Tortured Gambian Journalist Demands Justice from ECOWAS

PhotoGrid_1435254327210In 2006, Gambian security forces subjected journalist Musa Saidykhan to one of the cruellest, most inhuman and degrading forms of treatment simply for exercising his right to freedom of expression. But Musa refused to let his torture break his spirit and, assisted by the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), he successfully sued The Gambia at the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Community Court of Justice. The Court found that The Gambia had violated Musa’s human rights and awarded Musa US$200,000 in compensatory damages, which has yet to be paid. The MFWA thus joins Musa in demanding the implementation of justice and the payment of damages.

Last week (June 26, 2015), Musa conveyed his thoughts and feelings to the MFWA in an email interview, expressing his initial hope for receiving justice and consequent bitter disappointment after five years of The Gambia’s non-compliance. Throughout his statement, he reiterated his non-negotiable and urgent demand for justice from ECOWAS. You can read the first part of Musa’s interview with us here.

We were also interested in how Musa thought intergovernmental organizations and members of civil society, such as the MFWA, could help victims of human rights violations. Both intergovernmental and non-governmental organizations can help end impunity:

“Let [intergovernmental organizations] force The Gambia’s hand to comply with the [ECOWAS] rules. Whatever action is taken for the country to comply will restore confidence in the ECOWAS Court and ECOWAS and its partners. It’ll also [provide] closure for victims and serve as a deterrent to other countries [in non-compliance].

The civil society should work with the media to raise awareness and mount campaigns [around] gross violations of human rights, the importance of the ECOWAS Community Court and how The Gambia’s non-compliance is capable of demeaning the Court’s very purpose. “

Musa continued to tell us about the hardships he faced as a result of his injuries and trauma. While journalism has performed a healing function for Musa, his persisting physical pain has rendered everyday activities difficult:

“My active engagement with online media activism (publishing and broadcasting on has helped lessen my nightmares and stress emanating from the brutal tortures [in The Gambia in 2006].

However, the severe back pain caused by the tortures has become part of my life. Seven months of back pain had almost succeeded in restricting my activities completely. I had been frequently in and out of hospital. The most unfortunate part of this is that I missed some days at work. I am now struggling to pay a huge medical bill.”

In addition, Musa struggles to accept his reality as a refugee and his inability to provide invaluable on-the-ground information to his Gambian brothers and sisters. Furthermore, he continues to live in fear for his and his family’s lives as blacks in the United States.

“I have never thought of [myself as] being a refugee, and coming to terms with refugee life has always been difficult for me to accept. I keep asking myself: why would I be forced into exile when I didn’t complete my mission of using my pen and keyboard to inform my news-hungry population, correct injustice and tell truth to power. I left at a time when my services were desperately needed. I am adjusting fast [to life] in the United States, but I am still inundated with nostalgia. I am also reeling from culture shock caused by separation from my family, friends and colleagues. I live with the fear of raising kids in an environment that has over and over [again] proven to be volatile for young black kids. The never-ending news of unarmed young black men being shot to death by police takes a bite on me (sic).”

Victims of human rights violations must often cope with on-going trauma, sometimes against the backdrop of displacement and refugee life, and many never see justice. Musa’s story is perhaps unique in that he received court-mandated justice on paper but has been denied it in practice by The Gambia’s persistent non-compliance and the Court’s inability to enforce decisions. Moreover, ECOWAS’ failure to force The Gambia to comply with court judgments has further compounded Musa’s grievances. The MFWA strongly urges ECOWAS to do as Musa demands and use its powers under Article 77 of the ECOWAS Treaty to sanction The Gambia such that justice and compensation is finally delivered to Musa.

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