Open Letter to the IGP: Law enforcers should not be law breakers

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Dear Inspector General of Police,

Please allow us to introduce ourselves. The Never Again Network is a new civil society organization dedicated to supporting The Gambia’s transitional justice process and helping ensure that Never Again will our country have a dictatorship or suffer the kinds of human rights violations it suffered under the regime of former president Yahya Jammeh. The Network was created and recently launched by a few former staff of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), including the Commission’s former Executive Secretary, the former Coordinator of the Youth and Children’s Network Unit, and a former legal consultant for the Commission, among others. Our ultimate aim is to help create a Gambia of empowered citizens and decent human beings who will treat each other with respect and civility, and who will be able to hold their government accountable within the bounds of the law, the public interest, and public morality. The Network conducts its work through educational means, by engaging and empowering young people through dialogue and conversation on issues of national interest. The Network will also advocate, through peaceful and legal means, respect for human rights and the rule of law.

Sir, the Never Again Network is writing this open letter to the Office of the Inspector General of Police as a way of adding our voice to the voices of the Gambia Teacher’s Union, the student Human Rights Club at Kotu Senior Secondary School, and the general public over the cruel and unjust treatment meted out by officers and men of the Gambia Police Force on one Mr. Lamin Sillah, a teacher at the above named school. Following the very unfortunate incident on Friday, 2nd December, 2022 the Network’s investigators met with Mr. Sillah and some eyewitnesses to the incident. From both Mr. Sillah and eyewitness accounts, we heard descriptions of scenes that are completely identical to stories we heard from victims during the TRRC hearings. We heard how, just because Mr. Sillah asked the reason why a student was being arrested on a school campus without the required proper protocol, your officers and men flew into a rage, insulted Mr. Sillah, pounced upon him, roughly manhandled him, threw him into the back of their truck, and cuffed his hand to an iron bar on the body of the truck, as if he had committed a serious crime. Your officers and men then proceeded to drive with him around for about an hour, subjecting him to needless pain and public humiliation before taking him to Senegambia Police Station where he was detained for hours. And as they drove around the vicinity of the school, your officers and men were chasing students around, violently grabbing some of them, and mercilessly beating them up. There is the harrowing story of a school girl who was chased into a compound by the police, grabbed, brought out, and beaten mercilessly by the police. This is exactly the ruthless way that our security personnel treated unarmed and innocent civilians during the dictatorship. And it is utterly inconceivable that this sort of cruel and inhuman behavior should be allowed to continue in post-dictatorship Gambia.

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Sir, as you may have noticed from the outpouring of public outrage over this incident, Gambians are no longer ready to sit quietly by and allow the security forces that they pay to protect their lives, their properties and their dignities to treat them with such utter disrespect and cruelty. Gambians are saying never again to security forces taking the law into their own hands and treating their civilian compatriots as if they were sub-human beings who have absolutely no rights and dignities, and who are deserving of insults and lawless beatings! We pray that you make this point clear to your officers and men because failure to do so will lead to a situation that may be regrettable to all citizens of this beloved country.

Sir, we take this opportunity to remind you and all those in command positions that some of those found by the TRRC to be most responsible for human rights violations and crimes against humanity were so found through the principle of command responsibility. As IGP you may not have explicitly asked your officers and men to go out there and break the law they are meant to enforce and violate the rights of the people of this country. But we trust you are aware that in the case of any future lawsuit or commission of inquiry on this matter, the principle of command responsibility may be invoked to tie you to the violations. We therefore highly recommend that you strictly advise your officers and men to desist from taking the law into their own hands and breaking it with such cruel impunity.

Sir, the matter of the law aside, we wish to remind you and all your officers and men of their civic, religious, moral and ethical responsibility to treat their fellow human beings with the dignity they deserve. If any suspect is armed or poses a potential threat of violence and grievous harm to security forces, it shall be within the mandate of the security forces to use commensurate or greater force or violence to defend themselves and subdue that suspect. But to pounce upon and manhandle an innocent, unarmed civilian or to beat up mere school children because they were reportedly engaged in unruly behavior is both against the law, against the rules of morality and ethics, and against the teachings of our beloved religions. We are certain that none of the officers and men who were involved in these cruel acts would love to see their family members or children similarly treated. If we treat our children in a violent and unjust manner, we are telling them that it is okay to treat innocent people in a violent and unjust manner. In that case, we would be building a future violent society. The mean-spiritedness, indiscipline and cruelty we encounter on our roads and other public spaces in our country today is clearly a legacy of the dictatorship we have ousted. We should all be struggling to eradicate that unhealthy legacy, not engage in actions that will perpetuate it. All human beings must always be treated with the dignity and respect they deserve.

Sir, we all need to be constantly reminded that our actions in the present always have implications for the future. Good actions have good implications and bad actions, bad implications. Kind actions have kind implications and cruel actions, cruel implications. Lawful actions have lawful implications and lawless actions, lawless implications. For this reason, we must never do to others what we would not want done to us or ours. If we do not want ourselves, our family, our children, or our relatives to be treated in a cruel and inhuman way, we should not treat others, their families, their children, or their relatives in a cruel and inhuman way. Those who kneel down before God every morning and several times during the day asking for divine mercy and kindness should not turn around and treat their fellow human beings in merciless and cruel ways.

Finally sir, allow us to end this open letter by reminding all of us that law enforcers should not be law breakers. The police are law enforcers. They must never be law breakers.

Yours for the love of truth, justice and country,

The Never Again Network

#NeverAgain!