By Mustapha Jallow
As part of implementing the recommendations of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), the Attorney General and Minister of Justice yesterday, January 9th2019, officially handed-over the remains of the December 30thattackers, to their respective families to be given a decent and befitting burial.
The official handing over ceremony was done at the Justice department in Banjul, and was attended by some senior government officials, Diaspora Gambians and relatives and family members of other victims, who came to show their solidarity.
At the gathering, the remains of Lieutenant Colonel Lamin Sanneh, former Commanding officer of the State Guards Battalion, Captain Njaga Jagne of the 149 Infantry Battalion of the Kentucky National Guard in the U.S. and Alhagie Nyass were brought forward in a solemn ceremony, amid sobs and tears. On the arrival of the remains of the fallen Gambians on that fateful day of 30th December, mothers, sisters, brothers, uncles, relatives and friends wept openly.
Delivering his opening statement, a representative from the Victims’ Centre Sheriff Kijera, said the gathering marked ‘a very solemn occasion for all who mattered; that the Centre stands in solidary with the families and friends of the deceased fellow Gambians, who sacrificed their lives for the freedom of the people of the country. He added that they will always be remembered among the majority of Gambians who took the bold step of bring about change to their motherland; a change they hope will contribute to put an end to dictatorship in the face of systematic human rights abuses. “They paid the ultimate price and lost their lives in the process. We recognize their acts of heroism; their bravery and sacrifice, and we join the many who shared their vision, in honoring their memories,’’ he told the gathering.
Kijera continued: “We stand in solidarity with their families, loved ones and friends during the monumental period when their bodies are returned to their families, to subsequently bring about a closure for them and to afford the departed souls, decent, humane and befitting burials.’’
He acknowledged Government’s fulfillment of one important obligation in the battle to bring justice to all victims of human rights violations and abuse, of the former regime of Yaya Jammeh, and urged them to do more. “More needs to be done,’’ he said. “We take this opportunity to impress upon Government to meet their responsibilities on the numerous families of victims of unlawful killings and enforced disappearances, to help them get the answers that they are yearning for,’’ Kijera said.
According to Kijera, steps have to be taken to speed up the identification of the rest of the burial sites of the rest of the victims so that they would exhume for their eventual hand over to their respective families for decent burial.
“As families and friends of the late soldiers are reunited again under these difficult circumstances, we pray that the departed souls will rest in eternal peace,’’ Kijera prayed.
For his part, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Aboubacarr Tambadou, said the remains of the fallen colleagues and fellow Gambians, were to be handed over to their respective families, to give them the befitting burial they deserve; that due to the ongoing criminal trial, the remains of the late Solo Sendeng which was also exhumed and identified, could not be handed over to his family.
The ceremony, he said, which was taking place in the context of the transitional justice process, serves as a demonstration of their beliefs in upholding human dignity and the principles of basic human rights and decency. “Only through this can we restore their human dignity and provide closure for their families, friends and loved ones,’’ he said.
The Justice Minister said as a government, they are committed to establishing the truth about all those who disappeared. He assured victims’ families that they will continue to pursue the exhumation of the individuals buried in similar circumstances, through the work of the TRRC that has now started public hearings. He said he would like to thank everyone who has worked with them in this process, particularly Mr. Thomasi and his team from the Major Crimes Scientific Police Force, for forensic identification of the remains. He concluded by commending the families of the fallen ‘heroes’ for their patience.
Family members spoke about the government’s commitment to the identification and handing-over of the remains of their loved ones.
“We are glad that they have left their families behind and sacrificed their lives to free the country from the shackles of unlawful detention and hardship, faced by the people,’’ a representative from late Lt. Col Sanneh’s family said. Mamur Malick Jange from the Jange family and Retired Colonel Ndow Njie, spoke on what the trio had contributed to the struggle. “They gave inspiration to Gambians to stand up against the former leader, dictator Jammeh,’’ Njie said.
The Deputy Police Chief handed over the remains to the families of the victims. Families could be seen openly crying while carrying the remains into a black pick-up.
It could be recalled that the men were buried in a single grave at the Tintinba Forest, an isolated Military site in the Foni. Their graves were identified by detained soldiers. The trio was killed on 30th December 2015, when they attacked the State House to remove former President Yahya Jammeh from the presidency, who at the time, was out of the country.