The opening of the first German trial for serious crimes committed in Gambia is a major step for justice, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, Reporters Without Borders, and TRIAL International said today. The groups released a question-and-answer document on the trial, which opens on April 25, 2022, and will hold an online briefing on April 21.
The trial of Bai L., an alleged member of the “Junglers,” a paramilitary unit also known as the “Patrol Team,” was set up by then-president Yahya Jammeh in the mid-1990s. Jammeh’s 22-year rule was marked by systematic oppression and widespread human rights violations, including torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and sexual violence against actual and perceived opponents to Jammeh’s rule. German prosecutors accuse Bai L. of being a former Junglers driver involved in the attempted murder of Ousman Sillah, a lawyer; Deyda Hydara, a journalist; and Dawda Nyassi, a perceived opponent of the former president.
“I want to see justice done for my father and for all the others who were victimized by Yahya Jammeh and his security forces,” said Baba Hydara, son of Deyda Hydara and a joint plaintiff in the trial. “Everyone involved in the murder of my dad will face justice, and we won’t stop until each one of them is brought to a court of law.”
The question-and-answer document provides:
- background information on the accused,
- description of the charged crimes,
- explanation of universal jurisdiction in Germany,
- details on accountability efforts in Gambia to hold those responsible for serious crimes to account, and
- the significance of the case for victims and international justice.
This trial is possible because Germany recognizes universal jurisdiction over certain serious crimes under international law, allowing for the investigation and prosecution of these crimes no matter where they were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or victims.
German authorities have been leaders in conducting prosecutions on the basis of universal jurisdiction, the groups said. In January, a German court convicted a former Syrian intelligence officer for crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison in a first case of this kind.
Bai L. has been in pretrial detention in Germany since his arrest in March 2021.