Gambia: 'Witch-Hunting Exercise Was Politically Motivated'

Banjul, Gambia (file photo).

TRRC Reports

The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in its Investigative Report and Recommendations to the Government of the Gambia, disclosed that some testimonies before the Commission showed that Yahya Jammeh's witch-hunting exercise was politically motivated.

The Truth Commission stated that due to former President Jammeh's strong belief in superstition and supernatural activities, the first witch-hunting exercise was conducted in Kanilai following the death of former President Jammeh's aunt which he attributed to witchcraft.

Below we reproduce the Truth Commission's Report and Government's Position on their report as stated in the Government 'White Paper' in one of the most interesting topics investigated by the Commission, showing how ordinary Gambians got their rights violated by so-called witch-doctors assisted by State agents, under Theme 12: President's Witch-Hunt Exercise.

Background:

280. Former President Jammeh launched a nationwide witch hunt between 2008 to 2009 where victims were unceremoniously identified as witches or wizards, forcefully detained by the "witch hunters" and security personnel, and removed from the security and privacy of their offices, homes and communities to unknown destinations.

281. The witch-hunting exercise was conducted in Kanilai, Sintet, Jambur, Essau, Barra, Mankumbaya, Galoya including villages in Foni and expanded to government institutions.

282. The "witch-doctors" believed to be from Guinea Conakry or Mali were escorted and assisted by members of the Gambia Armed Forces (GAF), members of the Police Intervention Unit (PIU), the paramilitary wing of the Police, conventional police officers in some villages and the Green Boys and Girls and some villages were accompanied by Alkalos, residents and APRC supporters.

283. Due to Former President Jammeh's strong belief in superstition and supernatural activities, the first witch-hunting exercise was conducted in Kanilia following the death of Former President Jammeh's Aunt which he attributed to witchcraft. Some testimonies also revealed that the witch hunt exercise was politically motivated.

284. The witch hunt exercises conducted at the Gambia Police Force (GPF) were sanctioned by Former President Jammeh and done to ensure the loyalty of the police and to defeat the opposition of ranks through employing tactics of fear, intimidation and humiliation throughout the exercise. Similar witch-hunting exercises were also subsequently held in the military barracks and the NIA Headquarters.

285. From testimonies received it was also gathered that the witch-hunt was used to persecute personal enemies and execute personal vendettas against individuals

with impunity as seen in Sintet where the Alkalo was targeted and Jambur, which was considered an opposition territory.

286. The non-institutional witch-hunting exercises generally targeted older persons and less privileged members of society, detained against their will for several days. These victims were forced to drink bitter or unpleasant herbal concoctions thought to be sourced from "Kubejera" and "Talo" a local hallucinogenic plant identified as toxic to the body.

287. The witch hunt exercise in Sintet, Makumbaya, Jambur, and Essau was similar in nature and pattern in terms of how victims were forcefully abducted and treated including the devastating effects of the exercise. However, victims in Essau included pregnant women, nursing mothers and children. Victims, including women, were forced to bathe in a repulsive herbal concoction whilst nude or semi- naked under humiliating and sexually abusive circumstances.

288. To instill fear and ensure full compliance with witch-hunting exercises, victims were, threatened, exposed to guns and ammunition, beaten, tortured, and subjected to inhuman and degrading conditions including the deprivation of food, medical, and attention.

289. The Commission found that at least one of the victims of the witch-hunting exercise was raped while other victims died or suffered from serious illnesses and other negative effects such as nausea, unconsciousness, hallucinations, intoxication, diarrhoea and exhibiting strange behaviors following their release.

290. The Commission found that some officers at the GPF HQ Banjul were forcibly requested to undress and were subjected to personal body and office searches. During this process, several individuals were identified as witches and wizards including Yahya Darboe, Wuday Ceesay and Yusupha Saine and were assembled and required to drink and bathe in a witchcraft cleansing ritual or be dismissed.

291. The Commission found that the impact of the witch hunt exercise had devastating effects on victims with some suffering from deteriorating health, loss of memory and mental health issues due to the shame and stigma of being identified as a witch or wizard.

292. The Commission found that the incident continues to have a serious impact on the lives and livelihood of victims and their families. Many victims also lost their means of earning a living because they were no longer fit to work. They were forced to spend the little money they had on medical treatment despite it failing to alleviate their suffering

293. The Commission found that Former President Jammeh, Solo Bojang, the security forces, witch hunters and Green Boys are all individually and collectively responsible for ordering the persecution, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, inhumane and degrading and sexual gender-based violence treatment of hundreds of persons, leading to about forty-one (41) deaths during the 2009 witch-hunting exercise. The Commission found the former president responsible for the forced labour of several people in the Fonis and other areas in his home village Kanilai.

294. The Commission also found the following individuals responsible for their role in the witch-hunts; Saihou Jallow for his unlawful assault and torture of lamin Ceesay and his role in witch hunts in Essau and Barra. Ensa Badjie for his role in the Banjul, Police force witch hunts. Omar Jawo a senior member of the police in the North Bank Region for his participation in the witch hunts including the unlawful arrest torture among others of Lamin Ceesay of many people which has led to the death of 40 people including others. Tamsir Bah the OC of Sibanor Police Station in 2009 for the unlawful arrest and detention of Nyima Jarju, and her mother-in- law Fatou Bojang 2009 during the Sintet Witch Hunt.

Recommendations from the TRRC and the position of the Government:

295. Based on the evidence gathered, the Commission recommends the following: -

(1) The prosecution of Yahya Jammeh, Solo Bojang and Saikou Jallow for the murder, manslaughter of forty-one (41) individuals (Jamburr (18), Sintet (13), Makumbuya (2), and Essau (8) who died as a result of being targeted and forced to drink toxic concoctions which resulted in all the deaths.

296. Government accepts the findings of the Commission.

(2) Prosecution of Yahya Jammeh, Solo Bojang, Ensa Badjie, Tambajiro, Saikou Jallow, Omar Jawo for the inhumane and degrading treatment and torture inflicted on the victims during the witch hunting exercise.

297. Government accepts the findings of the Commission.

(3) The referral of Tamsir Bah to The Gambia Police Force high command for disciplinary measure for his role in the unlawful arrest and detention of Nyima Jarju, her baby and her mother-in-law Fatou Bojang in 2009 during the Sintet Witch Hunting exercise.

298. Government accepts the findings of the Commission. The case will be referred to Gambia police for disciplinary action in line with its internal disciplinary procedures.

(4) Ensa Badjie, Omar Jawo [and] should be banned from serving in the security services or holding any public office in the civil service or Government in general.

299. Government accepts the findings of the Commission.

(5) Consideration be given to passing of legislation to criminalise labelling individuals as witches because of the societal stigma attached to it.

300. Government accepts the findings of the Commission and will take necessary steps to ensure the offence of labelling individuals as witches and wizards is criminalised under the Criminal Offences Bill currently before the parliament for review.

(6) Training of security personnel to be able to know and appreciate the negative impact of witchcraft in society and how damaging it is to persons being accused of being witches/ wizards.

301. Government partially accepts the Commission's recommendations. The Government notes that security personnel were not solely responsible for perpetrating the witch hunt as these also included a section of the public. The Government will not only conduct training for the security personnel but also work with the National Council for Civic Education (NCCE), CSOs, religious leaders and community heads to spread awareness and sensitisations on the negative impact of branding individuals as witches and wizards.

(7) The National Council for Civic Education (NCCE), Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education (MOBSE) and Civil Society Organizations engage in advocacy and awareness programmes to sensitize the public and local communities to change the mindset and attitudes regarding the stigma attached to Witch Craft so as to remove negative impacts against persons accused of being witches, wizards and witchcraft.

302. Government accepts the recommendations of the commission and will seek to collaborate with such institutions mentioned including CSO's and the National Human Rights Commission to create awareness of and change mind-sets and attitudes regarding the stigma of persons accused of witchcraft.

(8) That guideline be provided to prevent security forces being used to carry out unlawful orders.

303. The Government accepts the recommendations of the Commission and will take the necessary steps to introduce or strengthen existing guidelines regulating the operations of security forces to ensure they are not used to carry out unlawful orders.

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