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Three years after the arbitrary executions of nine prisoners in The Gambia, there is still no response for the families. No one knows where the bodies are, whether they were buried or the motive for the extra-judicial killings that shocked the world.

On the night of the 23 August 2012, the infamous Mile 2 Prison was shaken by the surprise execution of nine prisoners, seven Gambians and two Senegalese. This execution, highly condemned by the international community, was supported by President Yahya Jammeh after a thirty-year moratorium on the death penalty. Among those executed, three had not exhausted their appeals, while one was a mentally ill detainee and some other political prisoners.

In fact, President Yahya Jammeh has publicly taken a step towards putting into practice the threats made on Gambian television during his Eid El Fitr message, when he announced that all those condemned to death would be executed before the end of September, under the pretext that it will deter criminals.

These executions were not only illegally and fundamentally arbitrary, but they occurred in a context where the majority of the trials which resulted in these executions were unfair, where the rights of the accused persons were violated and where, as is the case with most of the political process, testimonies and confessions extorted under torture were used to incriminate those accused.

Nine detainees were arbitrarily chosen to be a part of the squad executions which has finally revealed the odious face of the Banjul regime to those who still doubted the magnitude of the atrocities and violations of human rights in the country.

Beyond the illegality of the act, the inhuman character has been pushed to the extreme by refusing prisoners the minimum: being able to say their last wish, speaking to loved ones or lawyers, and ultimately the right to a burial.

Indeed, the victims were never informed, directly or indirectly, through family or lawyers; and for those foreign nationals, their diplomatic mission was also not informed of their executions. This constitutes a grave violation of international law and the rules which govern diplomatic relations between states.

On the night of 23 August 2012, many among the death row inmates were shocked; the majority was put in isolation, not knowing their fate, each wondering whether he would be executed that night, or in the days to come.

The horror of the night of executions remains engraved in the memories of many detainees who escaped death thanks to the mobilization of the international community. These executions have also reinforced the collective fear in the country. The media which attempted to publish the information were arbitrarily closed, certain journalists persecuted, as well as people who had publicly opposed these executions.

Nobody was able to explain what motivated this horrible decision: the real motives of the act remain unclear. Why were judicial processes not observed? Why were families, lawyers and the detainees themselves not informed? Finally, why has the Gambian government refused to handover the bodies to families, or at least indicate where they are buried?

The truth about these illegal and arbitrary executions remains a guarded secret. Impunity continues to persist, but for how long? The UN Special Rapporteurs on Torture and Summary Executions have indicated after their mission in November 2014 number of concerns that could enable ECOWAS and the AU to move away from their silence on Gambia. The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights demanded a fact-finding mission in February 2015; beside its resolutions, it must condition its cooperation with The Gambia to the respect for its decisions - furthermore it must no longer hold sessions there as longer as violations continue.

* Fatou Jagne Senghor is Regional Director, ARTICLE 19 West Africa.



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