By: Almamo Kamasso
The Gambian authorities should thoroughly investigate the alleged excessive use of force by police causing the deaths of two anti-sand mining demonstrators on June 18, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International (AI) said Wednesday.
“The Gambian government should accelerate the reforms needed to ensure that government security forces have the supervision, training, and equipment needed to police demonstrations in accordance with international human rights standards,” the two rights groups said in a statement made available to Daily news.
According to the statement, Gambian police officers fired live ammunition at demonstrators in the village of Faraba Banta, killing local residents Bakary Kujabi and Ismaila Bah, and wounding at least six others. President Adama Barrow issued a press release the same day stating that he had opened an investigation and that all mining in the area had been suspended. The government also said that five police officers involved in the shooting were in police custody and will be suspended while investigations are conducted.
“The alleged excessive use of lethal force by the security forces has conjured up painful memories from Gambia’s recent past,” said Sabrina Mahtani, Amnesty International West Africa researcher. “The government’s promise to investigate is a positive move. Gambians should be able to hold demonstrations safe from disproportionate and excessive use of force by the security forces.”
Meanwhile, members of Gambia’s Police Intervention Unit (PIU), a police paramilitary force, clashed with residents of Faraba Banta, 50 kilometers south of the capital, Banjul, after local residents blocked mining-related traffic. The rights groups revealed that Journalist Pa Modou Bojang who observed the protest was assaulted and detained for hours by the police.
“As soon as [police reinforcements] came out of the vehicle they started firing live bullets. They did not issue a warning or alarm,” the statement quoted the journalist as saying: The statement said several protesters arrested on June 18, including those injured, remain in police custody, and face possible charges for destruction of property.
“Injured detainees should receive medical attention and a court should promptly review the necessity of their continued detention. Those responsible for destroying property or committing other offenses should be prosecuted in accordance with international fair trial standards,” the rights groups stated. “Gambia’s Police Intervention Unit has a history of using excessive force against demonstrators, and escaped censure during former President Jammeh’s abusive rule,” remarked Jim Wormington, the West African researcher at Human Rights Watch. “The Gambian government needs to show that it can conduct credible investigations and appropriately discipline or prosecute those responsible for abuses.”