April 10/11 Memorial Foundation Press Release 9th August 2018

We believe that the victims of the former regime deserve recognition in the new dispensation; which is why during the first commemoration of the April 10 and 11, 2000 Massacre in the post-Jammeh era, we petitioned the Barrow administration “to recognize April 10/11 as a public or school holiday.” We are yet to receive a response from the government.
We believe that the dates of April the 10th / 11th mark a low point in the annals of Gambian history, and whilst specifically remembering the massacre of the children, it symbolically remembers ALL of Jammeh’s victims, both before and after.
When the April 10/11 heroes took to the streets on April 10 and 11, 2000, they came out to denounce impunity in our society, because two of their schoolmates were abused by the security forces in the country and nothing came out of it.

Judging by the names of the deceased victims, it appears the victims came from a cross-section of the society, representing all tribes, religions, and economic backgrounds. Below we reproduce the names of the victims and the cause of death as established in the “Commission of Enquiry Report into the April 10/11 disturbances”
1. Reginald Carroll, student of La Fourmi Institute, died of gunshot wounds
2. Karamo Barrow, former student of the Institute for Continuing Education, died of gunshot wounds
3. Lamin Bojang, student of Nusrat Senior Secondary School, died of gunshot wounds
4. Ousman Sabally, student of Brikamaba Upper Basic School, died of gunshot wounds
5. Sainey Nyabally
6. Ousman Sembene
7. Bakary Njie
8. Claesco Pierra, resident of New Jeshwang, died of gunshot wounds
9. Momodou Lamin Njie, student of Gambia Technical Training Institute, died of gunshot wounds
10. Wuyea Foday Mansareh, student of Tallinding Islamic Institute, died of gunshot wounds
11. Bamba Jobarteh, Bansang
12. Momodou Lamin Chune, student of Latrikunda Middle School, died of gunshot wounds
13. Abdoulie Sanyang, from Old Jeshwang, died from accidental trampling
14. Babucarr Badjie, 10-year-old student, died of gunshot wounds
15. Omar Barrow, journalist
16. Unknown Child – body never identified
We implore the government to declare April 10 a National Martyrs Day holiday and erect a fitting and lasting memorial, not just as a tribute to the fallen heroes of April 10 and 11, 2000, but as a tribute to ALL those who sacrificed their lives for the sake of The Gambia during the dictatorship years.

Declaring April 10 a National Martyrs Day holiday will unite us in remembering all the victims of the dictatorship and inculcate in our youths the notion of sacrificing for the common good. This will also bring some solace to the families of the deceased, who to this day have not received justice from the authorities. None of the victim s have been compensated.
To this day no Gambian has been held responsible for the massacre of the heroes of April 10 and 11, 2000, despite the findings of the commission of inquiry set up by the government in the aftermath of the massacre and the naming of some of those responsible.
April 10th a fitting date to remember ALL our brave Martyrs.

Signed Abdou Karim Jammeh

April 10-11 Memorial Foundation

“This day I remember many, many, years ago, very sadly in our country, on April 10th and 11th when students and people were gunned down. Some are victims today, some of course lost their lives and both victims and the families of those who lost their lives are still alive on this side of the eternal divide and thoughts commiserations are with them. We are trusting that they will come also into real justice for that situation and recompense retribution reparation and peace so that we can all move forward as a nation so our thoughts and our prayers are with their families and we trust that those who are alive whatever they have suffered that there is recovery,  mentally there is recovery physically there is recovery and emotionally there is recovery so that we can all move forward. We just extend our love to them all and their families tonight”

Pastor Forbes - GRTS 14th April 2018

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9rIHc-uvF2s&feature=youtu.be

 

WHY SHOULD WE COMMEMORATE APRIL 10/11 2000 MASSACRE

By Sulayman Be Suwareh

George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

Some might argue that we should have reconciliation to find closure, forgive and cautiously forget — perhaps to ensure that the April 10/11 atrocities and other pass tragedies do not distract the public from current development and moving forward concept. There is a good reason why these historical tragedies should never be laid to rest. With the massive influx of information in today’s culture, people’s attention spans are short-lived and inevitably jump from one outrage to another. It becomes difficult to process all of the information available, let alone analyse and respond to each event.

 But focusing on history together with current events creates a lens through which we can process what is going on around us both locally and globally. This is why the past, rather than distracting us from the present, gives us a means through which to both understand what is happening in our world today and to actively affect it.

Why, then, is history class, not enough? Why should society bother with actively commemorating the past through days of commemoration, ceremonies, and projects? 

Most educational researchers agree that the best way to both learns and remember is by combining “seeing, doing, and discussing.” It is the discussion of the connection between past, present, and future that will allow us to remember and apply history to our daily lives. It is seeing our government officials and local leaders actively participating in ceremonies that will set an example. And it is doing projects in memory of such tragedies that will help us develop a society that is conscious of what is at stake when some do not respect the rights of others to exist. The truth is that in order to ensure that our history has a continual impact on our actions and decision-making processes, we can never allow the past to be laid to rest.

Today, as news spreads through social media and the Internet, more and more voices can be heard and acknowledged. People can be informed, outraged, and then triggered to respond to tragedies that happen throughout the world. All of this means that there is greater accessibility to lessons about developing our own societies and ways of life. Perhaps growth can accelerate, but this won’t be possible without active commemoration. If we just “lay things to rest,” the passage of time and overload of information may cause people to become desensitized to the horrors that have transpired in our past. They may no longer be able to stand up and prevent the same mistakes from happening again. If something as monumental as the atrocities of April 10/11  — the largest genocide of the dictatorship, perpetrated by the leader of a nation that was viewed and still view in some corners of our society as the centre of culture and advancement — can be laid to rest, what are the implications for smaller-scaled but deeply important events such as the November 11 massacre of our gallant comrade in the Army?

After all, as George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

RIP Fallou Sene

Nous, les survivants du massacre des étudiants du 10 et 11 Avril 2000 en Gambie, les émissaires de notre solidarité et nos condoléances à tous les étudiants sénégalais et à la famille de l'étudiant Fallou Sène, tué par la police.

  • Nous connaissons la douleur de perdre des camarades de classe, des amis et des parents. 16 de nos compatriotes sont tombés ce jour-là.
  • Nous connaissons la douleur des blessures à long terme par les balles de la police, comme nous vivons avec eux dans notre vie quotidienne.
  • Nous, les survivants, et notre organisation, “The April 10/11 Memorial Foundation”, soutenons les étudiants sénégalais dans leur lutte pour que les responsables de cette meurtre de vos confère, font face à la justice.
  • Nous vous souhaitons du courage dans votre lutte, et nous le sentons, car nous luttons depuis 18 ans pour les étudiants gambiens qui sont morts et ont été blessés ces jours fatidiques.

Le message video de Abdou Karim Jammeh - Survivant du massacre de Avril 10 2000

We, the survivors of the massacre of the students of the 10th and 11th of April 2000 in The Gambia, the emissaries of our solidarity and our condolences to all the Senegalese students and to the student's family Fallou Sène, killed by the police.

We know the pain of losing classmates, friends and relatives. 16 of our compatriots fell that day.
We know the pain of long-term injuries by police bullets, as we live with them in our daily lives.
We, the survivors, and our organization, "The April 10/11 Memorial Foundation," are supporting Senegalese students in their fight to ensure that those responsible for this murder of your colleagues face justice. We wish you courage in your struggle, and we feel it because we have been fighting for 18 years for the Gambian students who died and were wounded those fateful days.

 

Standard Newspaper - January 31, 2018 

By Omar Wally

 

Col Baboucarr Jatta, former Chief of Staff of the Gambia Armed Forces, has alleged that former president Yahya Jammeh was responsible for the April 10th student massacre.

On 10 and 11 April 2000, students in the Greater Banjul Area took to the streets demanding the release of one of their colleagues who was allegedly tortured to death.

The demonstration turned violent and several students, including a Red Cross volunteer were killed, with scores wounded most of whom were left in wheelchairs.

The incident happened Jammeh was out of the country and people instead blamed former vice president Isatou Njie-Saidy and former head of military Col Baboucarr Jatta.

However, in an interview with The Standard, Col Jatta said the head of the government was responsible.

“Whatever the security does lingers on the head of state’s head. If I commit an atrocity and I’m not punished for it and serving under somebody who has been elected by majority of the populace to oversee the country, if he does nothing about it, there is something he is hiding,” Jatta said.

He said the students were not hostile and that was why he ordered his officers not to be involved until they are called upon.

 

“The confusion began when the students saw the engineering unit of Army going to the army headquarters of maintenance,” Jatta said, denying ever beaten by the students. “I walked with the students from Serekunda to Kairba Avenue and no one beat me.”

http://standard.gm/site/2018/01/31/jammeh-responsible-april-10th-student-massacre/

April 2000 victims to be treated in Turkey

Written by Mustapha Darboe smbc News on May 18, 2017

Five April 10 and 11 victims who are still struggling with sustained gunshot injuries, some with bullets still in their bodies, are to be treated in Turkey, the Turkish ambassador said.

Under the Health Cooperation Agreement between the Gambia’s government and Turkey, 25 patients who are not treatable in the country will be sent to Ankara for treatment.

Five among these people are victims of Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh’s regime, who were shot in April 2000 during the student demonstration.

Gambia has seen a brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters that year when soldiers opened fire at students, killing 14 people and leaving many others paralyzed with gunshot wounds.

One of the people, who was supposed to travel to Turkey, Oumie Jagne, still has a bullet in her left hand.

Another victim who would be on the trip, Yusupha Mbaye, has been confined to a wheelchair after he was shot at his neck over a decade and a half ago.

The Turkish ambassador, Ismail Sefa Yuceer, said the patients are those who could not be treated in Gambia.

The request has been made to his embassy through Gambia’s youth ministry’s following the request from the Jammeh victims committee.

The patients will pay their own flight tickets but the treatment will be free in Turkey.

Meanwhile, victims of the former president Jammeh Wednesday launched an organization, Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations to fight for the victims of the dictator.

Maila Touray, the chairperson of the Foundation thanked Ankara for the support to the victims, who were going to receive free treatment in Turkey.

Yuceer, who was in attendance at the launching of the Foundation, assure the victims of Turkey’s support during this transition.

https://gambia.smbcgo.com/2017/05/18/5-april-2000-victims-treated-turkey/ 

Thursday, May 25, 2000 @ the Malcolm X park in Washington DC: Demonstration Against the shooting of peacefully demonstrating Students in Gambia on April 10/11, 2000.

In the picture the late Njaga Jagne (murdered by Jammeh following 30 December 2016), Sigga Jagne and another member of the Jagne family. Their 16year old younger brother Assan was one of the students shot during on April 10th.

International rights group urges prosecution of Jammeh-era crimes

An international human rights group, Human Rights Watch, has urged the Barrow administration to ensure justice is done for crimes allegedly committed under Gambia’s strongman Yahya Jammeh’s 22-year rule in a letter addressed to justice minister Tambadou.

Gambia’s former president Yahya Jammeh has lost power to a property developer Adama Barrow on December 1 but the new government has since said it wants to establish truth and reconciliation commission to deal with the country’s past crimes.

However, the international rights watchdog said while truth and reconciliation commission will help in healing the country’s wounds, it does not substitute justice for the victims.

“President Barrow’s stated support for a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate crimes committed during Jammeh’s rule offers the potential for families to learn the fate of their loved ones, as well as the opportunity to begin a national dialogue about reforms to assure that Jammeh-era abuses are never repeated,” Human Rights Watch said.

“At the same time, truth and reconciliation measures are not a substitute for fair, credible trials before courts of law and do not satisfy victims’ rights to have access to justice. Criminal investigations and prosecutions should not be delayed for truth and reconciliation initiatives, and these processes can operate in parallel.”

 

Below is the full letter as was addressed to Minister Bubacarr Tambadou:

Re: Accountability for Past Serious Crimes

Dear Minister Tambadou,

Please accept Human Rights Watch’s greetings and congratulations on your appointment as Attorney General and Minister of Justice. We are an international human rights organization that monitors and reports on human rights in more than 90 countries worldwide. We worked extensively to document the human rights violations that occurred in Gambia under the government of former president Yahya Jammeh.

We welcome the important steps the government of President Adama Barrow has already taken to end the impunity that underpinned Jammeh’s time in power, including reversing Gambia’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court, releasing political prisoners and committing to investigate the fate of individuals who disappeared during the Jammeh era. We also note that your government has begun the process of investigating and prosecuting officials implicated in serious crimes, including the April 15, 2016 death of Solo Sandeng at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) headquarters.

We hope that these efforts represent a precursor to a wider effort to hold accountable those most responsible for human rights violations during Jammeh’s rule. Accountability for the gravest crimes is crucial to building respect for the rule of law and contributing to the deterrence of future abuses.

Human Rights Watch has interviewed dozens of torture survivors, former detainees and family members of Gambians killed or forcibly disappeared during the Jammeh era, including people targeted as long ago as 1996 and as recently as January 2017. Many described to us how the government’s failure to investigate and prosecute abuses enabled future violations and prevented victims from speaking openly about their mistreatment.

Drawing from our work to promote justice for grave crimes committed in West Africa and around the world, we respectfully share with you below some of our recommendations for ensuring fair, credible accountability for past violations in Gambia.

  1. Gambian courts can play a leading role in accountability

Whenever possible, national-level courts are the best forum for ensuring justice for serious human rights violations. Prosecuting criminal offenses at the national level maximizes the opportunity for the proceedings to resonate with victims and the general public, and contributes to reestablishing their trust in justice institutions.

This is consistent with the complementarity principle of the International Criminal Court (ICC), which provides that the ICC only steps in when national courts are unable or unwilling to prosecute crimes under the court’s jurisdiction. An ICC spokesman notably said in January that it is not currently conducting investigations in Gambia, and it appears unlikely to do so in future.

The Gambian justice system faces significant challenges as it struggles to overcome more than two decades of neglect and misuse, and investigating and prosecuting serious past crimes will inevitably be one part of a wider justice sector reform project.

But the prominent and courageous role that Gambian lawyers played in representing political prisoners during the Jammeh era, as well as the appointment of a widely respected chief justice with experience in international criminal law, reinforces that Gambian lawyers and judges are well placed to pursue accountability domestically. At the same time, the Gambian justice system will also need—and will in all likelihood have the opportunity to benefit from—significant financial investment and technical assistance from international donors. Such investment should give your government the opportunity to learn from and build on other countries’ experience with accountability.

In some cases, the possible subjects of future prosecutions, including former president Jammeh, are not in Gambia. For some, including criminal suspects arrested in Senegal, it might be possible for Gambia to seek the individual’s extradition or transfer, a request that would be strengthened by efforts by Gambian courts to demonstrate their willingness and capacity to try crimes in a credible, independent and impartial manner. For others, extradition may prove more difficult or less relevant. Where that is the case, Gambia can support cases brought in other jurisdictions on the basis of the principle of universal jurisdiction, as discussed below.

  1. Truth-telling and reconciliation measures are not a substitute for criminal judicial proceedings

President Barrow’s stated support for a truth and reconciliation commission to investigate crimes committed during Jammeh’s rule offers the potential for families to learn the fate of their loved ones, as well as the opportunity to begin a national dialogue about reforms to assure that Jammeh-era abuses are never repeated.

At the same time, truth and reconciliation measures are not a substitute for fair, credible trials before courts of law and do not satisfy victims’ rights to have access to justice.

Criminal investigations and prosecutions should not be delayed for truth and reconciliation initiatives, and these processes can operate in parallel. Experience from Sierra Leone, where a truth and reconciliation commission operated alongside the Special Court for Sierra Leone, a hybrid international-national tribunal that was established in 2000 to try grave crimes committed during that country’s conflict, may be relevant. Consideration will, nevertheless, need to be given to how judicial institutions and a truth and reconciliation commission might share information while protecting the rights of victims, witnesses and alleged perpetrators.

III. Developing a prosecutorial strategy can help direct finite resources and manage expectations

The development and implementation of a coherent prosecutorial strategy—one that includes criteria used by prosecutors to make decisions about case selection—will be important to achieving justice for serious human rights violations committed during the Jammeh era.

Because of the large number of victims and alleged perpetrators (and with crimes committed over more than two decades), it will not be possible to investigate and prosecute every serious human rights violation that occurred during Jammeh’s rule. To help investigators direct finite resources effectively, your government should develop a prosecutorial strategy that defines the types of crimes and the perpetrators who will be the focus of criminal proceedings.

One basis for a prosecutorial strategy could be to focus on the alleged perpetrators deemed to bear the greatest responsibility for serious crimes, an approach that was followed by the Special Court for Sierra Leone. The strategy should also consider, however, the importance of reflecting the breadth of crimes committed and the different categories of victims targeted, including women. Individuals who did not occupy prominent positions within the chain of command, but who committed numerous and particularly brutal crimes, may also merit investigation and prosecution.

To the extent possible, the parameters of a prosecution strategy should be made public. This will help manage expectations about the possibility of justice among victims and reassure many lower level former civil servants or Jammeh supporters that they will not be targeted simply on the basis of their past affiliation.

  1. Judicial reforms are necessary to fairly investigate and prosecute past violations

In order to provide justice to victims and defendants, as well as to reestablish trust in judicial institutions, it is essential that trials of criminal suspects for past human rights violations not only take place, but are credible and fair in accordance with international standards and practice.

Experience from other accountability processes suggests several important components for Gambia:

  1. Enacting an appropriate legal framework:The Ministry of Justice should scrutinize the Gambian Criminal Code to ensure it includes the offenses necessary to properly prosecute a broad range of human rights violations and to analyze the extent to which the law needs to be revised and amended. Notably, although section 21 of Gambian Constitution bars torture and inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment, the Criminal Code does not define an offense of torture or enforced disappearance.[1] The Ministry of Justice should also consider whether Gambian law provides for adequate modes of liability. Command responsibility can be particularly important in cases involving serious crimes to establish culpability by perpetrators at higher levels of power who bear responsibility, but did not physically commit the crimes.
  2. Abolishing the death penalty:The Gambian government should impose a moratorium on carrying out the death penalty and act to abolish the death penalty.   Anyone sentenced to death should receive a commutation of their sentence. Human Rights Watch opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, as it is an inherently cruel and inhuman punishment.
  3. Building investigative and prosecutorial capacity:Investigations of serious human rights violations can be complex and require specialized expertise. Gambia should consider establishing a special law enforcement unit dedicated to investigating torture, enforced disappearances and extrajudicial executions. Experience in Côte d’Ivoire and across Europe has reinforced that such a step can be an important way to concentrate relevant expertise and support. Gambia should also consider inviting international experts to work alongside Gambian investigators and prosecutors.  This could allow Gambia to benefit from expertise that has been developed internationally in handling sensitive cases involving past crimes. For example, the panel of judges in Guinea investigating the 2009 Conakry massacre, in which over 150 peaceful protestors were killed and over 100 women were raped during an opposition rally, has benefited from the deployment of an international expert—a former justice minister from Mauritania—to assist their efforts. The expert’s work was arranged and supported by the UN Office of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.
  4. Establishing an independent judiciary: Independence and impartiality are especially critical when it comes to trying serious crimes in violation of international law, which are often high-profile, sensitive cases with significant political implications. Human Rights Watch documented widespread executive interference in the judiciary when Jammeh was president, including executive pressure on foreign judges on temporary assignment in Gambia. The new Gambian chief justice should work with the Ministry of Justice to devise a system for the training and appointment of judges that protects them from executive interference, both in law and practice. Judicial panels that include national and international judges have been utilized to valuable effect in some cases involving serious crimes, such as at the Special Court for Sierra Leone and the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Courts of Senegal. This enabled international expertise in international criminal law to be leveraged, and better insulated decision-making from perceived or actual domestic political interference. However, given Gambia’s particularly tainted history with the use of foreign judges, should international judges be deployed to Gambia, the Ministry of Justice should explain clearly and publicly the guarantees in place to ensure those judges are independent.
  5. Creating a system for witness protection and ensuring security of judicial personnel: Judges, prosecutors, victims and witnesses must be able to participate in cases involving human rights violations without fear of reprisal. Gambia currently lacks of any formal program for victim or witness protection, and should devise mechanisms, ideally through the passage of legislation, to protect victims and witnesses involved in sensitive cases. Plans to provide sufficient security for judicial personnel working on sensitive cases should also be put in place.
  6. Strengthening defense rights: Criminal defendants in the Jammeh era were routinely denied a fair trial, primarily due to executive interference in the judiciary, but also because of a failing legal aid system and frequent refusals to allow lawyers access to detainees in pre-trial detention. The Ministry of Justice, in partnership with the Gambian Bar Association, should consider how to ensure defendants, regardless of their past political affiliation, receive a fair trial, including by ensuring adequate legal representation.  The full range of protections under article 14 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights should be afforded to defendants.
  7. Respecting victims’ rights: The Gambian Criminal Procedure Code currently contains no specific provisions giving victims the right to participate in criminal proceedings, separate from serving as witnesses. Although the role of victims is often limited in common law legal systems, several Gambian lawyers told Human Rights Watch that before beginning trials of serious crimes, the Ministry of Justice should consider how to integrate victims into proceedings. This could include, for instance, giving victims the opportunity to provide an impact statement prior to sentencing.

V. Universal jurisdiction may provide an additional avenue for accountability

Where alleged perpetrators are outside of Gambia, universal jurisdiction may provide an important additional vehicle to ensure accountability.

Universal jurisdiction refers to the ability of domestic judicial systems to prosecute some crimes—regardless of where they were committed—due to their gravity. This includes war crimes, torture, crimes against humanity, genocide, piracy, hijacking, acts of terrorism, and attacks on United Nations personnel. In 2016, universal jurisdiction enabled a court in Senegal to convict the former head of state of Chad, Hissène Habré, of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture.

Given the widespread torture perpetrated by the security forces during Jammeh’s administration, universal jurisdiction might provide a basis for states to prosecute Jammeh-era officials. Switzerland has already used universal jurisdiction to initiate legal proceedings against Jammeh’s minister of the interior, Ousman Sonko, alleging he “could not have ignored the large-scale scale torture” that occurred in detention centers.

In practice, universal jurisdiction prosecutions are only possible in states that have enacted the relevant legal framework, and have the political will, to take on such cases. Habré’s prosecution in Senegal was only possible after a decade-long campaign, led by victims of his regime, overcame several attempts to insulate Habré from prosecution and ultimately helped convince incoming Senegalese President Macky Sall that Habré should be arrested and prosecuted.

The Gambian Ministry of Justice should support universal jurisdiction cases as part of its strategy for pursuing accountability for past crimes in Gambia. This could include sharing evidence with states conducting universal jurisdiction investigations and facilitating their investigations inside Gambia. The establishment of a focal point inside the Ministry of Justice to liaise with universal jurisdiction investigations could be a useful starting point.

Conclusion

We understand that your government has many pressing priorities as it takes office, and the process of providing justice to victims of the Jammeh-era and their families will undoubtedly take years to complete. At the same time, we believe the ultimate success of accountability efforts will depend on the timely foundation laid in the early phase of your administration.

We also urge you to communicate non-confidential information about the accountability process clearly with victims and the wider Gambian public. This should include a public explanation of how the recent charges filed against senior NIA officials in relation to Solo Sandeng’s death relate to wider efforts to pursue accountability for the full range of crimes committed during the Jammeh era.

We are writing to you privately at this time to share the above recommendations, and look forward to further dialogue with your government on these issues. However, in the interest of generating public debate around the crucial aspects of justice and accountability in Gambia, we intend to make this letter public on or around March 31, 2017.

 

We respectfully urge you to consider the recommendations in this letter and would be happy to discuss its contents at your convenience.

Truth and Irreconcilables Part III – Muhamad Sosseh - April 29, 2017

I understand the Barrow government's preference to deal with the atrocities committed by the Jammeh regime through a Truth and Reconciliation Commission ("TRC") mechanism, rather than engage in piecemeal prosecution of individual criminals. The TRC would require fewer resources; and depending on its terms of reference, it could be very effective. 

But is a TRC the way to go in the current Gambian dispensation? Does the government's desire for reconciliation trump crime victims' and society's right to demand that criminals be punished? In the Gambian context, is there truly a risk that the society will disintegrate once the government starts punishing certain criminals through the regular courts? 

In my humble opinion, the government needs to take these factors into consideration and convincingly address the citizens, especially the victims, before going the TRC route. I respectfully urge our government to make a strong case to the Gambian people if it wants to go against international norms as articulated under the Rome Statute, and advocate for the non-prosecution of certain crimes (such as the massacre of our children on April 10 and 11, 2000). Yes, it could be argued that TRCs were effectively used in South Africa and elsewhere. But those countries had unique circumstances that invited the use of TRCs. If you have a legal system that is in tatters (due to war for example or a repugnant system like Apartheid), it makes sense to bypass the courts and set up commissions to handle certain crimes or to prioritize reconciliation over prosecution. 

In The Gambia, the government needs to explain to the victims why it makes sense to not prosecute people who ordered the massacre of innocent and defenceless children. And not have senior government officials wine and dine with the criminals. How does it help assuage the victims and the larger society if criminals are celebrated in our society or given a mere slap on the wrist for murdering defenceless children? Ordinary citizens deserve an explanation from the government if it wants to lower the bar and absolve murderers simply because they appear before a commission of inquiry. I, for one, will not want to be a proud member of a society that condones mass murder. And I have not heard a single victim of the Jammeh regime indicate a willingness to reconcile with criminals who have not been punished for their crimes.

If the government is concerned about being accused of engaging in selective prosecution in order to settle political scores, then the April 10 and 11, 2000 Massacre is a perfect case to bring before the courts. Judging by the names of the deceased victims, it appears the victims came from a cross-section of the society.  Baboucarr Badjie, Wuyeh Fode Mansally, Momodou Lamin Njie, Calisco Prera, Karamo Barrow, Reginald Carrol, Omar Barrow, Momodou Lamin Chune, Lamin Bojang, Ousman Sabally, et al., represent all tribes, religions, and economic backgrounds. Even the most biased observers cannot claim that it is unfair to prosecute the perpetrators of the April 10 and 11, 2000 Massacre.

When crime victims and society at large demand justice, they are not only seeking acknowledgement and monetary compensation from the state; they are also asking that the perpetrators be held accountable and punished. As I keep saying – and will not be tired of repeating – civilized societies must never allow certain heinous crimes to go unpunished; not in the name of national reconciliation, nor out of a false hope that treating criminals with mercy somehow deters crime. The culture of impunity must be eradicated in our society.

If the government wants to argue that rendering murderers scot-free would help national reconciliation and give us a more cohesive society, some of us have to push back on such a notion. While I recognize that we must discourage a culture of revenge in our society, it needs to be pointed out that this argument suggests that there is a faction of our society that condones mass murder. The argument, taken to its logical conclusion, wants us to believe for example that if the government were to prosecute former president Jammeh and his cohorts for the massacre of our children, there will be some from the society who did not partake in this heinous crime who will be prepared to bring chaos in the country in order to defend Jammeh. I cannot accept that argument. I believe we are from a civilized society and the overwhelming majority of the citizens will never condone impunity for such a callous crime.

By calling for retribution, the victims and society at large are not seeking to fulfil a desire for revenge. Criminals owe a debt to the whole society and not just to their proximate victims. Therefore, it is every citizen's legitimate duty to demand justice for the victims and our society. And the government in whom the power of the people is vested should ensure that criminals are punished appropriately, pursuant to the laws of the land. Otherwise, there could be vigilantism and chaos in the society. To me, this is a bigger concern than the fear that Gambians are going to rise up to defend criminals. Gambians are very fair and will not defend criminals if they know that the criminals' due process rights are being respected.

When the government punishes criminals for their behavior, the punishment serves a dual purpose: it deters the criminal from repeating the behavior and it also serves as a deterrent to others in the society who might have contemplated committing such a crime. Are there situations where the government, for the greater good, could decide to exercise leniency on criminals? Absolutely. As I argued before, even in the most sophisticated legal systems, certain situations warrant bargaining with less culpable criminals in order to get to the real culprits. This massacre, is not such a situation.

I think what the citizens will have a problem with is when commissions are used as a substitute for regular courts in order to avoid punishing criminals. That is exactly what Jammeh did when our children were gunned down in broad daylight on April 10 and 11, 2000; and he was roundly condemned by most Gambians. It pains me to even think that our current government is capable of taking the same route that Jammeh took.

If our prosecutors feel overwhelmed, they should consider referring Jammeh to the ICC. But I have confidence that the current system can handle Jammeh and his cohorts. I also have confidence in the decency of the Gambian people. Gambians are not going to come out en masse and plunge the country into chaos because they want to defend murderers, who are not being railroaded through the regular courts.

Muhamad Sosseh, Esq.

Washington, DC

The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative 2018 Report makes reference to the medical support promised by Turkey to the April 10/11 victims, and the need for support for finding the travel costs to access this support.

"Turkey, has signed a Power Protection Agreement with The Gambia, offered training to the security forces, and offered to treat nine victims that the Victims Centre has identified as in great need, providing their air fare can be found" (p46)

The full copy of the report can be found here - https://bit.ly/2K7PVNJ