Zainab Lowe covered her face with her hands and cried. She could not help but weep inconsolably as she listened to Attorney General and Minister of Justice Dawda A. Jallow read a summary of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission’s findings with regard to criminal liability for human rights violations and abuses during the 22-year dictatorship of former president Yahya Jammeh.
“Yahya Jammeh, Tumbul Tamba, Solo Bojang, Sainey Jammeh, Yusupha Sanneh, Omar Jallow (Oya), Bora Colley, Michael Correa, Sanna Manjang, Michael Jatta, Nfansu Nyabally, Mustapha Sanneh, Ismaila Jammeh and Alieu Jeng are responsible for the unlawful killings of Daba Marena, Manlafi Corr, Ebou Lowe, Alpha Bah, Alieu Ceesay, Masi Jammeh and Julia Maku,” read the minister that afternoon of December 24, 2021 at the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara International Conference Centre in Bijilo.
Zainab’s earlier resolve to maintain her self-control and keep the floodgates firmly shut were forgotten at the mention of the name of her brother, Second Lieutenant Ebou Lowe of the Gambia Armed Forces. It did not matter that she had not seen him for more than 15 years, or that her family had for all those years suspected that he was dead, or that her brother’s death was just one of 44 incidents of killing, torture, rape and sexual violence, and other violations on the list the minister was reading.
The fact that in 2019, she and her family had their worst fears confirmed when several witnesses graphically described before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) how Ebou Lowe, three of his soldier colleagues, and a former National Intelligence Agency (NIA) chief were massacred on the orders of Jammeh on suspicion of involvement in a coup plot against him did not make it any easier to listen to one more account of his death. For Zainab, the wound was still raw and fresh on that Friday as she listened to Minister Jallow once again confirm that she would never see her beloved brother again.
She had wanted to hide all emotion, but in the end she was overwhelmed and could only gratefully accept the comfort offered by Priscilla Ciesay, co-founder of the Women’s Association for Victims’ Empowerment (WAVE), as she rubbed Zainab on the back with her left palm. As Zainab laid her head on the table in front of her to hide her tears, Priscilla discreetly handed her a tissue that she had pulled out of her purse.
Later trying to explain her emotional reaction, Zainab said she was taken by surprise because she had not expected the Ministry of Justice official to read out the criminal liability report during the press conference.
“Hearing the names of the victims read out, and the perpetrators adversely mentioned in the recommendations for prosecution really touched me and the families of the other victims. I could not control my tears,” she said.
Zainab’s emotional reaction was not isolated. In fact, it was reflected around the hall on the faces of the family members of the victims of Jammeh’s brutal reign who attended the minister’s press briefing as the long-awaited final report of the truth commission, which had been handed to President Adama Barrow on November 25, was finally released to the public. This made it possible for the world to know the TRRC’s findings and recommendations for the crimes and human rights abuses that had been shockingly revealed during the commission’s public hearings.
Representatives of The Gambia’s National Assembly, the UN Secretary-General, as well as victims’ rights advocates such as the Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations were present at the press conference to receive copies of the report, as required by the TRRC Act. The report was uploaded to the Ministry of Justice’s website for public access.
The family members who attended included Isatou Kanyi, whose husband Kanyiba Kanyi was among scores of people who were picked up by security operatives of the dreaded NIA. In September 2006 he was taken to the Mile 2 Prison, where political prisoners were detained and tortured. His family has not seen him since.
Isatou Fatty, a widow of former parliamentarian Mahawa Cham, was also present. Her husband had been living in exile in Senegal, where he had fled after being suspected of involvement in a coup, before he was lured back into The Gambia in 2013 and killed at Jammeh’s Kanilai farm.
“Yahya Jammeh, Nuha Badjie, Momodou Jarju (Rambo), Lt Mustapha Sanneh, Lt Michael Correa, Lt Michael Jatta, WO2 Nfansu Nyabally, Staff Sgt Malick Manga, Staff Sgt Omar Jallow (Oya), Staff Sgt Sulayman Sambou, Lau Jarju and Suwandi Camara are responsible for the murder of Sulayman Ndow and Mahawa Cham,” the minister’s statement said.
“It is a day closer to justice,” said Isatou.
There were also members of the families of journalists Deyda Hydara and Chief Ebrima Manneh. Hydara, the legendary co-founder and editor of The Point newspaper, was killed in December 2004. Several members of the former president’s hit squad, the Junglers, later confessed to taking part in the murder and getting rewarded for the job by Jammeh.
“Yahya Jammeh, Tumbul Tamba, Alieu Jeng, Sanna Manjang, Malick Jatta, Manlafi Corr, Kawsu Camara (Bombardier) and Bai Lowe are responsible for the killing of Deyda Hydara,” the summary said.
“It was a welcome development for us and all the victims of Jammeh’s human rights abuses. The report reflects what we expected from the TRRC. Those held responsible for crimes were those that were expected to be incriminated in the commission’s report of the 22 years of the Jammeh regime,” said Baba Hydara, the oldest son of Deyda Hydara. He was accompanied by Pap Saine, his father’s business partner, friend, and co-publisher of The Point.
“Our husbands disappeared and left us with children to look after. I had to bring up my two children all by myself. Some men disappeared without leaving behind any children. We had lost hope when the TRRC’s work was going on that anything would come out of it. But we now know there is something because the report has come out in public and assurances have been given that the outcomes will be known,” said Mbaya Demba, the widow of Lieutenant Gibril Saye.
On her husband’s death, the criminal liability report said: “Capt Yahya Jammeh, Capt Sanna Sabally, Capt Edward Singhatey, Capt Sadibou Hydara, Capt Yankuba Touray, Capt Peter Singhatey, and Major Baboucarr Jatta together with their orderlies and security guards are responsible for the torture and inhumane treatment of soldiers arrested and detained at Yundum Barracks on November 11, 1994 and also unlawfully killed Lt Gibril Saye, Lt Abdoulie Bah ‘Achopin Chopin’, Lt Bakary Manneh (‘Nyancho’), Lt Buba Jammeh, Lt Momodou Lamin Darboe, Cadet Amadou Mbackeh Sillah, Lt Abdoulie Dot Faal, Lt Basiru Barrow, Fafa Nyang, Sgt Basiru Camara and E.M. Ceesay.
For Sirra Ndow, a niece of Sulayman Ndow, who disappeared along with ex-National Assembly member for Kiang East District, Mahawa Cham, it was a “pleasant surprise and very encouraging” to see the TRRC report made public.
“To be quiet honest, I was sceptical about the report and the recommendations being circulated within the 30 days stipulated by the TRRC Act. My expectation was that, at most, the Ministry of Justice would send a package only to the stakeholders listed in the Act,” she said.
She attended the launch and for her, hearing the names of the persons responsible for her uncle’s disappearance and death was an emotional moment, but not a surprise. For years, she has dedicated her efforts to the pursuit of justice through the Victims’ Centre.
These families are happy that the findings of the truth commission have finally been made public. They are now eager for the next step in their journey of healing – obtaining justice for their loved ones and all the other victims of Jammeh’s brutality.