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. An alleged driver for this unit, the so-called Junglers, stands trial in Germany, the proceedings began in April 2022 at the Celle Higher Regional Court. 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.
According to the indictment, Bai L was a driver for the Junglers from 2003 until 2006, during which time the unit allegedly killed a journalist and a member of the opposition, as well as critically injured a lawyer. He is accused of committing crimes against humanity for allegedly transporting the paramilitary unit to the respective crime scenes.
In cooperation with Gambian activists and civil society, ECCHR is currently supporting the organization TRIAL International, along with lawyer Reed Brody, in their efforts to bring these crimes to justice.
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 will also have to investigate the larger political context behind these criminal acts in order to determine whether they meet the criteria for crimes against humanity. If Bai L is ultimately convicted of crimes against humanity, such a judgment may also influence 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.