(JollofNews) – Gambia’s Interior Minister, Mai Ahmad Fatty has been strongly criticised for hastily orchestrating the arrest and detention of former intelligence officials without building strong evidence or notifying the Ministry of Justice.
Nine former senior intelligence officials were arrested and charged for the torture and murder of Solo Sandeng, a member of the president’s party.
Mr Sandeng died in custody a few hours after he was arrested for leading a rare anti-regime protest.
However, since the arrest of the men, the case has suffered several adjournments due to lack of material information. On Monday, state prosecutors demanded the trial to be put on hold as investigations are still ongoing and documents such as exhibits, summary of evidence, witness statements, among others, are missing.
The Ministry of Justice said it was shocked at the speed at which the officers were arrested by the police without its knowledge.
” It is rather unfortunate that the Ministry of Justice was not consulted by the Ministry of the Interior or the police before any action was taken in this case, especially in view of the fact that the Justice Ministry was going to be ultimately responsible for the case when it is presented before our courts,” said Abubacarr Tambedou, Attorney General and minister of Justice.
“The Ministry of Justice has requested the police to conduct a more thorough investigation into the case. I wish to state for the record, that this is in no way a reflection of the work of the police. They too have come under a lot of pressure to conduct a complex investigation within a very short time. This is why we must always endeavour to investigate before arrest rather than arrest and then investigate.”
The Ministry of the Interior has defended the arrest of the men which it said properly done in accordance with the law, and the best interest of the government of The Gambia and the citizens particularly the victims of torture, enforced disappearances, killings and other predatory mal-governance.
Interior Minister Mai Ahmad Fatty said the apprehension of the former officers was a result of excellent collaborative effort between the police and the armed forces which required utmost secrecy and discretion within the law ‘so as to avert the escape of some of these dangerous elements out of the jurisdiction.’
But the Justice minister has warned the government not to rush with criminal investigations.
Mr Tambedou said: “Criminal investigations require careful planning and strategizing and will often involve specialized investigation techniques which may not be readily available in this country. Otherwise, there is a real risk of missing or losing crucial evidence which can lead to the collapse of an entire case at trial. This is why it is preferable that criminal investigations and evidence collection be guided by the Justice Ministry right from the start.”
He added: “We must recognize that we are now operating under a new and different judicial climate and that our judiciary will be expected to assert their judicial independence and will vigorously scrutinize every piece of evidence presented by the prosecution as required in any normal criminal proceeding. That is why we must also adhere to due process.
“Anyone familiar with serious criminal prosecutions will understand and appreciate the challenge of proving beyond reasonable doubt every element of a crime charged and the modes of liability alleged. Hence the importance of thinking through certain matters and taking great care before acting.
Mr Tambedou who previously worked as a lawyer at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda, serving as special assistant to the prosecutor from 2012 to 2016 added: “The priority at this moment is to rebuild the justice system of our country and strengthen capacity of the Ministry of Justice in this process. We must have the necessary legal processes and mechanisms in place to ensure not only prosecutions in the short-term but also safeguarding the fair trial rights of the accused so that you the Gambian people and generations of Gambians yet unborn can live in this country safe in the knowledge that our criminal justice system will dispense justice in a fair, impartial and dispassionate manner.
“We must focus on building a strong, robust and independent justice system to match the aspirations of the people of this country so that no one in this country will ever be dragged before our courts for a crime that they did not commit. That is the primary objective of our reform agenda.
“The Ministry of Justice takes very seriously the case of the unfortunate death in custody of Solo Sandeng and all other similar unfortunate incidents over the past 22 years of the former government and that is why we must adopt a comprehensive and holistic approach to addressing these justice related challenges rather than approaching it piecemeal.
“Moreover, we must also be careful so as not to undermine the president’s desire to move this country forward by encouraging open discussions about the past and fostering national reconciliation through the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Any action, particularly in these early days, must be geared towards achieving that objective. Any other action that runs contrary to this spirit at this moment in time is both unwise and potentially dangerous. As leaders, we will have to make some hard choices. Difficult decisions form part of the burden of leadership. We must lead by example and at times, even lead public opinion in the supreme national interest.
“Consequently, no new criminal cases involving crimes allegedly committed by the former government will be handled by the Ministry unless they are thoroughly and comprehensively investigated, and until the Ministry of Justice is also ready in terms of its capacity, resources, and logistical needs, and only after the approval of cabinet. As at this moment, we are a long way from that state of trial readiness. The working conditions of the Ministry must be improved first before we can engage in such highly complex and demanding exercises.
“A Truth and Reconciliation Commission with appropriate reparations for victims will be set up within the next six months and public hearings will be expected to commence by the end of the year. We will need to adapt the lessons learnt from other TRCs to our particular context in The Gambia.
“Meanwhile, consultations are currently taking place to identify appropriate persons of high moral character and integrity from a cross-section of our social, cultural and religious communities for appointment as commissioners to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. An appropriate location for the public hearings will also be identified. A public information and awareness campaign shall also be launched soon to start discussions on national television and private radio stations throughout the country about the purpose and objective of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.
“The Ministry of Justice has developed and almost finalized its transitional strategic paper which details the policy and operational roadmap of the ministry during this transition period. However, a successful implementation of this strategic plan will ultimately depend on the extent and nature of support that the Ministry will receive from its key partners both within and outside government. I hope that we can all work together as one team with the sole objective of fulfilling the aspirations of the people of The Gambia to live in peace, dignity and the pursuit of happiness.”