By Omar Bah
Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou has said former Patrol Team members Malick Jatta, Omar Jallow and Amadou Badjie who appeared before the TRRC and confessed participating in the killing of dozens of people will be released but have not been given amnesty.
“Let me clarify from the onset that the recommendation to release the three men is not an amnesty as some people claim.
It is only the TRRC that can recommend amnesty in appropriate cases.
At this point the objective of the release is to put the three men in a similar situation as those who have appeared at the TRRC and admitted to participating in human rights violations and abuses as you know none of them is currently in custody and rightly so,” said Tambadou.
The Minister further stated the emotions among some victims and some concern members of the public is quite understandable, especially given the revelations the three men made at the TRRC about some of their activities under former President Jammeh.
“While we all agree that the Junglers are a special category of alleged perpetrators which is why they have been the only ones in custody all this time, we also cannot afford to treat one group of confessed perpetrators any different from another group.
All those who assisted the TRRC to establish the truth shall and should be treated the same way,” he added.
Minister Tambadou said his ministry can neither charge anyone including the three men with any crimes at the moment “because the TRRC has been mandated to identify for prosecution to only those who bear the greatest responsibility for the human violation and abuses.”
He further said the decision to recommend the release of the three men, who have been in custody for over two and half years now, has not been an easy one for him but he could not shy away from making decisions just because they may be unpopular.
“Let us just pause for a moment and think about this: without the revelations by these three men, we probably would never have established the facts about which they testified on a first-hand account basis.
We would have continued to rely on second hand or even third hand accounts. These three men have so far provided us with the most chilling details about several incidents under former President Jammeh.
They were encouraged to assist this country, particularly the victims’ families, find answers that have eluded us for many years, and they voluntarily did so.
There are others in detention who are still refusing to assist us establish the truth and it will be unwise to treat those who have assisted us the same way.
The cooperation of these three men has been very critical to the TRRC process and this should be recognized,” Tambadou added.
The Justice Minister added that his decision to release the 3 Junglers is in the best interest of the victims of former dictator Yahya Jammeh.
“To the victims and their families, in particular, I know that this may be extremely difficult for you as I am asking you to swallow a bitter pill.
But I assure you, like I have done on many previous occasions, that the decision to release these three men is also in your long term interests.
I have consistently acted in your best interests and there is no reason to doubt my continued commitment to your cause,” said Tambadou.
He called for understanding in the wake of his decision.
“I therefore continue to count on the understanding of the public and especially the victims.
We need your continued trust and partnership in this process if we are to learn from the mistakes of others and make a success of our truth commission.
And so far, we have been able to successfully navigate through our own challenges by making the right strategic decisions at the right times”.
Challenges faced by the Ministry
Minister Tambadou also told journalists that his ministry is faced with serious human capacity crisis that could lead to its collapse “if nothing is done immediately”.
“The Ministry of Justice is in crisis and on verge of collapsing.
I have only seventeen lawyers to help me with our work and provide legal services to government.
I had to bring this to the attention of the President because of the criticality of the situation,” he said at the press conference.
Tambadou further revealed that he has lost many of his staffers to the commissions, whiles others have moved on to advance their careers.
“I can’t just compete with the conditions of service which others are offering and some of my staffers are leaving me unfortunately at a time I must need them, but I don’t blame them because I think I would have done the same.
What I need is support to this ministry to be able to retain those I am left with or attract those who left to come back but if those services are not improved that will significantly impact our justice sector and the reform process,” he added.
Minister Tambadou also took time to advise those who continue to make public utterances that hurt and cause more pain to the victims and their families to exercise restraint.
“It is an irresponsible act and betrays a lack of sensibility to the plight and suffering of the victims; moreover it has the potential to undermine our efforts of national reconciliation,” he said.
He continued: “The Gambia is a country of laws; we have established a fact finding process and we have to await the recommendation of that process.
It will be unwise for anyone to attempt to take the laws in their own hands and if they do they will bear the consequences of those actions.
This cannot be a lawless country we are not living in a chaotic society.
We are living in a free and a democratic country but that should not be equated with lawlessness”.
He said although the former junta man’s contempt case was struck out by the High Court with the pretense that the referral process adopted by the TRRC was not in conformity with the law, his ministry holds a different view and there are plans to appeal against the decision.
“Having said that, let me also explain that the process of referral in the TRRC Act is a novel process in Gambian law and so there is some hesitations and uneasiness and unfamiliarity with that process.
So naturally there will be skepticism about it. But there is no doubt that we don’t intend to let Yankuba off and certainly there is a murder charge against him at the High Court and we intend to increase these charges and make sure that he is brought to account in our courts for his participation in the terrible things that happened here,” he concluded.