By Madi Jobarteh

It is 21 years today, yet there is no justice and accountability for that infamous day when 14 young Gambians were brutally shot to death by the country’s own security forces under the orders of its elected and appointed public officials led by Dictator Yaya Jammeh. Section 17 of the Constitution imposes an obligation on all of these public officials to respect and protect the human rights of Gambians. Yet, in total contravention of the Constitution, they decided to deliberately damage the sovereign rights of citizens. Twenty-one years later, impunity continues to prevail as the law that was created to cover up that heinous crime and protect its perpetrators, the Indemnity At 2001 still remains firmly rooted in our statutes!

When will there be justice and accountability for April 10 and 11?

Yes, the new Government of Adama Barrow launched a transitional justice program since 2017 and key among its objectives is to establish the truth about the human rights violations committed in the 22 years of tyranny. As we await the TRRC to conclude and provide recommendations, we recognise that the Gambia Government has provided an initial 50 million dalasi to TRRC to serve the needs of all victims of these bloody 22 years. I understand at least two April 10/11 survivors have obtained medical support in Turkey, thanks to that money.

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Clearly this is a very small amount of money, which actually came out of the proceeds of the sale of Yaya Jammeh’s ill-gotten assets which amounted to 1.4 billion dalasi. Where is the rest of that money? The President, the Minister of Justice and Minister of Finance must tell Gambians where these monies are? Furthermore, my understanding is that Senegal had also donated another 50 million dalasi to the Government for victims, but which was neither given to the Victims Centre nor TRRC. So where is that money too?

While we need transparency and accountability on these issues from the Government, it is sad to note that Pres. Barrow however continues to stab victims in the chest by maintaining many of the decision makers and actors in the April 10/11 massacre and the APRC regime as a whole in his Government. Top police officer Gorgui Mboob is one example. Defence Minister Sheikh Omar Faye with his Cabinet colleagues Mamadou Tangara, Mamburay Njie, and Yankuba Sonko are the others, not to mention Seedy Njie and a host of other enablers in the police and military!

By this decision, it means Pres. Barrow is the very one who is undermining his own Government’s transitional justice agenda. By keeping these enablers, it means there will be no system change as we have witnessed no qualitative change since 2017. Rather what we see is how these enablers have now become notorious for downplaying the true history and experience of our people by seeking to generalise, minimalize, deny, distort, and falsely rewrite that gruesome history of the AFPRC/APRC Dictatorship. By so doing, it means Barrow and these enablers have now become the greatest threats to the freedoms and rights of citizens and the democratisation of the Gambia, contrary to the objectives of transitional justice.

The evidence of their notoriety and stance against victims and the Gambian lies in their failure to conduct any system change through constitutional, legal, and institutional reforms. Until today, there are immunity provisions in the 1997 Constitution which this Government failed to remove. This is why Junta member Yankuba Touray, without fear or shame, tried to rely on that illegal provision to refuse to testify before the TRRC. If not for the progressive stance by our lawyers – Gaye Sowe, Neneh Cham, Salieu Taal and Abdoulie Fatty – to submit to the Supreme Court that those provisions cannot provide immunity for heinous crimes, and the Supreme Court agreeing with them, one could safely say that justice and accountable are dead and buried in the Gambia.

That notwithstanding, until today the Indemnity Act is still alive and kicking. Until today the Public Order Act is also alive and kicking. Until today there has been no security sector reform such that up to today, security forces shoot and kill Gambians as we saw in Faraba in June 2018. Until today Gambians are subjected to arbitrary arrest and detention and imposed with trumped up charges as we saw in Sanyang, or the illegal closure of media houses, not to forget the illegal re-arrest of Three Years Jotna members after they were actually bailed by the courts! It appears the only security sector reforms taking place is the unending series of promotions and mounting of more checkpoints! But the same mentality and modus operandi persists within the security forces without change!

Thus, as we mark yet another April 10/11 anniversary, it is necessary that Gambians rise up to demand full system change that will bring about durable justice and effective accountability. This country has not still transformed, qualitatively from dictatorship to democracy even after four years of booting out the tyrant. What we are witnessing is only a passive change and a semblance of democracy. But the fact that the same personnel, institutions and mindset that kidnapped this country for 22 years are still in place means the current democratic space is only cosmetic and therefore will not last.

Having been in suffering for so long, a little reprieve can make one feel like there is positive change. The fact however is that the current political dispensation is indeed fragile and moving more towards dictatorship than toward actual democracy and good governance. The evidence of this lies in the widespread prevalence of corruption, insecurity, weak institutions and poor service delivery, increasingly high cost of living and low public trust and confidence in the government. These are the hallmarks of a weak state in which the government and its leaders are neither transparent nor accountable. Hence the tendency for the use of force and violence by such a government is always high hence the return to dictatorship. Wake up, Gambians!

For The Gambia Our Homeland