There is so much controversy surrounding the operation launched recently by President Jammeh. This contentious operation, dubbed “Operation Bulldozer”, gives our security forces the green light to shoot “armed criminals” right away and mount an investigation or ask questions later. Pros see the edict as a timely initiative and thus welcome it heartily, praising its promulgator, whereas cons view it as a dangerous, imprudent and unwarranted move.
As we all know, the security situation in The Gambia is worrisome, characterized by mysterious killings, disappearances, arson attacks and the like, many of which are unresolved. Hence, it is indisputable that concerted, earnest, undaunted and unflinching efforts should be made to remedy the situation as a matter of urgency for the betterment of all the people residing in the country, irrespective of whether they are citizens or foreigners. Security forces are duty-bound to play a pivotal role in this regard, and civilians are obliged to co-operate fully or lend helping hands to the best of their ability.
However, the method to be used in the crusade against criminals should be designed tactfully and cautiously in accordance with the principles of democracy and human rights so that it can yield dividends. A rash decision such as licensing security forces to shoot those regarded as armed criminals straight away might prove to be counterproductive. It has negative ramifications in that it can complicate matters or aggravate the situation.
Many people voice concern about the issue questioning whether our authorities are genuinely interested in weeding out criminals or reducing crime rate through the operation as they want to make us believe. Some raise objection over it arguing that there might be an ulterior motive in it and that it can be abused or used as a pretext to intimidate or eliminate opponents or perceived enemies. Can this be ruled out, given the frequent persecution of politicians and journalists in the form of arbitrary arrest and detention, incarceration and torture, coupled with the unresolved killings and disappearances under mysterious circumstance we have witnessed? With “Operation Bulldozer”, both criminals and the innocent can fall victim of shooting which may inflict serious injury on them, or even cause their death. How will we resolve the matter reasonably or satisfactorily if an innocent person is mistaken for an armed criminal and hence shot dead, or killed deliberately (with the knowledge that he is not an armed criminal) based on President Jammeh’s injunction? Will it be possible to bring the person back to life or compensate his/her loved ones in any way? Are we going to kill, imprison or fine the killer? In case he is jailed, will that do any good to the victim whose death could have been avoided in the absence of “Operation Bulldozer”? Will that conciliate, console, appease or pacify his loved ones? Will material or monetary compensation be enough to repair the damage? Should the killer or culprit be allowed to go scot-free based on the fact that he had acted on the order of his president? Undoubtedly, that would increase the anger of human rights defenders and the family members and friends of his victim. It will infuriate and enrage all those who love peace and justice. According to the operation, all armed criminals deserve gunshot or death, regardless of the type of arm they have in possession and the crime they have committed. Hence, it disregards the fact that the severity of a penalty should be determined taking into account the nature or gravity of the crime committed. Additionally, the operation presumes that all those suspected of being armed criminals are culpable. Thus, it runs counter to the principle that everybody is innocent in the eyes of the law until proven guilty. In other words, the operation precludes presumption of innocence before the establishment of guilt when dealing with people taken for armed criminals, which is unjust.
Evidently, the launching of “Operation Bulldozer” is a cause for great concern. The operation is prejudicial and irrational. Therefore, it should be reviewed or abandoned forthwith. Although I detest armed criminals and quite agree with the idea of taking drastic measures against them or handing out a very heavy penalty to them, I do not subscribe to the idea of shooting suspects or people regarded as armed criminals without ado. I recommend using teargas, spray, or rubber bullets- in some cases- to weaken those suspected of being dangerous criminals, effect arrest and then try and sentence them accordingly. We should bear in mind that life is precious and that taking lives is no fun.
On a final note, I urge those involved in the operation to make it a point of duty and work indefatigably to track down and bring to book the criminals responsible for the innumerable mysterious deaths, disappearances and arson attacks that have taken place in our country if they really mean business and want to be taken seriously. If they fail in this respect, they should be bulldozed outright like the “armed criminals” they claim they seek to crack down on under the aegis of “Operation Bulldozer”. The fact that most of those cases have remained unresolved for too long arouses suspicion in many quarters. It is interpreted as reluctance to take necessary action on the part of the authorities concerned- and most likely rightly. Sparing the perpetrators of such heinous crimes will lend credence to the suspicion of foul play. Besides, it will be seen as chasing the small fish while ignoring the big ones.
NB: This article was first published on 3 June 2012.