Making Law: Gambian Jurist Hassan Bubacar

Gambian jurist Hassan Bubacar Jallow has been appointed chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR). With dozens of pending cases, some possibly implicating officials in Rwanda’s government, he has his work cut out for him.

As prosecutor, he will face pressure to move quickly—the court has tried only a few cases to date. At the same time, he will also have to carefully navigate investigations of those associated with the current Rwandan government—a difficult mission that the tribunal’s former prosecutor, Carla Del Ponte, has said cost her the job. (She remains the prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for  the Former Yugoslavia, the ICTY.)

Though Jallow’s task will not be easy, he has shown a willingness to take on tough opponents. In 2002, Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh removed Jallow from the nation’s Supreme Court after Jallow allowed a case to go forward alleging the government’s role in suppressing a student protest.

Soon after, Jallow was appointed as an appeals chamber judge for the U.N.-backed Special Court for Sierra Leone. In that position, he was responsible for hearing cases concerning atrocities committed during Sierra Leone’s 10-year civil war.

Born into a family of Muslim clerics, Jallow, 52, has had a long and distinguished career in law.

He served as legal adviser to the Organization for African Unity (now the African Union) and helped write the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. In Gambia, he served as the minister of justice and later as attorney-general—a posting that was cut short by the 1994 military coup that toppled Gambia’s government and installed Jammeh as president.

Following the coup, Jallow taught law at the Gambia Technical Training Institute and, in 1996, he opened his own legal practice. In 1998, he was appointed to the Supreme Court.

That same year, U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan tapped Jallow to head a panel investigating how U.N. tribunals could be strengthened. It was a sign of things to come.

In August, the Security Council voted to separate the job of prosecutor of the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia and the ICTR; until then, Carla Del Ponte had served as chief prosecutor for both tribunals. And on Sept. 4, the Security Council appointed Jallow to the post of ICTR prosecutor.