Proceedings on crimes against international law in The Gambia

The Gambia – Crimes against humanity – Germany

When a country is governed by an authoritarian regime, civil society is almost always placed under immense pressure. This was also the case in The Gambia from 1994 until 2017 during the rule of Yahya Jammeh. His armed security forces generated an atmosphere of fear, in which critical voices, along with civil society in general, were systematically intimidated. Journalists critical of the regime were arrested, while human rights defenders were persecuted, and LGBTQ individuals were threatened and tortured.

A paramilitary unit used by Jammeh to specifically target and silence those deemed undesirable was a particularly notorious feature of his regime. A driver for this unit, the so-called Junglers, was tried in Germany, and on 30 November 2023, he was sentenced to life in prison by the Celle Higher Regional Court. The court found Bai L., who was charged with crimes against humanity, murder and attempted murder, guilty on all counts. The human rights violations committed by the Jammeh regime have already been the focus of a truth commission in The Gambia since 2017 – initiated after Jammeh himself fled the country to Equatorial Guinea upon losing the presidential election.


Bai L was a driver for the Junglers from 2003 until 2006. During this time, he was involved in the attempted murder of the lawyer Ousman Sillah, the murder of the former Gambian soldier Dawda Nyassi and the journalist Deyda Hydara, as well as the attempted murder of Ida Jagne and Nian Sarang Jobe who were with Hydara. The verdict states that he committed crimes against humanity by transporting the unit to the respective crime scenes.

Together with the African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances (ANEKED), the Gambian Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations, Human Rights Watch, the International Commission of Jurists, Reporters Without Borders, the Rose Lokissim Association, the Solo Sandeng Foundation, and TRIAL International, ECCHR is supporting the efforts of members of Gambian civil society to obtain legal redress.


The proceedings in Germany are based on the principle of universal jurisdiction, which enables German courts to prosecute the most serious crimes, even if they do not have any direct connection to Germany. Within the framework of the proceedings, the court also had to investigate the larger political context behind these criminal acts. The insights gained from the trials against Bai L. may also influence potential future proceedings against higher-ranking perpetrators.

In contrast to the cases concerning Syrian intelligence officers that ECCHR has also pursued, in the case of the Jammeh dictatorship, a truth and reconciliation process is also actively underway in The Gambia to address past injustices. Beginning in January 2019, the Gambian Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission has investigated the regime’s crimes through public hearings and crime scene investigations. Its final report, released in December 2021, also shed light on the role of the Junglers and recommended the prosecution of Bai L and other members of the unit.



Baba Hydara outside the courthouse in Celle, April 27, 2022.  (c) RSF
Baba Hydara outside the courthouse in Celle, April 27, 2022. (c) RSF

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Crimes against humanity

Crimes against humanity are grave violations of international law committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack on a civilian population. Crimes against humanity are part of the core crimes against international law and are subject to universal jurisdiction. Crimes against humanity can include acts such as murder, extermination, enslavement and deportation.

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Shrinking spaces and authoritarianism

Whenever states and corporations stifle critical voices and crackdown on political dissent – whether in the streets, on social media, or in the courtroom – they shrink civic space necessary for a democratic society based on human rights to thrive.

Overly broad “counter-terrorism” frameworks, digital surveillance targeting journalists and activists, or the increasing criminalization of solidarity with refugees are only some examples of how civil society is targeted increasingly all over the world. Such authoritarian policies and practices occur in democracies and dictatorships alike.

In the last decade, worldwide intersectional emergencies such as the climate crisis, rising far-right populism and the pandemic have posed collective challenges that impact everyone, even if unequally, no matter where in the world we live. However, civil society is constantly resisting to (re)claim its space. 

ECCHR’s work is only possible through in collaboration and solidarity with civil society actors around the globe. Many of our partners – be it in Mexico, The Gambia or Italy – face varying degrees and types of pressure, restrictions and even physical attacks, intended to repress their activities, expression and ability to organize. The Shrinking spaces and authoritarianism project hopes to support them in efforts to cope, resist, and innovate new ways to strengthen progressive civic power. Through legal and discursive interventions, ECCHR will draw attention not only to how civil society space is under attack in different contexts, but also to how it is being defended and by whom.


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