On the issue of the Human Rights Unit at the Gambia Police Force, Is Justice Minister Tambadou misleading the public?
By Assan Sallah
While many Gambians are applauding The Gambia’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubacarr Baa Tambadou for his statement during the official opening of the 2020 Legal Year on Sunday, that the former president Yahya Jammeh will be arrested and charged in the most serious kind if he sets his foot on Gambian soil, it is also important to take a critical look at the minister’s speech and do some fact-checking. Highlighting some achievements of the Barrow government in the New Gambia in terms of the promotion of democracy and human rights, Tambadou cited one example which veracity need to be ascertained. In his words: “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.” This might be incorrect and misleading because there has been a Human Rights Unit at the Gambia Police Force since the First Republic.
The Human Rights Unit of the Gambia Police Force was created in 1993, during Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara’s regime, and Pa Sallah Jagne was the Inspector General of Police (IGP).
This unit is meant to receive complaints; reports of human rights abuses and brutality from security officers. The Unit also treats matters as they occur and provides swift response to rights abuses especially when it involves security officers.
Initially, the unit was regarded as a punishment centre for officers; as a result, many officers were usually not happy to serve under the unit. The unit was initially meant to discipline the Police, Gendarmerie and Immigration officers.
Besides the low salary (not lucrative), officers who work in the unit, make more enemies in those days than friends within the force, due to the nature of their job.
The name of this unit keeps changing. It was first named as Complaint and Discipline Unit; then changed to Professional Standard Unit before it became known as the Human Rights Unit again. It is now called The Human Rights and Professional Standard Unit.
When this unit was newly created, it was lodged at the Ministry of Interior in 1993, until it was later moved to the Police Headquarters during former President Jammeh’s regime.
Currently, the unit is lodged at the First floor of the GPF Headquarters in Banjul. It is housed together with the Community Policing Unit and the Policy and Planning Unit. The said Human Rights Unit is not given any support by the Police administration or the Ministry of Justice. The unit does not have an office of its own; there is no vehicle allocated to the unit and no proper office materials. They are still housed in a small office together with the other units earlier mentioned at the Police Headquarters.
Occupants of the Human Rights Unit of the Gambia Police Force
From 1993 to date, many young officers (most of whom are now senior officers) have occupied the Human Rights Unit of the Gambia Police Force. The first Officer Commanding (OC) of this Unit was ASP Jammeh Conta (now retired Commissioner); Lt. Kejau Touray; and Sergeant Jasseh, both of whom were in the Gendarmerie previously had worked under Jammeh Conta. Jasseh is now in the Gambia Armed Forces. Kejau Touray also went back to the army under the Tactical Support Group (TSG) until he left the country.
ASP Conta was replaced by the late ASP Modou Ceesay, who was in the Gendarmerie but later resigned and travelled to the United Kingdom. Sergeant Demba Sowe, (now AIG at the Crime Management Unit at the Police Headquarters) also worked under ASP Ceesay at the time.
Later on, when the unit was changed to Complaint and Discipline Unit, officers like ASP Adama Saine, worked at this unit.
He later retired from the police and joined the defunct NIA after his retirement.
In 2008, when the unit had been changed to Human Rights Unit, officers like Sergeant Mustapha Fatty who later became a sub-Inspector was head of the unit. Other officers including Supt. Momodou Lamin Sonko and ASP Sarjo Sanyang, (a female officer) became heads of the unit from 2015 – 2017.
From 2017 – 2018, Supt. Musa Camara widely known as Foday Musa Camara, was OC of the Human Rights Unit of the Gambia Police Force. He was replaced by ASP Lamin Badjie, who became head of the unit from 2018 to date.
Arrest and detention of ex-IGP Pa Sallah Jagne, Jammeh Conta and Ebrima Chongan
On 22nd July 1994, during the military takeover, ex-IGP Pa Sallah Jagne fled into exile in Dakar, Senegal, with former State Guards Commander Lamin Kaba Bajo (now GFF president) and the late Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara, former president of the Republic of The Gambia.
One week after the coup, Pa Sallah Jagne came back with Lamin Kaba Bajo from Dakar, Senegal and they reported to the Barra Police Station, which was then under the Command of Sankung Badjie, Police Commander Barra Division at the time, who later became IGP from 2001-2002.
The soldiers at the State House arrested IGP Pa Sallah Jagne and Ebrima Chongan, former Commander of the Tactical Support Group of the Gendarmerie and AIG Operations, and escorted them to the State Central Prison at Mile 2. Jammeh Conta was also arrested and taken to Mile 2 prison. His arrest was as a result of his job at the Complaint and Discipline Unit.
Kaba Bajo went to State House. He was given a uniform and made a member of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council, before being re-deployed to Western Division at the time (now West Coast Region) as Commissioner. This was made possible for Kaba Bajo simply because there was a mediation between him and his former batchmate Yahya Jammeh, who was head of the military junta. Kaba also replaced Captain Ebou Jallow as a Council Member.
Pa Sallah Jagne was released and later re-appointed briefly as IGP and Jammeh Conta was also released and re-instated into the police force, where he later became Commissioner for URR and later Commissioner for Traffic Management.
Chongan was also released after more than one year in detention and he later flew to the UK.
Lackadaisical attitude of the Ministry of Justice
Since 2017 to date, the Ministry of Justice under Abubacarr Tambadou could not appoint a Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) and a Deputy Director of Public Prosecution (Deputy DPP).
The last two occupants of these designations at the Ministry of Justice were Saleh Hadi Barkun and Mr Abubakar, both of whom were Nigerians. Since their departure, these positions have not been filled.
President Barrow had already decried the backlog of cases and slow handling of the court cases and urged the Ministry to speedy up cases, to maintain public confidence. How can this be easily achieved in a country that is undergoing democratic transition, but could not appoint a DPP and Deputy DPP to handle cases effectively and efficiently?
Baa Tambadou and his ministry should work harder and stop the lackadaisical attitude.
Assan Sallah is a Gambian journalist living in Germany. He was news editor and security affairs reporter at the Daily Observer.