On Thursday, November 30, German justice sentenced to life imprisonment a Gambian member of a death squad, convicted in particular of crimes against humanity, following the first trial in the country for abuses committed under the regime of President Yahya Jammeh.

Presented by the media as Bai Lowe but only identified as Bai L. by German justice, the 48-year-old man was convicted of “crimes against humanity,” “murder” and “attempted murder” in three cases in total by the court of Celle (north), which thus followed the requisition of the prosecution.

Concretely, he was found guilty of having participated in assassinations in his country between 2003 and 2006, including that of AFP correspondent Deyda Hydara, shot dead on December 16, 2004. The man was a driver of the “Junglers », the Gambian death squads created by the power in place in the mid-1990s in order to intimidate or eliminate any form of opposition. Speaking through his lawyer during a hearing in October 2022, he denied any participation in these acts. The defense pleaded for acquittal.

Universal jurisdiction

A refugee in Germany since 2012, Bai Lowe was arrested in Hanover in March 2021.

His trial was possible because Germany recognizes universal jurisdiction over certain serious crimes under international law. This allows it to judge suspects on its soil regardless of their nationality or the place where the alleged crimes were committed. The country has already condemned Syrians in particular for atrocities committed during the country’s civil war.

Concretely, the Gambian was accused of being involved in an attempted murder against Ousman Sillah, a lawyer; in the murder of Deyda Hydara; in two attempted murders of Ida Jagne and Nian Sarang Jobe, who worked for the newspaper Hydara co-founded; and finally in the murder of a former Gambian soldier, Dawda Nyassi.

The person concerned claimed to have accused himself of acts that he did not commit, particularly during interviews, with the intention of showing his fellow citizens the cruelty of the Yahya Jammeh regime (1994-2017). A line of defense deemed not very credible by the civil parties. Baba Hydara, son of Deyda Hydara, said he was “disappointed, insulted and betrayed by Bai Lowe’s statement which betrays common sense.”

“The long arm of justice”

The accused is certainly “not the main perpetrator, but the crimes could not have been committed without him”, underlines Patrick Kroker, Baba Hydara’s lawyer.

For the victims’ relatives and NGOs, Celle’s judgment must serve as a warning for the perpetrators of crimes under the dictatorship. “The long arm of justice has caught up with Bai Lowe in Germany, as it is already catching up with Yahya Jammeh’s henchmen all over the world and will also hopefully catch up with Jammeh himself,” said in an email to the AFP Reed Brody, a lawyer with the International Commission of Jurists who works with victims.

Among the other proceedings underway outside Gambia is that of Ousman Sonko, former Minister of the Interior, who has been prosecuted in Switzerland since 2017 for “crimes against humanity”. Another collaborator of Mr. Jammeh, Michael Sang Correa, should be tried in the United States.

While the former president lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea, a country with which The Gambia has no extradition agreement, the Gambian government has also begun to do its work on the twenty-two years of dictatorship. He announced in February that he was working with the organization of West African States to set up a tribunal responsible for judging crimes committed under the former dictator. This is one of the big files on the desk of Adama Barrow, who succeeded Mr. Jammeh at the head of the smallest country in continental Africa thanks to a surprise victory in the 2016 presidential election.