Gambian students protest killing of student and rape of 13-year-old, 2000

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Timing
Time Period:  
March 10,
2000
to
April 11,
2000
Location and Goals
Country: 
Gambia
Location City/State/Province: 
Brikama City
Goals: 
Expressing anger at the murder of Ebrima Barry and the rape of a 13-year-old girl, and holding the government accountable for these and other human rights violations.
 

Between 1965 and 1994, The Gambia was ruled over by Sir Dawda Jawara, who had allowed the IMF and World Bank to introduce Structural Adjustment Plans (SAPs) that sapped The Gambia of prosperity and fostered widespread discontent. There was initial celebration when in 1994 Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh took control of the government in a military coup. However, Jammeh proved himself to be a corrupt and repressive leader, and his election in 1998, two years after he seized power, is generally considered to have been rigged.

On March 8, 2000, two years after Jammeh’s election, Ebrima Barry, a 19-year-old student in Brikama City, The Gambia, insulted his teacher Mr. Paul and was suspended. Mr. Paul called the fire department to remove Mr. Barry from the classroom, apparently afraid that Ebrima would not go without a fight. Yet once they had hold of him the firemen not only removed Ebrima from school, but took him to the station where they appear to have shaved his head, beaten him, forced him to carry heavy bags of cement, stripped him naked, poured cement on him, and finally put cement in his mouth and forced him to swallow.

Ebrima was able to go home that night, where he told his mother what had happened. However, the next day, March 9, he died from injuries he had received at the hands of the firemen. That Friday students from Ebrima’s secondary school converged on the fire department with signs and banners, but the police rapidly dispersed them.

The Gambia Student Union (GAMSU) pressed for an autopsy ascertaining the cause of Ebrima’s death. Jemmeh’s government, aside from expressing surprise that the fire department had been asked to discipline a student, had made no move to investigate the situation. When delivered, the autopsy (widely believed to be a cover-up) claimed that Ebrima died of natural causes. GAMSU members began a protest when the government released the report, and the courts eventually charged seven officers with participation in Ebrima’s death. All seven were acquitted on March 2 of the next year.

In early April of 2000, while Gambians were still processing Ebrima’s murder, an armed officer raped a thirteen-year-old at a sporting event. GAMSU pressed for the girl to be allowed to identify the rapist, but the government stalled and by the point the girl –identified only as Binta – was allowed to see the men who had been on duty on the day of her rape, she was unable to recognize her assailant.

Students in GAMSU were outraged by both events. They filed for a protest permit in order to express their anger and to hold those who had been responsible for the recent atrocities accountable, but the government denied their request. GAMSU decided to protest anyway, and thousands gathered on April 10 in their school uniforms at the gates of the Gambia Technical Training Institute. They intended to nonviolently march to the city center, but they were stopped by police, who ordered them to disperse. When students refused, the police opened fire, attacking with tear gas and rubber bullets. According to one source, the students scattered but regrouped, creating barricades out of burning tires and throwing stones at the police. According to the same source, as non-students joined the fray protesters attacked government buildings and set a police station on fire.

The police reacted by using live ammunition, killing fourteen students, a Red Cross volunteer/radio journalist, and a three-year old that was hit by a stray bullet. Police prevented Gambians from entering the local hospital to identify the dead. Hundreds of others were injured.

The next day students across the country protested in solidarity with the Brikama students and with the same goal of holding the perpetrators accountable. The police violently repressed the protests and arrested hundreds of protesters. The two days of protest are now referred to throughout The Gambia as the Student Massacre of 2000. The government issued a statement blaming student leaders, and closed all schools for a number of days. The Vice President even claimed that the students “killed themselves,” shooting each other after breaking into police armories and stealing weapons.

After the protests subsided, GAMSU and other social justice groups such as Amnesty International-Gambia formed a larger group titled the Coalition of Human Rights Defenders, which was eventually able to free all jailed student activists and successfully spread the word about the massacre. Yet over the next few years, much of GAMSU’s leadership fled overseas to escape persecution, and over time the government was able to infiltrate what remained of the GAMSU organization with hired agents willing to turn in their peers. The government also set up a parallel student union, the National Patriotic Students Association (NAPSA) that it used to counter any future GAMSU activity.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Pa Nderry Mbai & Ousman Darboe, _Fire Officers in Ebrima Barry Murder Trial Acquitted_ 2 March 2001. http://allafrica.com/stories/200103020138.html.

Alieu Darboe, _The Gambia: 1994-present_ February 2010. http://www.nonviolent-conflict.org/index.php/movements-and-campaigns/movements-and-campaigns-summaries?sobi2Task=sobi2Details&sobi2Id=14.

“Gambia: Cold Commemoration of Gambia’s Student Massacre.” Gambia News, 2007, http://www.gambianow.com/news/News/Cold_commemoration_of_Gambias_student_massacre-.html.

_10 Years Later A Dark Cloud Continue to Hang Over Student Massacre!_ 2010 http://www.gainako.com/news/editorial.html

Momodou Camara _Student Beaten to Death_ 2000, http://www.listserv.icors.org/SCRIPTS/WA-ICORS.EXE?A2=ind0003&L=GAMBIA-L&F=&S=&P=161095

Mathew K Jallow _ The Ghosts of April 2000 _ 2011. http://www.thegambiaecho.com/Homepage/tabid/36/articleType/ArticleView/articleId/1459/Default.aspx.

Adama Hawa _ Another Silent Anniversary for the April Student Massacre _ 2007 . http://allafrica.com/stories/200704110412.html.

_Students and Police Responsible for Student Deaths _ 2000. http://allafrica.com/stories/200009270172.html

_Gambian police open fire on student demonstration_ 2000. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/gambian-police-open-fire-on-student-demonstration-721660.html.

Additional Notes: 
Many of the sources for this piece were articles published years later by student organizers who had escaped Gambia after the 2000 massacre.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Elowyn Corby, 27/01/2011