ICTJ Calls for Urgent Steps to Prevent a Repeat of the Faraba Banta Attacks

Executive Director

6/27/2018

Faraba Banta—Last week, police opened fire on unarmed protesters, killing three and injuring several others in Faraba Banta, a small town in southwestern Gambia. ICTJ condemns these acts and supports civil society and victims in their call for swift actions ensuring justice, reparations, and an independent investigation into the causes of the attacks. We stand committed to working with our partners to determine what steps can be taken to prevent the state from violating its responsibility to its citizens.

The deaths and injuries inflicted have shaken Gambians’ trust in their new leaders and stirred chilling memories of an authoritarian past that is painfully fresh in national memory. Landing Kinteh, the now-resigned Inspector General of Police, maintains that the police who opened fire did not act on orders. A thorough and credible investigation should determine the accuracy of such statements and ascertain all responsibilities. Nonetheless, the conversation about state responsibility cannot end here.

The context in which these deaths occurred and the decisions that led to this violence are crucially relevant to that conversation: Against the expressed wishes of the community, the state decided to issue a sand mining license that has led to the destruction of the environment and agricultural land. Environmentalists and community members have petitioned against these practices for months. When the situation became volatile, the government’s response to face unarmed protesters was delegated to armed police officers resulting in three deaths and numerous injuries. Thus, beyond bringing to light the urgent need for reforms in the security sector, the attack also demands reflection on the relations and responsibilities of the new government to its citizens. A truly democratic government must first and foremost protect its citizens and the common good above all other potential conflicting interests.   

The swift and sincere responses of the President, National Assembly, and other governance institutions to the attack should be commended. To earn the trust of its citizens, the government of The Gambia must follow its statements with concrete and meaningful action. The gravity of the crimes and suffering requires immediate action to address the justice demands and needs of victims. The situation also requires a more long-term response from both the state and citizens that addresses the root causes of state violence in The Gambia. A professional and independent investigation on these tragic events should determine the responsibility of those who must face justice. Additionally, it should emphasize the reforms and actions to be taken to ensure a police service that is accountable to Gambian citizens and protects their human rights.

When the new government took office, it made a commitment to transforming an oppressive and violent state into a democratic one. A successful transition will mean ensuring all citizens can be active participants in shaping society and its values. It also means that state and security institutions exist to serve and protect the population, rather than the personal interests of rulers or elites. 

Transitional justice is about a process of change; it is not merely about setting up mechanisms. This process requires a cultural shift within state institutions and that, crucially, ensures that law enforcement works to serve and protect the population. 

Last week laid bare not only the need for reform of the security service, but other key priorities for The Gambia. The incident followed a series of failures on the part of local and state institutions to respond in a responsible and just way to frustration and demands of their citizens. The work ahead requires and invites reflection on past repression with an aim to prevent its repetition. It also requires making space to hear the voices of those who have long been excluded and victimized, including the poor, the young, rural citizens, women, refugees and migrants, and ethnic, racial, and religious "others."

All citizens of The Gambia have the right to peacefully protest, as the community members of Faraba Banta were doing in opposition of sand mining which they claim destroys their agriculture. The government should respect that right and seek peaceful ways to ensure public order and constructive dialogue with its citizens to identify solutions to areas of disagreement.

As ICTJ continues to work in The Gambia to support the transitional justice process, we will assist Gambians to address grave violations for human rights and to emerge from this difficult time with justice for victims and meaningful reforms. Besides being a support and adviser to government in this process, our role also includes being a critical monitor to transitional justice initiatives in The Gambia.

Gambians face innumerable obstacles to securing the democratic society promised after the 2016 elections. The challenges are complex and meeting all competing priorities on the timeline that citizens expect is a seemingly impossible task. But there are actions that can be taken today to ensure the government and its institutions serve the people. In pursuit of that difficult but vital aim, transitional justice initiatives can help find a way forward in the most challenging circumstances.

Contact

Virginie Ladisch, Senior Expert
Email: vladisch@ictj.org; Tel: +1 917-637-3879

PHOTO: Protesters call for justice and reform in The Gambia. (Africanews.com)