Mr Samuel Okudzeto Ablakwa, the Ranking Member of the Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, has made an urgent appeal to Government to open fresh probe into the killing of 44 Ghanaians in Gambia in 2005.
“Parliament must urge the Government of Ghana to re-open an investigation into the killings with the ultimate aim of bringing those who bear the greatest responsibility for the murder, enforced disappearance and torture of our constituents, to justice,” Mr Ablakwa said.
He said this in a statement on the floor of Parliament in Accra, to mark this year’s International Human Rights Day, observed every year on 10th December.
It is the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) in 1948, a milestone document proclaiming the inalienable rights.
Everyone is inherently entitled to the inalienable rights as a human being, regardless of race, colour, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.
The 2019 global theme is; “Youth Standing Up for Human Rights.”
After a year marked by the 30th anniversary celebrations of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which culminated on 20th November, 2019, the UN says it plans to capitalise on the current momentum and spotlight the leadership role of youth in collective movements as a source of inspiration for a better future.
Mr Ablakwa’s statement triggered contributions from members, who pushed for a fresh probe into the execution.
The call for the probe, which has been on the quiet for some time now, has been necessitated by confessions by two Gambian soldiers of their participation in the execution of the Ghanaian nationals on the orders of then Gambian President Yahya Jammeh.
At The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations sitting sometime this year, two military persons – Lieutenant Malick Jatta and Corporal Omar Jallow, admitted that the migrants were executed by the “Junglers Squad,” a junta group that took orders from former President Jammeh.
Reading the statement, Mr Ablakwa said: “I will like to use this day to urge our Government and all stakeholders to work to actualise the provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights by seeking justice and compensation for the 44 Ghanaian migrants who were massacred in The Gambia in July 2005.”
He recalled that the House had “played a leading role in demanding information about the circumstances that led to the unlawful killing of 44 of our citizens, brothers, family members, and constituents, when we heard they had been killed in The Gambia on July 23, 2005.
Mr Ablakwa also recalled the role of former President John Agyekum Kufuor, who promptly sent a High Powered Delegation, led by then Foreign Affairs Minister, but now President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, to The Gambia within a week of hearing about the unlawful killing; with further discussion by the House in ensuring that the matter was kept on the front burner of national discussion.
“I would be remiss if I did not recognise the untiring efforts of His Excellency, former President John Dramani Mahama, on this matter from when he was the Member of Parliament for Bole Bamboi and Ranking Member of the Committee on Foreign Affairs, Vice-President, and President of Ghana,” he said.
In the aftermath of the unlawful killing, Ghana and The Gambia agreed to establish a joint investigative team to investigate the matter, however, following the lack of cooperation by the Government of The Gambia for the establishment of a Ghana-Gambia investigation, ECOWAS and the UN established a joint Fact-Finding Team on August 14, 2008 to investigate the 2005 killings.
Mr Ablakwa recognised that Civil Society Organisations, led by the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Media Foundation for West Africa and Africa Legal Aid as well as prominent individuals including Nana Oye Lithur, Mr Akoto Ampaw, and Professor Kwame Karikari played key roles in the matter.
He noted that the Ghanaian citizens have been instructively and commendably united in seeking justice and compensation for the victims and their families.
The Fact-Finding Team, which was led by Mr Curtis Ward, an advisor to the UN, submitted its report on or about April 3, 2009 to ECOWAS and the UN.
The report, a copy of which was made available to Ghana, has since not been made public.
However, snippets of the report published by the media and the UN DPA stated, among other things, that the Fact-Finding Team absolved the State of The Gambia of blame for the unlawful killing, noting that rogue elements acting on their own were responsible for the murder of Ghanaian citizens.
Based on the findings of the Fact-Finding Team, Ghana and the Gambia signed a Memorandum of Understanding on 2nd July, 2009 in Sirte, Libya, under the auspices of ECOWAS and the UN.
The two countries pledged, among other things, to bring the actual perpetrators of the massacre to justice if new evidence emerges providing a prima facie case against the alleged perpetrators.
Following the signing of the MOU, the Gambia provided $500,000 towards the burial expenses, not compensation, of those who were killed and eight bodies were flown to Ghana for burial at the Osu Cemetery.
Meanwhile, the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Aaron Mike Oquaye, has referred the statement to the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee for perusal.
The committee is expected to submit a report to the House before resumption of Parliament.
Also, through the work of the Jammeh2Justice Ghana CSO Coalition led by CDD-Ghana, with members comprising Africa Center for International Law and Accountability, Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative, Amnesty International Ghana, among others, and international partners such as Human Rights Watch, TRIAL International, Mr Ablakwa said, “it is now known that Ghanaian were actually killed by uniformed Gambian soldiers on the orders of former President Jammeh.”
He recalled that when the Gambia and Ghana signed the MOU, they pledged, among other things, to bring actual perpetrators of the massacre to justice if new evidence emerged providing a prima facie case against the alleged perpetrators.
“Since Ghana and Gambia pledged to bring the actual perpetrators to justice and the soldiers have confessed to murdering our constituents on the orders of Yahya Jammeh, this august House should take keen interest in this matter.
“Parliament must urge the Government of Ghana to re-open an investigation into the killings with the ultimate aim of bringing those who bear the greatest responsibility for the murder, enforced disappearance and torture of our constituents, to justice.
“The unlawful killing violates the provisions in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the Right to Life (Article 3); prohibition against torture, cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (Article 5); prohibition against arbitrary arrest or detention (Article 9), and the right to be given an effective remedy (Article 8) when such rights have been violated.
“In addition, this august House should urge the ECOWAS Commission and Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional
Integration to release the ECOWAS/UN Fact-Finding Report into the massacre of our brothers, fathers and breadwinners especially in the light of the confessions by the soldiers.
“The victims and their families also have a right to be provided a copy of the report.”
Recognising the human rights credentials of the Speaker, Prof. Aaron Mike Oquaye, Mr Ablakwa appealed to him to issue any further consequential directives that would assist in securing justice for the 44 Ghanaian compatriots.
Mr Ablakwa urged the House to summon the ECOWAS Commission and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, to release to the House and the families of the victims, the ECOWAS/UN Fact-Founding Report in the light of the confessions by the soldiers.
Mr Samuel Atta-Akyea, the Minister for Works and Housing and MP for Abuakwa South, remarked that rights distinguish humans from animals and called on Parliament to work hard to investigate the perpetrators since respect for the fundamental human rights and freedom enshrined in Constitution was not negotiable.
Speaker Mike Oquaye referred the matter to the Committee on Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs and directed it to make a report to the House when the Parliament resumes from the impending Christmas break.