Almost at midnight on Tuesday December 27, the Gambia Government announced the creation of an unidentified 11-member ‘Joint Investigation Panel’ to investigate the alleged coup plot of December 21. The statement said the Solicitor General inaugurated the panel which includes various security agencies – i.e., the Office of National Society, the Military, the Police and the Intelligence. No terms of reference were given and no reference was made to any law as the basis for the establishment of this panel.
From history and experience, it is obvious that this investigation panel is nothing but a confession panel. In the past, the Gambia Government under the autocrat Yahya Jammeh was notorious for announcing fake coup attempts or plots and then set up an ‘investigation panel’ comprising the same security agencies which would subject suspects to grueling interrogation and torture to fish our confessions.
Testimonies before the TRRC had exposed how those coups were concocted only to forcefully derive confessions from suspects to legitimize the coup. Therefore, there is need for deep concern as to the formation, work and outcome of this new so-called investigation panel.
The creation of an investigation panel to investigate a coup attempt or plot has no legal standing both at domestic and international levels. A coup d’état is considered by local and international laws to constitute an unconstitutional change of government which is an unlawful act to be prosecuted. Hence those involved in a coup, successful or not, when apprehended should be taken before the courts. The Criminal Code provides for treason under Section 35. Thus the Government is expected to apply this law and subject these alleged coupists to prosecution.
This so-called joint investigation panel fell below the standards of liberty, justice, fair trial, human rights and the rule of law. This is because the suspects have not been allowed access to their families and lawyers since their arrest. Secondly, to ensure that this panel is fair and protect the rights of these suspects, the lawyers of the suspects should be present when they are being interrogated. That is basic in criminal justice that suspects have their lawyers present during interrogation. In this regard, the panel should also include the National Human Rights Commission and other bodies such as the Gambia Bar Association as observers to ensure that there is no abuse of the suspects. But none of this is happening.
To have these junior soldiers face this panel without the presence of their lawyers and observers means the tendency for manipulation and intimidation is high. The crime of treason carries the death penalty or life imprisonment hence all safeguards must be employed to ensure that those accused of treason enjoy all of their rights and protection. If this panel is allowed to operate as it is constituted it will be a travesty of justice and a repudiation of the ‘Never Again’ national mantra.
In light of the above, I wish to call on the National Human Rights Commission and the Gambia Bar Association to alert the Gambia Government to their obligations under national and international laws to abide by the tenets and standards of human rights and the rule of law in this matter. This means to ensure that all the necessary safeguards are provided to these suspects in order to ensure fair trial and justice.
Similarly, I call on the National Assembly Select Committee on Human Rights and Constitutional Matters to demand transparency, adherence to the rule law and protection of human rights by the Government in this matter. All CSOs and political parties should stand up to put an end to this culture of abuse.
These institutions and organizations mandated to protect human rights and the rule of law must not stand idly by to allow the Government do whatever they wish. We already know from history and experience that investigation panels constituted to investigate an alleged coup had always employed torture and manipulation against suspects. Therefore, all necessary safeguards must be taken into account to ensure that there is no repeat of the past.
For The Gambia Our Homeland