A lot of our compatriots are understandably disappointed if not outright angry at the Barrow administration’s decision to release confessed murderers from detention because they offered the truth commission some valuable truths that could help in their drive to establishing an impartial record of human rights violations under the tyrant Yaya Jammeh’s 22 year rule.
At the time of their appearance at the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) beginning July 22, 2019 the said members of the former president’s personal hit squad were under military detention having been arrested in early 2017 after the ouster of Jammeh in elections held in December 2016 and his subsequent exile.
The members of the former hit squad, dubbed the Patrol Team or more famously, the Junglers were recruited from within the ranks of the Gambia Armed Forces and answerable directly to former president Yaya Jammeh and his self-appointed chain of command outside of the regular army chain of command. After the end of the tyrant’s regime, the then Chief of Defense Staff, General Ousman Bargie ordered for their arrest and they have been in military detention since then.
The question then becomes; if they were arrested before the promulgation of the TRRC through an act of parliament, why now should they be released after their appearance at the TRRC? How are those two connected?
The most plausible answer, given that the facts surrounding their initial arrest were not fully disclosed is that they were arrested on suspicion of involvement in activities contrary to their terms of service. With their testimony now in the public gallery, we can ascertain that those activities involved multiple extra judicial executions. So, was it to the knowledge of the military’s high command that these individuals were involved in such activities hence their arrest with intent to prosecute?
If in fact that is the case, then why should their appearance before the TRRC change their fate when their confessed crimes are multiple murders, each of which are non-bailable offences? It is worth noting that the very last victim of the Junglers, Tumani Jallow, a former colleague in the army, was killed towards the tail end of Jammeh’s rule, with indications that he was killed during the impasse after Jammeh lost elections.
If anything, then their confessions confirm the suspicions of the military leadership that they need to be prosecuted. The TRRC in its mandate to establish an impartial record of human rights abuses can and should interview people under custody or those already charged and sentenced for their involvement in or knowledge of any such violations.
It will be a valid argument that there are legal technicalities that may not be so apparent to laymen like the author of this piece, but I would assume that the only argument we should be having is whether their continued DETENTION WITHOUT CHARGE is in contravention of the constitution or not. That is if they are in fact under detention without charge. If they are, this is the opportunity to formalize the multiple murder charges against them and have them stand trial collectively or individually.
They didn’t do anyone any favors by admitting to multiple killings to warrant their release apparently in a bid to encourage others to come forward and testify. Yankuba Touray showed up and refused to testify after co-conspirators and accomplices in the murder of multiple people testified and implicated him. Those who admitted to those crimes were never arrested, but that did not encourage Yankuba Touray to be forthcoming with the truth, in fact it did not motivate him enough to speak at all.
As the TRRC continues its hearings into human rights violations perpetrated under Jammeh’s rule, is it safe to assume that anyone who has been charged with a crime that falls within their purview and is currently serving time or in detention will also be released depending on how truthful they are?
We understand and appreciate the fact that until the TRRC gets all the facts before them, they cannot make a conclusive report or make recommendations for the government to act on. That is the understanding based on which Gambians are accommodating of the fact that some of the alleged perpetrators are walking free. We need a holistic picture of events in order to move forward and so we patiently await the recommendations of the TRRC. That is different from the case of witnesses who were in detention prior to the coming into force of the TRRC, which is indicative of the fact that they are already suspects in custody at the very least. So it beats the imagination why those suspects are being released without charge, which if proffered would mean they should remain in custody. Were they held awaiting the setting up of the TRRC?
What mechanisms are in place to ensure they are not flight risks considering how porous our borders are? What security measures are in place to ensure they don’t fall victim to another set of assassins intent on silencing them from being material witnesses in future trials? Are they going to be on suicide watch to prevent escape through that route? How safe are the communities they are released into? How hopeful or assured are their numerous victims’ families that in fact they will face justice someday soon to eliminate the concern for reprisals? How safe are they?
So many lingering questions and yet no satisfying answers. How much is at risk with this whole TRRC process thanks to the justice minister’s recommendations? We wait to see. But as a country, unless we drop the maslaha syndrome and hold people to account for the wrongs that they did, we will go nowhere.
Yes the TRRC as a process needs to end before recommendations are made or arrests effected, that is a whole different kettle of fish than releasing people from custody who the military leadership deemed dangerous and deserving of arrest and prosecution. There is no law against using convicts as witnesses, or is there?