Togo: “We want to know who shot our children!”

By Aimé Adi, Amnesty International Togo Director Togo: “We want to know who shot our children!”,

One year after the quelling of protests demanding constitutional reforms in Togo, the families of a dozen of protesters who were killed, including those of students Rachad and Joseph, are struggling to see signs of genuine political will to fight impunity. The pain of the families endures. They live their tragedy and dream of “an upright and hopeful Togo” that says no to impunity. 

The start of the new school year in Togo will have a bitter taste for Agrignan Zakari and his family. He is the father of Rachad, the 14-year old student who was hit in the chest by a live bullet fired by security forces at Bafilo to the north of the country on 20 September 2017. He died from his injuries two days later.

A little over one year ago, Togo experienced widespread mass protests called by political opposition parties to demand constitutional reforms. The authorities often banned these protests despite rights guaranteed by international law and the constitution. To prevent and disperse gatherings, security forces beat up and arrested protesters, dozens of whom are still in detention in several towns in the country. They also used teargas and fired live bullets. Between September and October last year, more than a dozen people, including at least two children and two soldiers, lost their lives.

Later, Rachad’s father learnt that his son had been shot in the chest. Rachad died from his injuries on 22 September

Rachad is one of the victims. On 20 September 2017, he and his father took part in a peaceful protest in Bafilo. During the demonstration, protesters found themselves face to face with a large contingent of security forces made up of soldiers, gendarmes and the police. The security forces had firearms, teargas, and batons. Teargas was fired. Like all the other protesters, Rachad and his father were dispersed and lost sight of each other. Later, Rachad’s father learnt that his son had been shot in the chest. Rachad died from his injuries on 22 September.

Unfortunately, Rachad is not the only child who died in the protests in Togo last year. In the capital, Lomé, Yaogan Zoumekey also mourned the death of his son, Joseph, who was 13 years old and a sixth-grade student. Joseph, who left home to run errands in the neighbourhood, never returned. He was also shot dead in the protests of 18 October 2017.

Added to the deep pain that the families of Rachad and Joseph are experiencing, is their anguish at seeing so few people, especially the authorities, show an interest in their predicament. This is because in typical “Togolese” fashion there is something that is called the priority of priorities: dialogue.

The political dialogue - considered a main priority - is expected to continue in October. It will bring together stakeholders from the government and the opposition to ensure peace in the country. There will be more discussions about the election, candidates and reforms to be undertaken than about justice for past human rights violations. The stakeholders all claim to advocate for “an upright and hopeful Togo”, but few of them are making use of their lengthy arguments to bring an end to impunity and seek justice for Rachad and Joseph.

Against this background where the authorities are making very few decisions, the fathers of Rachad and Joseph whom I met, see things differently. They want to know the truth about the deaths of their children. The tragedy is still very fresh in each of their messages, each of our discussions. I hear this tragedy even in their silence.

After a meeting with an Amnesty International delegation in October 2017, Rachad’s father said: “I do not know how to write a complaint, but if you help me, and because it is already late in the day today, I will go and file the complaint tomorrow morning”. A complaint was filed on 26 October 2017 to seek justice, truth and redress for the death of Rachad.

During our discussions with the parents of Rachad and Joseph, the constant was their demand for the truth. They are not dreaming of a new Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. They simply want to know what happened

For Joseph’s family, patience has been a necessity. They have chosen not to bury their child even though for them, and in keeping with custom, burial is the first stage of grieving. His parents drafted a complaint on 23 October addressed to the prosecutor demanding that an autopsy be conducted “as soon as possible”. It took 10 months to obtain the autopsy results: “the body of Zoumekey Joseph has lesions consistent with violent death by shooting”. However, it is still not known who killed young Joseph and who issued the order for such an act to be committed.

During our discussions with the parents of Rachad and Joseph, the constant was their demand for the truth. They are not dreaming of a new Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission. They simply want to know what happened.

Once again this year, Rachad and Joseph will not be in class. Like last year, they will be missed by their former classmates. Their parents, like the relatives of all those killed in last year’s protests, want to finally shed light on their tragic deaths. Just like all those who are dedicated to justice, they dream of an upright Togo that says no to impunity.