Germany has forged ahead with efforts to bring justice for grave crimes with the indictment of a Gambian national accused of being a former member of a Gambian “death squad.”
Bai L. has been accused of crimes against humanity allegedly committed under former president Yahya Jammeh. Jammeh’s 22-year rule, which ended in 2017, was marked by widespread abuses, including extrajudicial killings, forced disappearances, and arbitrary detention.
The indictment demonstrates the strong role national authorities can play in fighting impunity for atrocities committed beyond their borders even years after the alleged commission of the crimes.
German prosecutors accuse Bai L. of being a driver for the notorious death squad called “Junglers” between 2003 and 2006. The charges allege Bai L. was involved in three Jungler attacks.
Germany can prosecute these crimes because its laws recognize universal jurisdiction. That principle allows for the investigation and prosecution of some of the most serious crimes under international law no matter where they were committed, and regardless of the nationality of the suspects or victims.
Universal jurisdiction cases are an increasingly important part of international efforts to hold those responsible for grave crimes to account and provide justice to victims who have nowhere else to turn. Bai L. is the third alleged Jammeh accomplice to be brought to justice abroad. Another alleged former Jungler, Michael Sang Correa, faces charges in the United States, and Gambia’s former interior minister, Ousman Sonko, faces charges in Switzerland for taking part in torture.
German authorities are building an impressive practice of universal jurisdiction cases, including to deliver justice for grave crimes in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, and Sri Lanka. In January, a German court convicted a former Syrian secret service official for crimes against humanity and sentenced him to life in prison.
Jammeh has been in exile in Equatorial Guinea since his departure from Gambia in January 2017. Human Rights Watch is working with Gambian and international groups to campaign for Jammeh and his accomplices to face fair trials, including through the establishment of a hybrid criminal court that could operate with Gambian and international judges and staff.
Bai L. was arrested in Hanover, Germany on March 16, 2021 and has been in pretrial detention since. If the court approves his indictment, the trial should begin this year before the Higher Regional Court in Celle, near Hamburg.