central River Region of the country and is known for its religious sectionalism under the Mourid leader Muhamadoul Habibulah Secka (Sering Ndigal) who passed away in 2007.

Since Yahya A.J.J. ceased to be president, the people of Kerr Mot Hali resorted to the High Court seeking for a declaration that their fundamental human rights have been violated. In this suit before the High Court, the indigenes of Kerr Mot Hali sued the Gambia Police Force, the Attorney General, the Governor of the Central River Region (CRRC), Sheikh Secka (the current Alkalo) and others.

These people brought the action before Justice Aminata Ceesay-Saho of the Banjul High Court seeking for a declaration that they are all citizens of the Gambia who have right over their properties and have a right to return to the country because they have been deprived of their right over their properties in the village. They succeeded in their case and judgment was entered in their favour.

Yunusa Ceesay said he is happy that the justice system is doing well, but on the contrary, he took time to express his disappointment in the Executive who have been stepping their feet on their judgment.

"The Government was a party to the first case [in which they lost] and they decided to exercise their authority over us to stop the judgment from being enforced. That is not rule of law, but rule of power," Ceesay said.

Ceesay said the delay in the enforcement all caused by the Government gave the illegal occupants the "breeding ground" to institute another case against them again. He accused the Executive of interfering with the decision of the court by way of delay of the court orders.

"We are very happy today that the judgment is delivered in our favour. We need to enjoy the fruit of our judgment. We want to return to our homeland and enjoy possession of whatever belongs to us and then practice our religion as and how we wish," he said.

Ceesay said life in exile is not easy, adding the Senegalese Government does not consider them. He said during COVID-19, their movement was restricted as they were barred from entering The Gambia amid the spread of the virus.

"Our own country [The Gambia] forced us to go into exile and when Covid-19 came, all financial sources have been limited. We are citizens of the Gambia like anyone else. We were not supported by the Gambia Government," he said. "For me, the previous regime is not as bad as this regime in terms of the way they are treating its citizens."

He said their plight is known to the President and his Government, but they have not taken any positive steps to ensure they respect the court orders.

"This issue is not a secret now," he said.

Ceesay said his people do not have access to proper health care and education services, saying they always have problems when they are coming into the Gambia.

"We are not considered by the Senegalese Government and we are not considered by our Government. That is the dilemma we are in," he said.

He said the security forces in The Gambia would discriminate against them.

"This Government is the catalyst to all the problems we are facing at the moment," he said.

On what he expects the Government to do this time around, Ceesay said he is expecting the Government to take steps to ensure that the judgment is enforced and not to attempt to stop enforcement.

"The Government must clearly know that they are not doing the right thing. Let the judgment be enforced," he said.

Kebba Secka, another follower of Sering Ndigal, called on the Government to respect the decision of the court.

"We the people of Kerr Mot Hali, the Ndigal followers have opened a new page and we are calling on the Government to open a new page by forgetting all the injustices they have been doing to us - the discriminations meted out on us and the denial of our right to live in our country," he said.

Kebba said the Government should respect the decision of the court relying on section 120 (4) of the Constitution which provides that "The Government and all departments and agencies of the Government shall accord such assistance to the courts as the courts may reasonably require to protect their independence, dignity and effectiveness."

The Sherriff's Division of the High Court has written to the Operations Commander of the Gambia Police Force to provide them with an escort to execute the court judgment but all these efforts were unsuccessful because of the intervention of the office of the Attorney-General who decided to delay the execution. The three letters from the Office of the Sheriff were dated 7th February 2018, 20th February 2018 and 12th March 2019.

Former Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Tambadou asked the Gambia Police Force in a letter for them not to provide escort to the Sheriff of the High Court to enforce the previous judgment even though the court restrained him from stopping the Ndigal followers from taking over his office. Until today, that judgment hasn't been enforced.

The laws of the Gambia are such that the Government and all departments and agencies (including the Ministry of Justice) shall accord such assistance to the courts as the courts may reasonably require to protect their independence, dignity and effectiveness.

The recent judgment was delivered on Monday, 28th June 2021 by Justice Ebrima Jaiteh of the Banjul High Court. He dismissed the case against the Ndigal followers which was brought by the current Alkalo, Ousman Secka and his followers who were seeking an order restraining the followers of Ndigal from coming into and around the village of Kerr Mot Hali and their farmlands. They want the court to make that order in order to protect and enforce their fundamental human rights to freely practice their religion without hindrance and avoid troubles from the respondents.

Ousman Secka and his people want the high court to protect and enforce their fundamental human rights pursuant to section 17 (2), 25 (1) of the 1997 Constitution.

Justice Jaiteh said the matter was already decided by high court judge, Justice Aminata Saho-Ceesay. Justice Jaiteh held that his court lacked the jurisdiction to rehear the case. He held that the parties in this case and the previous case are the same. He said in the previous judgment, it was held that the Ndigal followers are the owners of the lands and have the right to take over the land.

"This suit died on arrival," Jaiteh said.

Lawyer Lamin K. Mboge appeared for the current occupants whereas Lawyer Sheriff Kumba Jobe represented the Gambian exiles in Senegal.

Readers would recall that on the 12 October 2017, a high court judge delivered a judgement after the exiled Gambians sued the Gambia Government, the Government of Central River Region, the Inspector General of Police and the Current Alkalo. The decision was delivered in favour of the Ndigal followers.

High Court judge Aminata Saho-Ceesay in her judgement held that the Ndigal followers are Gambians who have the right to practice and manifest their religion. She restrained the Government and the police from stopping or preventing the Gambians in exile from taking over their lands and properties situated in Kerr Mot Hali, Upper Saloum District.

The court also declared that the exiles and each of them at all material times are the owners and are entitled to possession of their properties situated at Kerr Mot Hali and also it is their right to take their properties at the village that were taken from them compulsorily.

In addition, the Court issued an injunction restraining the respondents, whether by themselves, their servants or agents or whosoever, from dealing with, entering or remaining, or alienating or otherwise interfering with the appellants properties situated at Kerr Mot Hali.

The Court granted a perpetual injunction restraining the respondents (the government through the Attorney General, the Governor, the current Alkalo and the current residents of Kerr Mot Hali) from preventing the indigenes from taking possession and occupying their respective properties at the Village, Kerr Mot Hali.

The Court declared that the indigenes (Ndigal followers) are entitled to assemble and gather in order to practice their religion and to manifest such practice in the village, Kerr Mot Hali. The Court restrained the Respondents (the Gambia Government, IGP, Governor URR, current Alkalo of Kerr Mot Hali and his people) and granted the perpetual injunction restraining the respondents from preventing the indigenes from practicing their religion in the village.

The Court on the final order declared that the indigenes are not to be discriminated by the respondents on account of their religion, culture and tradition and particularly in the practice of their religion and the manifestation of such practice in the village.

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