By Edrissa Jallow reporting from Dakar, Senegal
Various government Institutions and Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) including prominent Lawyers involved in the Gambia’s Transitional Justice process converged in Dakar, Senegal for a two-day conference focusing on the trial of the former Chad President, Hissène Habré. The two-day conference occurred between the 13th and 14th of December 2022 at the Good Rade Hotel in Sacre Coeur 3.
Our reporter, who attended the conference engaged stakeholders after the two-day conference to document some of the key lessons learned from the trip. This three-part report canvases the experiences of experts, CSOs, and victims gained from the conference.
Former Chad President Hissène Habré was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on 30th May 2016 in the capital city of Senegal, Dakar by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system after being found guilty of committing a series of crimes including torture, sexual violence, and unlawful killings.
A Human Rights Watch publication highlights that an “appeals court confirmed the verdict and ordered Habré to pay approximately €123 million euros in victim compensation” on 27th April 2017. However, a few years later, Habré eventually died in August 2021, while serving his life sentence at the ripe age of seventy-nine.
Given that The Gambia is going through a similar process and initiating the prosecution of former President Yahya Jammeh who was indicted by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), the African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearance (ANEKED) hosted a first of its kind international conference to pass on the knowledge gained in the Habré trial.
Lawyer Fatty: Gambia Will Face Similar Challenges When Prosecuting Jammeh
Speaking to a Gambian private legal practitioner Abdoulie Fatty, he believes that the Gambia will face similar challenges when prosecuting Jammeh just as Chad and Senegal encountered when prosecuting former President Habré.
Lawyer Fatty was employed as a Legal Consultant for the TRRC which investigated the Human Rights Violations of the former Regime of President Yahya Jammeh. The experienced Lawyer who attended the two-day conference in Dakar shared his thoughts on the Habrè trial as a legal practitioner with our reporter.
The former TRRC Consultant also served as a magistrate in Banjul dealing with criminal and civil matters. During his interview with our reporter, Fatty recounted some of the lessons learned in the prosecution of Hissène Habré which touch on the legal and political challenges that the victims and the prosecutors faced.
“Legal in the sense [that] the crimes were committed in Chad, Habré was residing in Senegal, and attempts were made to prosecute him on Senegalese soil that presented challenges because the Senegalese constitution only allowed for the prosecution of crimes [committed] on Senegalese soil,” said the Legal Consultant.
A Gainako publication highlights the various options being considered for prosecution by the Government for the TRRC. On the issue of prosecution, Lawyer Fatty highlighted the strategy employed in the Habré trial which saw Senegal and the African Union sign a treaty to establish AU Courts in Senegal.
“There had to be constitutional amendments to the Senegalese constitution to allow this [trial] process and mechanism as well as legislative changes in terms of the Senegalese penal code,” explained the Legal Consultant.
In his view, to prosecute former President Jammeh, Gambia will also face a similar challenge as crimes against humanity and enforced disappearances are “not part of our criminal court”. However, an establishment of a “hybrid system will allow the prosecution of international crimes but that is only possible with the signing of the treaty with ECOWAS and that has to be domesticated by Parliament to give it effect”.
Meanwhile, as the trial process requires constitutional amendments, the Lawmaker for Serrekunda West, Hon Madi Ceesay stated that “the current laws we have are not adequate”. However, “the new constitution matters but then apart from the constitution we [Parliamentarians] need to come up with laws that can really take off for example torture”.
The next edition of this series of publications focuses on the concerns of the Victims and a Counsel from the Ministry of Justice.