Gambia’s Justice Minister Ababucarr Tambadou has reaffirmed the government’s commitment to arrest and prosecute the exiled Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh if he ever steps his foot in The Gambia. Tambadou says Jammeh had committed crimes against humanity and must be prosecuted for his crimes against The Gambian people. Tambadou was speaking on Sunday during Gambia’s Legal Year, in which judges, lawyers and members of Gambia’s legal fraternity were attendance. “Make no mistake about it, barring any findings or recommendations of the TRRC to the contrary, if former President Yahya Jammeh, ever comes back to this country, he will face immediate arrest and charges of the most serious kind, and no amount of irresponsible idle talk or political brinkmanship will prevent this from happening. He will be subjected to an accountability process like any ordinary accused person in this country,” Tambadou remarked.
It would be recalled that Jammeh announced his home return during a New Year message to his supporters. He claimed that no one can stop him from coming home. He also encouraged his supporters to demonstrate on his behalf so that the international community can respect an agreement he reached with him back in 2017. The demonstration was held this past week, where the APRC had called on the EU, AU, and ECOWAS to respect the agreement they reached with Jammeh.
But Justice Minister Tambadou thinks that Jammeh belongs in jail—given what he called the atrocities he had committed against innocent Gambians and non-Gambians.
“So let me make this clear once again, the TRRC is only a fact finding investigative process, but unlike other truth commissions elsewhere around the world, ours is the first of its kind with a mandate to identify for prosecution those who bear the greatest responsibility for the human rights violations and abuses. After a year of public hearings, and as we enter into the second and possibly final year of hearings, it can no longer be ruled out that crimes against humanity have been committed in The Gambia, between July 1994 and January 2017, under former President Yahya Jammeh, and that those who will be identified by the TRRC will face certain prosecution in the most serious form,” Tambadou posited.
“There will be accountability of the highest order for these crimes and I assure the victims that it is now only a question of when, and not if. Make no mistake about it, barring any findings or recommendations of the TRRC to the contrary, if former President Yahya Jammeh, ever comes back to this country, he will face immediate arrest and charges of the most serious kind, and no amount of irresponsible idle talk or political brinkmanship will prevent this from happening. He will be subjected to an accountability process like any ordinary accused person in this country,” he added.
Meanwhile, according to Tambadou, the Government continues to demonstrate its commitment to the welfare of the victims by making an initial payment of fifty million dalasis to the TRRC Victims’ Trust Fund, part of which was used to provide overseas medical treatment for some victims. Nevertheless, he warned, great care must be taken not to undermine or be seen to undermine all the efforts invested in our transitional justice process.
“We have all worked too hard to throw it all away at the alter of political expediency. History will not judge us kindly if we engage in acts that undermine public confidence in these processes and ignore the pains and sufferings of the victims and their families. And let those who mock at or use threatening or abusive language against the victims be warned, do not test the limits of our democratic tolerance or confuse our respect for the rule of law with weakness. We will not, under any circumstances, accept the intimidation or harassment of victims and witnesses by anyone. The change in December 2016 is as much about sensitivity to the plight of Jammeh’s victims as it is about our collective destiny as a people,” Tambadou said.
Below is the full text of Tambadou’s speech.
It is a privilege once again to address this esteemed gathering on the occasion of the opening of yet another Legal Year.
Only last week when I was browsing through some Gambian online news websites I saw a headline that captured my attention. It read “Courts are now very fair, go to the Courts”. A certain prominent Gambian businessman was apparently being quoted by the news report.
Well, no one can deny that there’s been a marked improvement in the judicial and legal sectors in the new Gambia. The quote from the businessman is only illustrative of the increasing public confidence in the administration of justice system in our country in only three short years since the seismic political change that gripped us in December 2016. Of course, there is still room for improvement and the Government will be the first to acknowledge that but the fact remains that great progress has been made. Greater freedoms, especially in the area of freedom of expression and peaceful assembly are now a common feature of our new democracy. There is no longer detention without trial, and there has been significant reduction in reported cases of brutality or torture, if any, by law enforcement agencies. Institutions like The Gambia Police Force have now established a Human Rights Unit to receive complaints and provide prompt responses to reports of abuse and police brutality. Effective civilian oversight mechanisms such as the National Assembly Select Committees or the National Human Rights Commission are now fully operational.
Our democracy is indeed taking a positive shape and we should all be proud that only three years on from having one of the most repressive political environments in the world, our country is fast becoming a globally recognized free, open and democratic society. The establishment of the National Human Rights Commission, and its numerous activities since then, underscores the significant advances this Government has made in its governance reform agenda.
Unfortunately, our country still has too many challenges and we cannot in just three short years resolve all those challenges to the satisfaction of everyone. So our transition from dictatorship to democracy will continue to be fraught with challenges especially in governance but we are determined to succeed. We are on course to set a solid foundation for a modern democratic society anchored upon respect for the rule of law and human rights, and we will do everything possible as a responsible Government to consolidate these new found freedoms and democratic gains which too many have fought and died for.
The past year has been an eventful one especially with respect to our transitional justice processes. The Janneh Commission submitted its comprehensive Report on the financial corruption of former President Jammeh and his close associates and the Government issued its White Paper in reaction to the Report. The Government has since started implementing the recommendations of the Commission for the recovery of stolen and misappropriated monies. The sale of assets and of former President Jammeh’s properties is currently ongoing in phases and has already generated hundreds of millions of Dalasis and more is expected in the coming months. We will intensify our recovery efforts in the course of this year by using all legal means at our disposal including civil and especially criminal proceedings against uncooperative culprits.
Regarding the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), it has been a challenging one year of public hearings with a number of shocking revelations and difficult decisions. I sympathize and understand the frustrations of some victims and their families over the perceived lack of accountability for perpetrators, frustrations often expressed in the saying that justice delayed is justice denied. But I say that sometimes justice has to be delayed so that it will not be denied. As leaders, we cannot simply follow public opinion all the time. We have a responsibility to occasionally lead public opinion especially when it comes to matters of justice and the rule of law.
I have said previously that removing former President Jammeh from power, impossible as it seemed at times, may prove to be an easier task compared to the challenges that lie ahead of us as a nation. But we made a choice. We chose liberty over tyranny, democracy over dictatorship, and reconciliation over revenge. The road to sustainable peace and democracy in our country will be a long and bumpy ride but we will not fail. With every falter and every stumble, for there shall be many along the way to that Promised Land of freedom and justice which we all dreamed about in December 2016, we shall lift ourselves up again and again more determined than ever before to see that dream come true. Too many have died for this dream and they too shall not have died in vain.
And we continue to draw inspiration from the words of President Theodore Roosevelt that, “It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of great achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat”.
So let me make this clear once again, the TRRC is only a fact finding investigative process, but unlike other truth commissions elsewhere around the world, ours is the first of its kind with a mandate to identify for prosecution those who bear the greatest responsibility for the human rights violations and abuses. After a year of public hearings, and as we enter into the second and possibly final year of hearings, it can no longer be ruled out that crimes against humanity have been committed in The Gambia, between July 1994 and January 2017, under former President Yahya Jammeh, and that those who will be identified by the TRRC will face certain prosecution in the most serious form. There will be accountability of the highest order for these crimes and I assure the victims that it is now only a question of when, and not if. Make no mistake about it, barring any findings or recommendations of the TRRC to the contrary, if former President Yahya Jammeh, ever comes back to this country, he will face immediate arrest and charges of the most serious kind, and no amount of irresponsible idle talk or political brinkmanship will prevent this from happening. He will be subjected to an accountability process like any ordinary accused person in this country.
Meanwhile, the Government continues to demonstrate its commitment to the welfare of the victims by making an initial payment of fifty million dalasis to the TRRC Victims’ Trust Fund, part of which was used to provide overseas medical treatment for some victims. Nevertheless, great care must be taken not to undermine or be seen to undermine all the efforts invested in our transitional justice process. We have all worked too hard to throw it all away at the alter of political expediency. History will not judge us kindly if we engage in acts that undermine public confidence in these processes and ignore the pains and sufferings of the victims and their families. And let those who mock at or use threatening or abusive language against the victims be warned, do not test the limits of our democratic tolerance or confuse our respect for the rule of law with weakness. We will not, under any circumstances, accept the intimidation or harassment of victims and witnesses by anyone. The change in December 2016 is as much about sensitivity to the plight of Jammeh’s victims as it is about our collective destiny as a people.
On the Constitutional Review Process, we are pleased that the Constitutional Review Commission has now published its draft constitution for public reaction. It is indeed impressive that the CRC was able to produce this detailed draft in this short period of time. The publication of the draft has also achieved its intended purpose of generating public debate on the proposed governance architecture for our new Gambia, but unfortunately, and in spite of the many progressive provisions contained in the new draft constitution, there has been too much focus on one issue that has threatened to overshadow all the good work of the CRC, and the tone of the exchanges has, at times, been unsavoury and this is regrettable.
There is no doubt that the concerns of minorities must be taken into consideration as we seek to rebuild a new Gambia through assurances that make them feel protected by the State. How best to achieve that protection and assurance is the subject of intense debate these days. While the expression of divergent views is an intrinsic part of democracy, and helps to bring to the fore issues that had simmered beneath the façade of peaceful coexistence in our country so that we can address them openly and candidly as part of rebuilding the new Gambia, we must not allow these exchanges to divide us.
Christians and Muslims have lived in this country in peace and harmony for generations and it is the responsibility of each and every one of us to ensure that this fraternal spirit is jealously guarded. Now that former President Jammeh has gone, so must all his irresponsible actions that had divided us along sectarian lines. We must not allow his legacies to continue to threaten our cherished peace and tranquility. This country belongs to all of us, Christians and Muslims, and so it shall remain. Our democracy must not be allowed to become a tyranny of the majority.
One of the biggest challenges to our democratic reform process lies in our security sector reform. There is continuing mistrust between ordinary citizens and our men and women in uniform in spite of the best efforts of individual law enforcement agencies to change their approach to law enforcement in the country. It is clear that there is an urgent need for a coordinated, efficient and quick security sector reform process and we encourage the general public to exercise more patience and understanding as this is a complex process that requires tact, professionalism, and care. But we must also recognize that a complete institutional transformation of our law enforcement agencies will require a longer and more focused effort but we are determined to see this reform through. As the Chair of the Steering Committee of the Security Sector Reform, I have extended an invitation to the United Nations to assist with coordinating all the different complementary efforts of our bilateral and multilateral friends and allies in this reform process, and we hope to see more progress in the course of this year.
In terms of legislative reforms, we have in the course of last year, tabled for enactment before the National Assembly a number of transformative legislation including an access to information bill, an anti-corruption commission bill, a women’s amendment of discriminatory laws bill, a sexual offences bill, and a bill on mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.
More legislation will be tabled in the course of this year including comprehensive amendments to the criminal code and criminal procedure code in order to sanitize our criminal justice system and bring it in line with modern criminal justice norms and practices. In particular, the amendments will introduce non-custodial sentences such as community service, suspended sentences, probation, elimination of the death penalty as a sentencing option, greater flexibility for bail, and plea bargains etc. Other new bills will include a prohibition of torture bill which will criminalize acts of torture for the first time in The Gambia; an international crimes bill to cover mass atrocity crimes like genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity; a media services bill, and amendments to the Elections Act in consultation with the Independent Electoral Commission and all registered political parties in the country.
We are also on course to regain and restore The Gambia’s global leadership in human rights. Last year, the Government initiated a case at the International Court of Justice against the Republic of Myanmar under the 1948 Genocide Convention. Perhaps this came as a surprise to many in and outside The Gambia but keen followers of our progress since the change in December 2016 would have noticed that the ICJ case was not an isolated event. It follows a pattern of increasing commitment of the Government for adherence to international law and the fulfillment of our obligations as a State Party to both regional and international treaties and conventions.
Barely one month after the installation of the new administration, the Government, in February 2017, rescinded the decision by the Jammeh administration to withdraw The Gambia from the International Criminal Court, paving the way for our continued membership to the ICC. Since 2017, the Government has signed and/or ratified a number of international treaties including the UN Convention Against Torture, the UN Optional Protocol on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, the UN Convention Against Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
Moreover, since 2017, The Gambia successfully submitted its combined periodic reports for the first time since 1985 to the UN Human Rights Council on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; our combined periodic report for the first time since 1994 to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; our first report on the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women; and most recently in November 2019, we appeared before the UN Human Rights Council under the Universal Periodic Reports procedure. More significantly, The Gambia had since October 2018 made a Declaration pursuant to Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the establishment of an African Court to allow individuals to have direct access to the Court. Furthermore, the Government has also honoured all judgment awards made against the previous administration by the ECOWAS Court.
Consequently, The Gambia’s case at the ICJ should be viewed in the context of an increasing commitment to international law by the Government. Moreover, by this single act of initiating a case at the ICJ under the 1948 Genocide Convention, we are saying to the rest of the world that the new Gambia will not tolerate oppression in or outside our borders. We have therefore laid down a marker about the standards of government behavior towards its people and by implication raised the expectations of our own people about our own conduct towards them, and we shall live up to those expectations God willing.
Following improvements in the conditions of service of the judiciary last year, I wish to extend my deepest gratitude to you, Your Excellency, and to your Government, for the improvements this year of the conditions of service of the professional staff of the Attorney General’s Chambers and Ministry of Justice. It is indeed timely, and further demonstrates the commitment of your Government to strengthening the pillars of good governance. With these improved conditions, the Ministry will increase its ability to retain and attract more experienced staff, ensure greater commitment, and produce faster results.
Indeed we are aware, that to whom much is given, much more is expected. And so we have instituted new internal quality control mechanisms in order to increase efficiency, improve communications, and address the perennial challenges relating to court appearance by counsel occasioned mostly by a shortage of adequate manpower. We have also introduced a performance appraisal system to monitor and evaluate staff performance with a view to making improvements.
As I said at last year’s opening of the Legal Year, I have never worked with a more committed and dedicated team than the men and women of the Ministry of Justice under the leadership of the Solicitor General, Mr Cherno Marenah. I could not be prouder calling them my staff. Over the last three years, they have been pushed to their limits to ensure that we deliver on our reform promises to the people of this country and they have been equal to the challenge. I salute their determination despite the difficult conditions and the many constraints. Once again, I am grateful to you, Your Excellency, for recognizing their efforts and providing them with support by improving their conditions of service this year.
Indeed, all of the modest achievements since 2017 have been registered under your leadership and guidance and I am honoured to have been given the opportunity to contribute to this historic period of transformation of our country as your Attorney General and Minister of Justice. I am indeed grateful for all the support that you have given me and which made an otherwise onerous job less burdensome. Our challenge going forward is to build on and consolidate the gains already made. I have no doubt that if we join hands and work together without regard to ethnicity, religion, political or other status, we will overcome our challenges as a nation with a determination equal only to the one that led to the change back in December 2016. For the sake of future generations of Gambians, I pray that we live in unity, freedom and peace each day!