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Yahya Jammeh : A tumultuous retreat

10.07.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Yahya Jammeh, Gambia’s former president may have been successfully evicted from power, but the country is still trying to recover from the effects of his 22-year rule. During his term of office, Jammeh was feared by all, as his wrath knew no bounds. His regime was marked by forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and arbitrary detention. His defeat in the December 2016 election brought a sigh of relief to the country. Now, the tables have turned and those who suffered in the hands of Jammeh now have their chance to make him pay for his crimes. Close to 3 years after he was forced to step down after losing elections, there are already serious attempts to seek justice.

Yahya Jammeh, who came to power in Gambia in 1996 after a military coup carried out gross oppression in the country orchestrated by the police, the National Intelligence Agency and one of the most dreaded group referred to as the Junglers. His administration was noted typically for its brutality and corruption and he was feared by both the rich and the poor. Unfortunately, his human rights abuses went largely unnoticed by the international community due to his crackdown on the internal press and the fear of the masses to raise a voice against him for. And more so, though Gambia had highly-trained lawyers who could clamp him down, state institutions had been neglected for 22 years under his rule.

The 22 years of terror lived by the people of Gambia came to an end in late 2016, when he suffered an electoral defeat at the hands of opposition leader, Adama Barrow. Though he initially refused to step down, he was forced out after the military intervention by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The one-time dictator fled the country to Equatorial Guinea, where is he relying on the protection of his host country to avoid accountability for the many crimes and human rights abuses committed under his regime. Never the less, this has not stopped the people to demand that he be brought to justice following the several allegations levied against him. With a zeal for vengeance, the regime of Barrow now has the task to handle the legacy of 22 years of human rights abuses and economic crimes.

The quest for justice by the people is already gaining steam as some leading members of Jammeh’s regime have been detained. Ousman Sonko, former minister of interior and one of Jammeh’s close aids, were detained in Switzerland after a criminal complaint was filed by the NGO Trial International against them. Similarly, General Bora Colley, who directed one of Jammeh’s dreaded prisons was arrested Senegal while trying to cross over to Guinea Bissau.

According to analysts, Yahya Jammeh to escape being prosecuted chose one of the “safest” African countries, Equatorial Guinea, to go on exile.  Not being a member of the International Criminal Court, it is most likely that President Obiang NGuéma would be under no obligation to transfer Jammeh to The Hague just in case the need arises unless there was a special procedure initiated by the UN.

Jammeh, one-time dictator wanted on several charges

Gambian and international rights groups in October 2017, launched a campaign dubbed “Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his accomplices to Justice”. This movement advocated for the prosecution of Jammeh and others who were part of all the atrocities committed during his term of office.

The one time most untouchable man in Gambia is now being called to answer to his offenses. Several groups and individuals who never had a voice at the time of his reign have filed complaints against the former ruler.

On May 31, 2018, three victims of Jammeh’s fake aids treatment filed a legal action in the High Court of Gambia. Jammeh in 2017 made claims that he had found a cure for HIV and forced Gambians living with the virus to live in a state facility and to submit to a “treatment” regimen. In a case supported by AIDS-Free World, an international advocacy organization, in partnership with the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), the victims, Fatou Jatta, Ousman Sowe, and Lamin “Moko” Ceesay are suing the former president for financial damages.

In May 2018, human rights organizations as well as a survivor demanded the extradition and prosecution of Jammeh for his role in the killing of more than 50 West African migrants in 2005.   Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International requested Ghana’s government to investigate his involvement in the incident. According to a report published by Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International, the migrants who were arrested on suspicion of being mercenaries plotting a coup were killed after being detained by Jammeh’s closest associates.

Besides, a report by a non-profit investigative reporting outlet, Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), indicated that Jammeh and his comrades “looted or misappropriated” at least $975m which brought the country at the verge of collapse.

Recently in June 2019, the former winner of Miss July 22nd beauty and scholarship, Fatou Jallow, in an interview with the New York Times accused Jammeh of rape. Her accusation comes after an investigation by Human Rights Watch and Trial International claims that Yahya Jammeh sexually abused young women when he was in office.

Her testimony now forms part of a Human Rights Watch and Trial International report that details alleged rape and sexual assault by Jammeh. According to Reed Brody, who works with Human Rights Watch, Yahya Jammeh treated Gambian women like his personal property.

Jammeh under the spyglass of the truth commission

Gambia launched a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission to probe the alleged abuses Jammeh committed during his 22 years in power. The commission will have to look into and document human rights abuses such as summary executions, disappearances, torture, rape and other crimes committed during Jammeh’s two-decade rule.  It is equally expected to hold witness hearings to gather evidence which will pave the way for the prosecution of those responsible for unjust crimes.

The truth commission bill which was debated in December 2017 approved the commission to grant amnesty to perpetrators who testify truthfully about their role in abuses but did not consider acts that are part of a crime against humanity. Hence it was argued that this will prevent victims from getting the justice they deserve from the perpetrators of such crimes.

However, the road to bringing Yahya Jammeh to justice will definitely not be an easy one. Though it may take several years before justice is served, these organisations remain committed to their quest to ensure that Jammeh gets what he deserves.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Photo Credit :google image/illustration

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