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Gambia TRRC recommends prosecuting ex-dictator

May 25, 2022

Gambia's Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations commission recommends prosecuting officials for rights violations and abuses committed during Yahya Jammeh's 22-year reign. Victims also want the ex-leader to face justice.

Former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh wears white and is backed by soldiers
Former Gambia President Yahya Jammeh is currently exiled in Equatorial Guinea Image: Marco Longari/AFP

Gambian authorities on Wednesday released the long-awaited white paper by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) set up to probe crimes committed during the reign of former President Yahya Jammeh. 

The TRRC's findings were delivered after over two years of hearings, during which witnesses gave chilling evidence about torture, death squads, rape and witch hunts — often at the hands of Jammeh's hit unit, known as the Junglers.

Among the recommendations on the panel's white paper is the prosecution of Jammeh and members of the Junglers and to provide support to victims of the former dictator's brutal reign, which was notorious for crushing dissent through murder, disappearances, torture, rape and castration.

Meaningful step forward

The release of the white paper ends six months of waiting since the TRRC first released its findings into human rights abuses under Jammeh. 

"Impunity is a kind of incentive that we are not prepared to serve perpetrators," said Gambia's justice minister, Dawda Jallow.

"Let us be clear about this," he said, "that those who contemplate committing gross human rights violations must also be aware that society one day will hold them accountable."

Reed Brody, a lawyer with the International Commission of Jurists who works with Jammeh's victims, called the ministry's response to the TRRC "an important and meaningful step forward."

"Now the government will have to demonstrate with concrete actions to an increasingly skeptical public that it actually has the determination to bring the perpetrators to book," he said. 

"Laws still have to be enacted, a court has to be established, cases have to be prepared," he said, "and Yahya Jammeh has to be brought into custody."

Journalists not spared

Sherrif Kijera, chairman of the Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations, said: "The statement by the justice minister is a clear indication of the government's commitment and the political will to implement recommendations of the white paper." 

The TRRC found that 240 to 250 people died at the hands of the state during Jammeh's rule — including journalists. 

Among the notable victims is AFP journalist Deyda Hydara, who was killed by the Junglers. 

A death squad member identified by the media as B. Lowe is currently on trial in Germany for killing Hydara.

Youths hold protest sign: "TRRC, Thank you, but victims are all crying ... Never again"
Victims want Jammeh and suspected accomplices to be tried for the crimes committedImage: Omar Wally/DW

Victims want justice

The victims advocate Isatou Jammeh told DW correspondent Omar Wally in Banjul that his father, Haruna, a cousin of the former president's,  was killed by the Junglers in 2005.

Haruna Jammeh's body was never found. Isatou wants her father's killers to be prosecuted and his body found and given a decent burial.

"My expectations of the white paper is to see that prosecution of those who bear highest responsibilities take place," Isatou Jammeh said.

"I would like the Gambian government to ensure that the bodies of the missing persons are found and returned to their families for proper burials," he added.

"The government should ensure that what happened under Yahya Jammeh's rule never happens again," he said.

No justice, no peace

The justice activist Fatoumata Sandeng told DW that her father, Solo Sandeng, was arrested in April 2016 for leading a protest without a permit.

Solo Sandeng was a senior member of the opposition United Democratic Party. He and scores of other opposition supporters were protesting, demanding electoral reforms. For Fatoumata, the prosecution of Yahya Jammeh and his accomplices is very important for the nation's healing.

"I always say there is no reconciliation without justice and no one can force victims to reconcile," Fatoumata Sandeng said.

"Recommendations of the white paper should be fully implemented to have a stable Gambia," she added. "We want just for Yahya Jammeh's victims for the healing process to begin."

Adama Barrow celebrates after winning reelection
President Barrow won reelection after forming an alliance with Yahya Jammeh's partyImage: Leo Correa/AP Photo/picture alliance

'Prosecute Jammeh and reform security services'

According to the white paper, civil society organizations in Gambia have pressed the authorities to prosecute Jammeh for abuses during his 22-year rule.

Victims have expressed optimism that Gambia's current president, Adama Barrow, will also overhaul the security sector; reform prison, media and public order laws; and forensically probe forced disappearances to avoid a repeat of abuses.

"Jammeh and others named by the TRRC should, without fail, be held accountable for their crimes," civil society organizations said in the white paper, referring to the 69 other alleged perpetrators mentioned in the report.

"Decisions on granting of amnesty should not be taken without prior consultation with victims and/or their families," according to the paper. 

Living in exile

Jammeh was forced from power after losing the 2016 election to Barrow. He subsequently fled to Equatorial Guinea where lives in exile. 

For Jammeh to face trial, Equatorial Guinea would have to agree to extradite him. However, there is currently no extradition agreement between the two nations. Two-thirds of Gambia's parliament would also have to approve a prosecution.

The commission recommended using a hybrid tribunal or trying Jammeh in a neighboring country.

Jammeh denies the accusations against him.

Edited by Keith Walker

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