Of one of the main massacres of the Jammeh regime, only one survivor remains. Martin Kyere was the only one able to escape when nearly sixty West African migrants, mistaken for mercenaries by Gambian soldiers, were executed after landing on Banta beach, opposite Banjul. He was barely over 20 at the time.
About fifteen years later, he returned to The Gambia to tell what had happened to him in July 2005. Last March, the Ghanaian came to testify before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission. The structure is responsible for shedding light on the crimes committed between 1994 and 2017, when Jammeh reigned supreme over the country. Martin Kyere was one of some 370 witnesses called by the commission, which conducted its hearings for more than two years. Broadcast live on radio and television, they were widely followed in The Gambia.
Martin Kyere thus recounted his arrival in the country: how he had been beaten up by the soldiers, who suspected him and several dozen other migrants of being a mercenary. “What are you doing here ??? Are you here for Yahya Jammeh ??” Do you want to destabilize our country ?? The soldiers asked before imprisoning the migrants for several days. They will then tie them up and take them to a forest to be executed.
“If they find you with your hands tied, they will kill you on the spot
In the car that leads him to certain death, Martin Kyere realizes that his bonds have loosened. He tries, in vain, to free his companions. “? As I was about to escape, one of my comrades said to me:” God wants to save you so that you tell the world how and why Yahya Jammeh killed us. ” Some make him promise to go and tell their families what happened to them. “The car was about to stop, they said to me: ‘If they find you with your hands loose, they will kill you on the spot.’ So I decided to run for my life, ”says Martin Kyere.
The hearings of the commission ended three months after this testimony. Like hundreds of others, it will be used to prepare a report that will be delivered directly to President Adama Barrow in July. For all those following the process, there is no doubt: the commission will recommend the criminal prosecution of several Gambian dignitaries – and Yahya Jammeh will be the first of them. According to the commission’s prosecutor, Essa Faal, the crimes committed during his reign constitute crimes against humanity.
“Hissène Habré ended up having to face justice
Will Yahya Jammeh stand trial for the system of terror he has built, based on the murder, torture and detention of political opponents, the repression of the press and the weakening of the justice system? “Those in charge can deny their responsibility as much as they want. A man like Hissène Habré fled for more than twenty years, and he ended up having to face justice, ”declared the prosecutor on May 28, thus completing the work of the commission.
Will Adama Barrow finally resolve to seek the extradition of his predecessor, who enjoys a comfortable retirement in Equatorial Guinea? Since he was forced to leave a post he had held for more than twenty years, Yahya Jammeh has taken up residence there under the protection of President Obiang Nguema Mbasogo. And the latter was clear: no question of extraditing the Gambian. For a long time, Adama Barrow has been waiting for the conclusions of the commission to rule on a possible extradition request.
“Legally, Equatorial Guinea is forced to comply with a Gambian extradition request,” said Reed Brody, legal adviser to Human Rights Watch, who recalls that Malabo has notably ratified the UN convention against torture.
But human rights activists like Gambian officials know it: only diplomatic pressure could make Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo give in. What if this was exercised by several countries in the sub-region, or even by a regional organization such as ECOWAS or the African Union? It could allow the creation of a hybrid tribunal, based on the same model as the Extraordinary African Chambers which had tried and convicted Chadian Hissène Habré in 2016. A way of pooling the efforts and the diplomatic weight of the extradition request.
This is not the only advantage of this option. It would also make it possible to overcome certain Gambian weaknesses. Legal, first. “A hybrid court would allow us to have a strong component of Gambian professionals, while using international criminal law to try those responsible for crimes. Our legal system is inadequate to judge Jammeh, ”said Salieu Tall, president of the Gambian Bar. Crimes against humanity, or enforced disappearance, are in fact not part of the country’s legal arsenal.
A hybrid court would also prevent Jammeh from returning to The Gambia, which Banjul and his neighbors would prefer to avoid for security reasons. The options of setting up a special international tribunal (very expensive) or a trial before the International Criminal Court (which has no jurisdiction for crimes committed before 2002, and whose proceedings are very long) seem also to be discarded.
So which country could host this hybrid court? The country in the sub-region that seems – by far – the most involved today is Ghana, which lost several dozen of its nationals during the massacre of migrants. Nigeria, a regional heavyweight, and Senegal, whose troops pulled Yahya Jammeh out of his palace in January 2017, could also play a role. Informal discussions on this subject between the Gambian government, ECOWAS, Ghana and Nigeria have already started.
The work of the commission will indeed have made it possible to collect damning testimonies for the former head of state. One of the last witnesses, Saikou Jallow, ex-personal assistant to Yahya Jammeh, claimed that he was indeed the sponsor of the massacre of migrants. “Jammeh’s order is that they all must be executed?” Lt. Col. Solo Bojang, alleged leader of the operation, quoted Jallow as saying.
“The commission has accomplished a remarkable job and revealed a rather exceptional mass of information,” said Thierry Cruvellier, editor-in-chief of the JusticeInfo.net news site, who closely followed the work. From start to finish, she was able to bring in very high caliber people.? ” Beyond the victims, the commission will have heard from former ministers, certain members of the “junglers”, the secret police of Jammeh, and officials of the dreaded intelligence agency, the NIA.
Finally, the choice of whether or not to set in motion justice will be up to Adama Barrow. The president will have to decide in a particular political context: The Gambia is preparing to live, in December, its first presidential election without Yahya Jammeh for a long time. A vote that Adama Barrow, who seems to have taken a liking to power, intends to win.
“If the ruling party needs to ally with forces from the old regime, the prosecution side will be more difficult to set up
To do this, he could try to win a few votes within the Patriotic Alliance for Reorientation and Construction (APRC), the formation of his predecessor. Could he avoid following the recommendations of the commission to obtain them? If the ruling party needs to ally with forces from the old regime, the prosecution side will undoubtedly be more difficult to set up.
But the revelations of the commission, carried by big names in Gambian international criminal justice, such as the former Minister of Justice Abubacarr Tambadou, raised many expectations. “It is difficult to comment for the moment on the action of justice. Everything will depend on the number of cases to be treated, said Hassan Bubacar Jallow, the president of the Gambian Supreme Court. Once the commission’s recommendations are known, we can begin to consider the various options available to us. “
Author: Young Africa – Young Africa