By Madi Jobarteh
Tuesday marked 18 years when 16 Gambian children and a Red Cross volunteer were gunned to death by the security forces of the Gambia on the orders of the civilian authorities of the time led by Yahya Jammeh. The only reason why there has not been any form of justice for that atrocious massacre of innocent citizens is because a huge barrier was erected against justice in 2001 in the form of the Indemnity Act. After it was fully established by the coroner’s inquest and the commission of inquiry that live bullets were used by Gambian security forces, the regime went ahead to cover up their illegal actions with this law.
Hence if there is going to be any form of accountability for April 10 and 11, it must start with the destruction of the Indemnity Act 2001. Yet 13 months after taking office, Barrow has failed to repeal the Indemnity Act therefore effectively keeping the protection that perpetrators have enjoyed for the past 18 years while victims continue to suffer during the same period!
The destruction of the Indemnity Act is a moral, legal, political and a human rights affair.
By the Constitution of the Gambia, all citizens have a right to express their opinions which could be grievances or support for any government action or decision. This expression can come in the form of litigation, speech, writing, drama, petitioning, processions, assembly and music among other forms of manifestation. Under the same Constitution, the State is under obligation to protect the rights of citizens to freely and openly express their opinions unfettered.
Hence when the students expressed themselves on April 10 and 11 by seeking to petition the Government, they were fulfilling their constitutional right and duty as citizens, for which the State was obligated to give them space to do what they wanted to do. In other words the actions of the students in 2000 were perfectly within the law and the Government was required to protect their rights as according to the law. The Constitution, under Section 17 has accorded to the State the role of the protector, defender and enabler for the exercise of the rights and freedoms of citizens.
To now have that State not only fail to protect those rights and freedoms, but to go further to attack citizens for exercising those rights and freedoms is the height of tyranny that any society can face. These rights that the State assaulted are the sovereign rights of Gambians without which we cannot be called Gambian Citizens. It is those rights that distinguish us from non-Gambians because non-Gambians do not enjoy those rights in full as Gambians do under Chapter 4 of our Constitution.
In light of the above the Indemnity Act therefore is a legal and political issue that has come to kill the sovereignty of each and every Gambian. It directly and completely negates Section 1 subsection 2 of our Constitution that states that the sovereignty of the Gambia resides in the people of the Gambia and that the State derives its legitimacy from the people and functions on behalf of the people. But the Indemnity Act has come to state that instead the Gambia Government can kill Gambian citizens and then go scot-free! For that matter all Gambians have a moral and political duty to therefore stand up against the Indemnity Act in other to uphold the sovereignty of Gambians and to hold the State to account.
As long as the Indemnity Act is in place, there cannot be accountability and justice for those atrocities because that law has clearly prevented justice to take place. In that regard, there is therefore no basis for compensation for victims just as there cannot be any basis for apology from the Government. This is simply because the Indemnity Act has certified that the actions of the Gambia Government through the security forces were in the right direction.
For that matter, why would one compensate or apologise or forgive for an act that is right?
It is precisely because of the nature of this Indemnity Act that the first thing that the Barrow Government must do was to repeal this obnoxious law. So long as the Indemnity Act is in place, then anything Barrow and his Government tell victims and the country would be false, empty and irrelevant. To demonstrate that he is indeed interested and committed to repairing the injustices and violations of the past, Barrow must first repeal the Indemnity Act. Without that, Barrow cannot convince anyone that he is interested in justice for April 10 and 11.
It cannot be over emphasised that indeed Barrow should repeal the Indemnity Act because he himself has acknowledged that indeed the APRC Regime was a tyranny and an aberration of democracy. Hence when Gambians have succeeded in uprooting that dictatorship, any subsequent government has no choice but to undo the barriers that were erected by Yahya Jammeh and APRC to exonerate themselves for the violations and injustices they committed. Failure to repeal those barriers means this new government is therefore still protecting Yahya Jammeh and his co-perpetrators.
This is why the fight for justice for April 10 and 11 should and must start with the repeal of the Indemnity Act. Any citizen who seeks justice for April 10 and 11 must demand the repeal of this bad law. If we ignore this bad law, then all of our actions and contributions towards justice for April 10 and 11 will be futile. It means we are not practically doing anything to ensure that never again should such injustice take place in our society. By keeping the Indemnity Act it means we are condoning and accepting the killing of children by our own Government when that Government was supposed to protect our rights and lives. This means we are saying that yet again another massacre is possible!
For the Gambia Our Homeland.