By Aisha Tamba
Joseph Henry Joof, legal practitioner and former minister of justice who also served in the commission of enquiry set up to look into the massacre of 14 students in April 2000, yesterday answered questions at the TRRC about the aftermath of that bloody event that still traumatises the nation.
He said the commission did not have sufficient evidence to pin liability on any other person other than those who pulled the trigger against the students even though those who appealed often said the order came from the top. “We were very apprehensive of any political motives or other motives, so we felt to consider hard evidence on the ground at that time.”
Joof explained however that former president Jammeh was always keen on blaming the bloody incident on the students for coming out to protest in the first place. “The commission recommended that the perpetrators ought to be brought before the law and children who were tortured, wrongfully detained or killed be compensated. The government accepted the report but they were not happy with some of the recommendations,” he said.
Asked by the counsel which recommendation was the executive not happy with, he responded: “I believe the issue of compensations and taking some of the members of the security forces before the law. They did not like that because the president’s remarks were always that the students were wrong in coming out to demonstrate.”
He said as minister of justice and Attorney General, he advised the cabinet that compensation to be given to the children which he said was overwhelmingly supported by cabinet members except President Jammeh.
“We tried to persuade him throughout that meeting but he was adamant and the Ministry of Finance too was ready to pay but obviously, the president was really the Minister of Finance, because the finance minister cannot take out any funds if the president doesn’t agree with it, especially at that level,” Joof told the TRRC.
Joof denied that an indemnity bill was amended during his time to indemnify the government and security officials.
He admitted though that in April 2001, the 1982 Indemnity (Amendment) Act was brought to the assembly for an amendment with the aim to absolve law enforcement officials of any civil and criminal liability from any consequential harm or death caused by the use of force in ‘unlawful assemblies, riotous situation, or public emergence.
However, he argued that the April 10-11 was not declared as a public emergency.
He therefore argued and defended himself against any blame, stating the amendment of that Act during his tenure as minister of justice was not to deny justice for the April 10-11 victims.
“After all, the act is only effective when the president declares public emergence without that the Act does not apply and secondly, they may have received wrong advice because as far as I can read, that Act is not dealing with 2001 because no public emergence was declared in respect of that event.”
Joof also denied that the Act was to cover up and protect and indemnify security agents and government from every form of liability. “This act started in 1982 and I did not take it to the National Assembly and April 10-11 was not a public emergence,” he stressed.