Gambia’s former President Yahya Jammeh might be safe in Equatorial but how long would that last? Victims of his regime and their families have launched a campaign to haul him back to the West African nation to answer for his crimes.
Jammeh was one of Africa’s longest-serving autocrats, the last of two remaining in West Africa as of last year before he was unceremoniously ousted after losing elections.
Human rights groups have called on the new Gambian government to prosecute those responsible for grave crimes committed during the 22-year rule of Yahya Jammeh. But Jammeh and most of his cohorts have escaped the country, evading prosecution.
Victims say not for long. #Jammeh2Justice Campaign is seeking to have the former military strongman returned and now have the despot hunter, Reed Brody with them to drag Jammeh to court.
Brody represented the victims of former dictator Hissène Habré of Chad. After 25 years of fighting for justice, Habre is now serving a life sentence. He was found guilty of rape, sexual slavery, and ordering the killing of 40,000 people during his tenure as Chadian president.
The verdict marked the first time an African Union-backed court convicted a former ruler for human-rights abuses and the first time that the courts of one country have prosecuted the former ruler of another country for crimes against humanity.
But can this be Jammeh’s faith?
“We will do whatever it takes in the pursuit of justice, no matter how long it takes,” said Fatoumatta Sandeng, daughter of opposition leader Solo Sandeng, whose murder in April 2016 galvanized opposition to the Jammeh government.
“All that matters is that Jammeh and his accomplices are held accountable for what they did to the Gambian people.”
Equatorial Guinea, unlike Senegal, is a dictatorship and not a member of the International Criminal Court. Jammeh could be tried in absentia but will he ever serve a day in prison is now left to the unknown future.
Nine former intelligence officers, including the Gambia’s former intel chief, Yankuba Badjie are being prosecuted by the state for torture-death of Solo Sandeng. The prosecution is the first over human rights abuse in the country.
Human rights groups hold Jammeh responsible for killing scores of Gambians, rape, torture and enforced disappearances of hundreds, but the exact number remains unknown.
Gambian authorities have uncovered mass graves, released political prisoners, some of whom have been missing for years but discovered that some that were missing are nowhere to be found, presumably killed.
“Given what so many of us experienced and the depths to which Jammeh took The Gambia, we have a moral duty to ensure that justice is done,” said Amadou Scattred Janneh, who was sentenced to life imprisonment under Jammeh for making T-shirts with the slogan “End Dictatorship Now.”
“By bringing Jammeh to justice, we also serve notice to tyrants across the continent that we the people are determined to fight impunity.”
The Barrow government is about to set up a truth commission to investigate the allegations of human rights abuses under Jammeh. Some of Jammeh’s trusted soldiers accused of human rights violations have been arrested and help authorities discover secret burial sites dotted around the country.
Some have escaped with Jammeh to Equatorial Guinea, while the rest are in hiding in neighboring nations.
Gambian authorities have been able to one of the top commanders of Jammeh’s paramilitary hit squad called the Jungulars. General Bora Colley was arrested by the Senegalese authorities while trying to escape to Guinea Bissau.
A court in the Gambia’s capital, Banjul have issued arrest warrants for more than two dozen soldiers complicit in extrajudicial executions and torture. Notable among them is Sanna Manjang, who is reported in hiding the West African Guineas.
Human rights group say fair trials are crucial for victims and their families and for building respect for the rule of law in the country.
The Barrow government has stopped exhuming the remains of many of the victims to preserve evidence while seeking forensic expert assistance to properly excavate bodies and get DNA as well.
The remains of two U.S. citizens, Alhagie Ceesay and Ebou Jobe are among tens that are yet to be unearthed. Jobe and Ceesay visited their native country to reportedly start a new company but were nabbed the loyalists of the ex-dictator and executed.
Barrow defeated Jammeh in the December 2016 elections and was sworn in on January 19, two days before Jammeh finally stepped down under threat of a regional military intervention.
Human Rights Watch, which is supporting the #Jammeh2Justice campaign says the Barrow government should support efforts by third countries to bring universal jurisdiction cases against Jammeh-era officials living outside of Gambia.
Switzerland has already arrested and charged former Interior Minister Ousman Sonko with crimes against humanity for his role in torture during Jammeh’s time in power.
Barrow has promised that victims of the Jammeh era will “get justice.” But while the government has announced plans for a truth and reconciliation commission, it has yet to say how it will conduct judicial investigations into past crimes.