By Kebba Jeffang
Seventeen years after brutal killing of scores of Gambian students with live bullets by the security forces during the rule of former president Yahya Jammeh, the victims were remembered at a symposium jointly organized by April 10/11 Memorial Foundation, DUGA and SENDGO held at a local hotel in Kanifing on Tuesday, April 11.
The event brought together the survivors, students and youth activists as well as prominent political leaders. The incident was commemorated with march-past that energized activists to express their call for justice. The slogan for the event is ‘Never Again.’
Addressing the gathering, Professor Pierre Gomez, Dean of Faculty of Social Science at the University of the Gambia on the topic ‘human rights, constitutional safeguards against impunity and access to justice within the context of the April 10/11 victims and their families, said there are several protection mechanisms laid down in the Constitution of the Gambia that could have been considered by the perpetrators to avert the horrible incident.
He said section 17 states that the fundamental human rights and freedoms enshrined in Chapter 4 of the constitution shall be respected and upheld by all organs of the Executive and its agencies, the legislature and where applicable to them by all natural and legal persons in The Gambia and shall be enforceable by the courts in accordance with the Constitution.
He said section 18(1) states that no person shall be deprived of his or her life intentionally except in the execution of a sentence of death imposed by a court of competent jurisdiction in respect of a criminal offence for which the penalty is death under the laws of the Gambia as they have effect in accordance with sub-section (2) and of which he or she has been lawfully convicted.
He cited sections 19, 21 and 25 as protective mechanisms laid in the constitution to safeguard the dignity and freedom of people.
“In light of the above, it is clear that the importance of access to justice is an essential instrument for the protection of human rights in the Gambia and it is only when an individual has access to courts that his fundamental rights can be enforced,” said Prof Gomez.
Halifa Sllah, National Assembly Member for Serekunda who was recognized for his role on the fateful days of April10/11 in 2000 was tasked to give account on the incident in order to refresh the old memories.
“The organisers called us to gather here so that people wouldn’t forget the victims of April 10/11 2000, for forgetting them will be the greatest tragedy that could befall on any human. Human mind is nourished by knowledge, human heart is nourished by truth, human conscience is nourished by justice and the human willpower is nourished by resolution,” said Sallah.
He said the victims were supposed to live on this earth in dignity, liberty and prosperity.
“What happened here on April 10th/11th needs to be fully comprehended for that is what will prevent us from repeating it. We should not live in the past but we must learn from it in order to shape the future,” he said.
Sallah said “We got the message of the school boy who was taken to the fire service offices by the parent for disciplinary training. We investigated it and reported it. It is important to reconnect what actually happened.”
He said the officers thought they were bringing up a stubborn child to be discipline and subjected that child to brutality which overwhelmed the child and cost his life. According to him, the officers were silence about it but then the parents got worried, the teachers got worried and everybody got worried and the students also got worried.
He said “the students decided to intervene to ensure that justice is done but then there were others who decided against that. So many attempts were made for the state to take action but it was disregarded.”
He said he wrote letters to the then Ministries of Education and Interior to alert them to the fact that something has to be done and something must be done to tell the students that the authorities are concerned failing which they will neglect the youth. He said the Education ministry replied to the letter saying they have a common concern that something will be done but justice delayed is justice denied.
“Because justice was delayed the young people became more infuriated and eventually they sought to hold a demonstration to express their concerns. The young people decided to demonstrate. He said this brought about the conflict that cost several lives of young Gambians on that fateful day.
He challenged the Gambian people to be the architects of the new Gambia by strengthening the strong organisations and creating awareness on civic obligations. According to Sallah, strong organisations and awareness are the two most powerful weapons in building perfect democracy.
Omar Jallow, alias OJ, Minister of Agriculture said “never again” should such scenario be accepted in The Gambia. He said there were and are still governments in Africa that enslave their people without giving them the freedom they deserved.
“I am encouraged to have seen you people coming here to remember your colleagues who lost their lives at the 10th and 11th incidents. We have a change of government but change for what? Are we going to continue as before or are we now going to accept to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people and being totally accountable to the people who put them in place?” he asked.
He said the Gambia has a big challenge beyond the change of system but how to manage the change to make sure it is beneficial to each and every Gambian and it fulfills the aspiration of every Gambian who had for the past 22 years faced all types of violations including this terrible incident.
“The present government has a responsibility not only to bring justice on those who perpetrated such crimes against the Gambian people but also to make sure that all the institutions of the government should be seen as national institutions and to be accountable and answerable to the people and to nobody else.
“The over glorification and personalization of leadership should stop once and for all. How can we elect people, they come to our homes to seek for vote, then when they are elected you allow them to play God on you? This is unacceptable. People talk about religion that God put Kings and Presidents on positions I say no. I am a practising Muslim but I know that is a wrong notion. God has never come down physically to tell you vote for somebody. God has given you minds to think for yourself. If culture doesn’t promote freedom, respect and liberty then that culture is a bad culture. And I want us to do away with these norms as they are the things keeping Africa backward”.
OJ urged the young people to challenge his government to make sure the youth monument is dedicated to those Gambians who lost their lives marking their names on the monument. He said the media should be allowed to operate freely as it is integral in the democratization process and is the fourth arm of the government. He suggested that press freedom should be entrenched in the Constitution as part of the agenda for reform.