By Janet Sankale
Essa Faal, a former lawyer at the ICC and lead counsel at The Gambia’s truth commission, has announced his intention to run for the presidency in his country’s election scheduled for December 4, 2021.
Making the announcement at a press conference at the American International University in Kanifing, Faal complained that the country was regressing and that the people were suffering as the cost of living skyrocketed.
“I am the best candidate for The Gambia. I believe I am second to none. I have a track record of success in everything I do,” he said.
Faal was appointed lead counsel of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in The Gambia in 2018 and it was not immediately clear whether he had officially left the position before making the announcement.
The commission was mandated to deal with the aftermath of human rights violations committed during the 22-year dictatorial rule of former President Yahya Jammeh, who seized power in a military coup in 1994.
Faal’s long years of experience in international criminal law and international human rights law landed him the job to assist in guiding investigations and leading witnesses appearing before the TRRC on behalf of the commissioners. The commission was scheduled to hand its report to President Adama Barrow in July 2021, but the release date was pushed to the end of September to allow it to complete its work. There have been many expectations around the report, and especially whether the current administration would be willing to implement its recommendations, which are expected to prescribe justice and relief for the victims of Jammeh’s dictatorship.
Faal promised to bring former President Jammeh back to The Gambia to face justice, which he termed a great honour and privilege the dictator never gave his victims.
The lawyer is well known for his active role in investigating, prosecuting, and defending cases at international criminal tribunals.
As a new strategy to fight the charges against Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto at the International Criminal Court (ICC), then lead counsel Karim Khan on August 7, 2013, appointed Faal to be co-counsel. Khan is the current Prosecutor at the ICC. The judges, in a majority ruling in 2016, decided that the case be terminated.
Faal led the investigations of the Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) in the situation in Darfur, Sudan, which led to the issuance of arrest warrants against several people, including then President Omar Al Bashir. He was later appointed senior trial lawyer and lead prosecuting counsel for the Darfur cases.
The Gambian lawyer also served as counsel for former Liberian President Charles Taylor at the Special Court for Sierra Leone. He represented Taylor pro bono. Alongside Khan, Faal represented Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, a son of former Libyan President Muammar Gaddafi, whose case remains in the pre-trial stage at the ICC pending his transfer to The Hague.
Faal’s interest in his country’s presidential race comes just a few weeks before the TRRC report is scheduled to be released. He has promised to restore sanity and end corruption in the management of state and public affairs, and pledged to be a leader who unifies the country and brings development to Gambians.
The truth commission has in the recent past lost several high-level officials to resignations. Dr Baba Galleh Jallow, the executive secretary, resigned in June 2021, saying his substantive service to the TRRC was completed and that he needed to start looking ahead in terms of his career. In 2020, he resigned from his teaching job at La Salle University in Philadelphia, US, to continue serving the commission.
Horejah Baal-Gaye, deputy lead counsel at the TRRC, resigned in December 2019, shortly before the expiry of her contract. The director of research and investigations, Alagie Barrow, also left at around the same time.
Faal’s announcement has added to debate, both locally in The Gambia and globally, whether the victims of Yahya Jammeh would receive justice. Already, there were widespread misgivings in The Gambia whether President Barrow’s administration had the will to implement the recommendations in the TRRC report given his rapprochement with Jammeh’s political party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) as he fights to retain his seat.