Recent pronouncements from President Barrow and the Coalition leaders should be encouraging to people seeking justice and accountability for the April 10 and 11, 2000 Massacre. Although the new government’s foray in the parliament was disappointing to me – because I expected them to introduce a motion to strip the former president off his immunity to stand trial for the Massacre – the government’s ideas about commissions of inquiries are beginning to take shape. Apparently, the government does not view these commissions as forums where all the crimes of the Jammeh regime can be resolved once and for all. Rather, the government seeks to use these commissions to gather evidence that could be used in future prosecutions. In other words, the commissions are a means to an end; and not the end themselves.
The reason we even have to highlight this subtle difference is because the former regime sought to use the coroner’s inquest and commission of inquiry that looked into the April 10 and 11, 2000 Massacre as a ploy to escape criminal liability, by pretending that those bodies had the last word in the matter. We must not allow the reports from the coroner’s inquest and commission of inquiry to be the final word in this saga. As I said before, these reports are a good starting point for any future prosecution. But because both reports avoided pinning blame on the right culprits and making recommendations for their prosecutions, the reports’ credibility is questionable.
At the very least, we need to know those who are responsible for this heinous crime, prosecute them appropriately, and redress the victims. That way, no government official will ever think that they can partake in the cold-blooded murder of innocent children with impunity.
According to President Barrow, the commissions the government plans to set up are merely for evidence-gathering. I reiterate that the April 10 and 11 Massacre need not go before another commission. The government already has all it needs to prosecute the perpetrators of this crime. A perusal of the aforementioned reports should give the government a roadmap to the relevant witnesses. All it has to do now is to come up with a legal strategy to successfully prosecute the most culpable person, in my opinion: former President Jammeh. I am confident that Mr. Abubacarr Tambedou, with his experience prosecuting human rights abuses, can get the job done.
If it takes cutting deals with less culpable actors, so be it. Jammeh must pay. Having said that, we must remember that Jammeh still enjoys immunity from prosecution by virtue of the Constitution. If Jammeh were to descend onto us in the Gambia today, the authorities must make sure that they have all the necessary legal weapons in their arsenal to deal with him. Otherwise, they will be scrambling, or worse, they will allow Jammeh to live in the country unscathed and ready to destabilize the government.
That is why, from even a purely security posture, this government needs to ensure that once Jammeh sets foot in the country, he is arrested. As we pointed out, the April 10 and 11, 2000 Massacre is the most heinous among Jammeh’s many crimes. Not only was this a callous crime against the most vulnerable in our society, it is also clear that Jammeh’s role in the matter is indefensible. I also believe that not even his stalwarts in the legislature want to be seen as people who condone mass murder. Therefore, this crime should form the basis for any strategy to hold Jammeh accountable for his actions while he was president.
As a preliminary matter, the government should introduce a motion in the parliament, showing that it is in the public interest to remove Jammeh’s immunity so he can stand trial for this crime. It should not be difficult to make that case. This matter has been discussed exhaustively in the media and the Jammeh government never attempted to deny their culpability. Once this motion is passed by a two-thirds majority in parliament, the government will then be in a position to arrest Jammeh if he sets foot in the country and bring him before a court of law. The parliamentary resolution will also give the government the leeway to charge Jammeh, and when the right opportunity presents itself, call for his extradition or try him in absentia. In my humble opinion, this is the only way Jammeh can be held accountable for this most heinous crime in the history of the country.
Taking this matter to another commission of inquiry will be a gross waste of time and resources. Additionally, it is also not clear from my reading of the Constitution if Jammeh can be brought into a commission against his will. Therefore, if Jammeh does not appear before a commission, admit his crimes, repent, and seek forgiveness from his victims, then that defeats the whole purpose of forming a commission to resolve once and for all the crimes committed on April 10 and 11, 2000.
One can understand the Jammeh government, which was interested in self-preservation, obfuscating on this matter. With the Barrow government, this is their best opportunity to hold Jammeh accountable and also send a strong message to our children that we value their lives and their contribution to society. Successfully prosecuting Jammeh for this crime also conveys to the whole world that we are a civilized society that will never tolerate the cold-blooded murder of innocent and defenseless children.
Muhamad Sosseh, Esq.
March 27, 2017