The release of three men who were part of an unofficial paramilitary unit known as the 'Junglers' sparked public outrage in The Gambia. The so-called “junglers” admitted to dozens of assassinations under the orders of former President Yahya Jammeh.
The Gambia's Justice minister and Attorney-General, Abubacarr Tambadou, said that recommending the release of Malick Jatta, Omar Jallow and Amadou Badjie has been one of the most difficult decisions he has had to make.
The three men testified at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) where they confessed to be part of “a hit-squad” operating under the orders of former President Yahya Jammeh, now exiled in Equatorial Guinea.
Amadou Badjie said he received orders from Jammeh in June 2013 to kill two US-Gambian businessmen, Alhaji Cessay and Ebrima Joe. Jammeh suspected them of planning a coup against him and ordered that they be “chopped to pieces.”
Last month, on 22 July, Lieutnant Malick Jatta told the TRRC that Jammeh gave direct orders to assassinate Deyda Hydara on 16 December 2004 through an operation known as “Magic Pen”. Jatta said that he was paid 50,000 dalasi (less than 900 euros) to carry out the hit.
Angry victims' families
Hydara, an outspoken critic of Jammeh, was the managing editor and co-owner of a daily, The Point.
His son Baba Hydara told RFI that it was shocking news to hear about the release.
“It is just wrong to release mass murderers, who confessed to more than 30 to 50 killings, in the streets of Gambia. It's just a slap in the face of the victims,” he said.
Baba Hydara who is co-publisher of The Point and a board member of The Gambian Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations said that the victims' families do not understand why they were not consulted prior to the release.
“In my opinion, we have a say in this and the families are now really, really angry about this decision,” he declared.
Justice minister Tambadou said that he is aware he is asking the victims and their families to swallow a bitter pill.
“The recommendation to release the three men is not an amnesty as some claim. That is totally false. It is only the TRRC that can recommend amnesty in appropriate cases,” he said at a press conference on Monday.
The three men have been in custody for two and half years without trial.
Incentives to force the truth out
Tambadou argues that releasing the three men will prove to be an incentive for others to say the truth as “there are others in detention who are refusing to assist” the TRRC.
“All those who assist the TRRC to establish the truth shall and should be treated the same way,” he added.
Hydara is far from being convinced by this argument. He claims that another jungler who testified just lied to the TRRC.
“A couple of hours after Tambadou gave his press conference, this jungular was giving his testimony [at the TRRC]. The guy was telling lies since he started speaking. Even the chairman of the Commission was really baffled by this guy. The only thing [he said] was 'I don't know',” he declared.
Hydara argues that this situation could have been avoided.
“Since the start, there should have been mechanisms like a Special Court and consultations with specialists in traditional justice,” he said.
Human rights organisations fear that the perpetrators might leave The Gambia and escape justice. Human Rights Watch is concerned that key witnesses in any future trial against Yahya Jammeh could disappear.
Tambadou claims that the revelations made by the three junglers helped to establish first-hand account of the “most chilling details about several incidents under former President Jammeh.”
Hydara said that he appealed to the Senegalese government not to admit the three junglers onto their territory.
“Having murderers in your territory is the last thing any country needs,” he added.