By Janet Sankale
The crimes against humanity indictment of a former Gambian army soldier in Germany has been hailed as an important step in international justice.
In a joint press statement released on March 3, 2022, soon after the German authorities announced the indictment of Bail L, whom Gambian media identified as Bai Lowe, also a member of the notorious Junglers death squad, TRIAL International and the International Commission of Jurists said the legal action was also good for the victims of the brutal reign of former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh as they seek justice for their suffering.
“The long arm of the law is catching up to Yahya Jammeh and his accomplices around the world,” said Reed Brody, a commissioner with the International Commission of Jurists who is working with the Gambian victims.
TRIAL International Executive Director Philip Grant agreed that the case was meaningful as The Gambia grapples with the question of justice after concluding its truth-seeking phase. “It would lead to the opening of the first trial based on universal jurisdiction to judge the atrocities committed under Jammeh’s regime,” he said.
The official, who provided evidence to the German authorities, added that the Bai L case would shed light on the paramilitary Junglers and their ties to Jammeh, “further preparing the ground for his prosecution”.
The German federal prosecutors announced that there is sufficient suspicion of crimes against humanity, murder, and attempted murder against Bail L in connection with charges filed against him in the State Security Senate of the Higher Regional Court in Celle on February 22, 2022.
The prosecutors said the indictment, which has been served, includes charges indicating that between December 2003 and December 2006, Bai L drove the Junglers, officially known as the Patrol Team of the Gambian Armed Forces, to various crime scenes.
“This unit was used by the Gambian president at the time, among other things, to carry out illegal killing orders… the accused was involved in a total of three such liquidation orders” the prosecutors said.
In the first instance, at the end of December 2003, the accused’s unit was ordered to kill a lawyer in Banjul, the capital of Gambia.
“In his capacity as driver, the accused transported the other members to the scene of the attack. There, a member of the unit fired several shots at the lawyer. He survived the act with serious injuries.”
A year later, the Patrol Team killed a Gambian journalist critical of the government. “The unit, with the participation of Bai L, stopped the journalist’s car on a street in the town of Kanifing. Two members of the unit then killed him with multiple shots, with Bai L transporting one of the shooters in his vehicle,” the prosecutors say.
Bail L is also accused of transporting his accomplices and a suspected opponent of Jammeh to a place near Banjul airport, where the man was later shot and killed in 2006.
The victims corresponding to the dates on the indictment are prominent newspaper editor Deyda Hydara, a fierce critic of the Jammeh government who was murdered in 2004; Dawda Nyassi, alleged to have been an opponent of the president, who was killed in 2006; and lawyer Ousman Sillah, who survived an assassination attempt a year earlier.
In 2013 and 2014 radio interviews, Bai L described his participation in the events. According to an interview with journalist Pa Nderry M’Bai of Freedom Radio, North Carolina (USA) in February 2013, Bai L said he held the rank of Warrant Officer 2 at the State House. He said he was working between the State House and Kanilai, the former president’s rural home. He served a long time in the Gambian National Army but later ran away and settled in Germany. He denied having killed anyone, but confessed that he had witnessed the killing of Hydara and Nyassi, and the attack on Sillah.
The acused was arrested on March 16, 2021 after the investigating judge at the Federal Court of Justice issued an arrest warrant for him, and he has been in custody since. The indictment will go to the Higher Regional Court of Celle. If the court approves it, a trial could begin in the first half of 2022.
He is the third alleged accomplice of Jammeh to be detained abroad. The other suspects are Gambia’s former Interior minister, Ousman Sonko, who has been under investigation in Switzerland since 2017, and another former Jungler, Michael Sang Correa, who was indicted in June 2020 in the United States.
The indictment of Bai L as well as the two arrests in Switzerland and the US have been carried out under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows for the investigation and prosecution of the most serious crimes under international law regardless of where they were committed, and of the nationality of the suspects or victims.
According to The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission final report released in December 2021, Yahya Jammeh created the Junglers as a killer squad to be used to eliminate his enemies or people he perceived as threats to his rule. The report recommends that the former president and his accomplices be prosecuted for the offences, which it says amount to crimes against humanity.