Yahya Jammeh’s rule in The Gambia was marked by extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances of political opponents, journalists, human rights activists, and ordinary citizens.
During his 22-year reign, the dictator established a climate of fear and intimidation in which opponents were systematically silenced, harassed, and even killed with impunity. Many of Jammeh’s victims were arrested without charge or disappeared without a trace.
Human rights and civil society organisations such as the African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances (ANEKED) were formed to demand accountability for the victims and their families.
Speaking to Journalist For Justice, ANEKED Country Representative Sirra Ndow highlighted what the organisation is doing to help raise awareness and bring justice to the victims.
A non-religious civil society organisation led by women African human rights activists, ANEKED campaigns against enforced disappearances and summary executions in The Gambia. It was founded in 2019 by Nana-Jo Ndow six years after the enforced disappearance and alleged murder of her father, Saul Ndow. Determined to take action, She leveraged her personal experiences into action, using ANEKED to advocate justice for victims and families affected by such crimes, not only in The Gambia, but in Ghana as well.
With the long-term goal of expanding across Africa, ANEKED focuses on the principles of “dealing with the past” – namely, the right to know, the right to justice, the right to reparations, and the guarantee of non-recurrence. It is committed to ensuring that victims do not suffer in silence and that it continues to be a powerful force for change in the Gambian and Ghanaian communities.
“One key area of focus for ANEKED is advocacy and legal support for victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings. We empower survivors, raise awareness among the general public, and advocate for policy reform at both the local and global levels,” Sirra Ndow told Journalists For Justice.
To support this objective, ANEKED conducts research and analysis on relevant laws, files cases on behalf of claimants, offers guidance and advice on engaging with regional and international human rights mechanisms, and participates as a third-party intervener during litigation proceedings. The organisation also conducts advocacy work to promote accountability and strengthen reporting mechanisms.
Over the years, ANEKED has worked closely with other human rights organisations and activists to develop and reinforce reporting and monitoring mechanisms. Additionally, it has engaged in extensive lobbying efforts to promote partnerships between human rights activists and the Gambian government in the fight against impunity.
The journey has not been easy, but ANEKED has found a way of supporting survivors, working closely with victims and their families to help them navigate the complicated process of dealing with the aftermath of human rights violations.
It also provides services tailored to meet the specific needs of survivors, including legal advocacy and guidance on regional and international human rights frameworks, psychosocial support, and memorialisation projects aimed at promoting accountability and ensuring that the voices of the victims are heard.
ANEKED goes a step further in supporting survivors by providing research and analysis on relevant laws, filing cases on their behalf, and offering advice and guidance on engaging with regional and international human rights bodies.
Given the toll of the aftermath of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings on survivors, the organisation provides a range of psychosocial services that aim to help survivors heal from the trauma of violence. These include counselling, support groups, and memorialisation projects such as “The Duty to Remember” project, which helps survivors share their stories and promotes an understanding of the tragic events to prevent them from happening again.
ANEKED focuses mainly on women survivors. The primary victims of enforced disappearances and summary executions are men who leave women to deal with the social, economic, legal, and familial implications.
Even though women often bear the greatest responsibility for taking care of the household and the family, they are often overlooked and invisible.
“The wives of the victims of these violations are subjected to mental trauma because they do not have access to the truth. This caused one woman not to remarry for a very long time due to the uncertainty of the fate of her husband. The level of vulnerability women are subjected to after their loved ones are forcefully disappeared is a concern given that the TRRC [Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission] did not consider the impact these violations have on women who were left behind in its final report and recommendations,” added Sirra Ndow.
ANEKED has conducted several projects, each significantly impacting survivors’ lives and their families.
One of ANEKED’s most prominent projects is the “Memory House”. The first of its kind in The Gambia, the memorial centre houses “The Duty to Remember”, a permanent exhibition highlighting the experiences of victims and survivors of forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings during the Jammeh regime. Since its launch in 2021, it has received over 1,000 local and foreigner visitors.
The exhibition provides a permanent space for families to preserve the memories of their loved ones, giving them a voice and elevating their stories. This has been instrumental in the healing process for survivors and their families.
“This project has the biggest impact because it provides families of the disappeared and extrajudicially killed the space to preserve their loved ones’ memories and pass their stories to the next generation. It legitimises the experiences of victims of human rights violations, gives them visibility, and elevates their stories, thus contributing to the healing process for the victims and survivors,” reads a statement from the organisation.
Another project that the organisation is involved in is “Forensic Investigation for the Forgotten”, a workshop for family members of missing, disappeared, and presumed dead persons. Conducted by Gambia’s Forensics Academy, ANEKED’s goal was to help inspire families searching for their loved ones to take action and find justice.
ANEKED has also led the advocacy for the exhumation of the remains of the people who were disappeared through liaison with potential forensic teams and discussions with the government.
“Recently, we organised a training on the importance of forensic investigations in identifying missing persons in collaboration with the Ministry of Justice to address the gaps and challenges as well as the mistakes committed in the past so that they are not repeated,” said Sirra Ndow.
The training, led by experts from organisations such as the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team (EAAF) and the University of Chicago Law School Global Human Rights Clinic (GHRC), aimed to help strengthen the capacity of investigators, prosecutors, judges, and other key stakeholders.
Another project is “We, the Griots: Connecting Past to Present”, which brought together three young “artivists”, or activist artists, to create a series of performances exploring the role of storytelling in transitional justice and remembrance. It helped survivors and their families to find new ways of coping with the trauma they experienced and continue advocating justice.
ANEKED has continued to pursue strategic litigation to promote human rights and has previously launched the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) Digest, a publication of witness testimonies that helps to inform the work of the commission and promote transparency.
“Justice is a central focus of ANEKED’s work. Victims and their families need to see those who committed human rights abuses held accountable for their actions. To that end, we work to promote transitional justice processes to shed light on past human rights violations committed in The Gambia and hold Yahya Jammeh and his accomplices accountable for their crimes,” added Sirra Ndow.
She added that since 2019, five victim cases have been sent to the ECOWAS Court of Justice in an effort to hold the government of The Gambia accountable for failing to protect the rights of the citizens.
ANEKED is also a member of the “Jammeh2Justice” coalition, which advocates justice at the national and international levels.
The journey to advocating justice is not all rosy. ANEKED faces various challenges in its bid to fulfill its mission. Chief among these is the lack of a full-time staff of skilled professionals as the organisation does not have access to core funding.
“These challenges are not insurmountable. We remain committed to overcoming them in order to achieve our goal of promoting human rights and acquiring justice for victims of human rights abuses in The Gambia,” said Sirra Ndow.