Seeking justice in The Gambia: Why Jammeh’s days are numbered
The Gambia may not be ready yet. But it’s only a matter of time until the conditions are right to prosecute former president Jammeh.
If The Gambia’s former president Yahya Jammeh thought he could escape to a quiet exile in Equatorial Guinea, he may have underestimated the determination of his compatriots.
His 22-year rule was marked by alleged disappearances, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detention. And since early-2017, when Adama Barrow took over as president, there have been public calls for senior figures in the previous government to be prosecuted. Although it has only been 18 months since Jammeh was forced to step down after losing elections, there have already been two serious attempts to seek justice.
On 31 May, three victims of Jammeh’s bogus HIV/AIDS cure filed a legal action in the High Court of Gambia. Fatou Jatta, Ousman Sowe, and Lamin “Moko” Ceesay are suing the former president for financial damages for harm suffered when they became members of his AIDS treatment programme. In 2007, Jammeh made the outlandish claim that he had found a cure for the virus. Forced to live in a state facility along with other patients, the three plaintiffs were told to stop taking anti-retroviral drugs and replace them with Jammeh’s “miracle cure”, a worthless herbal concoction which made them ill.
This civil action is the first time the former president is being sued in the domestic courts. The case is being supported by the international advocacy organisation AIDS-Free World in partnership with the Gambian-based Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA).
“We’re hoping that the victims will obtain a declaration from the court that their human rights were violated, and that they will be awarded compensation for their suffering,” says Saramba Kandeh from Aids Free World.
The second attempt to seek justice relates to more than fifty people from West Africa allegedly murdered by Jammeh’s paramilitary unit known as ‘The Junglers’ in 2005. Interviews with 30 former Gambian officials who have spoken out since Jammeh was removed reveal that the victims were arrested on suspicion of being mercenaries plotting a coup.
Supported by Human Rights Watch (HRW), Martin Kyere, the sole known survivor of this massacre, has asked the Gambian government to investigate this new evidence and potentially seek Jammeh’s extradition and prosecution in Ghana.
Too much too soon?
For now, the prospects for a criminal prosecution of Jammeh in the Gambia look somewhat distant. In October 2017, Gambian and international rights groups, including HRW and TRIAL International, launched the #Jammeh2Justice campaign. But these groups are treading cautiously. Some have expressed fears that a trial so quickly after the changeover in power could be destabilising, while there are also questions about Gambia’s current capacity to deal with historical abuses. Although there are many highly-trained lawyers in the country, many state institutions were neglected for 22 years under Jammeh.
“For both institutional and political security reasons, it is widely acknowledged that the country is not yet prepared to see…Jammeh extradited,” says a recent report written by the Wayamo Foundation and the Africa Group for Justice and Accountability.
Indeed, while the new government has expressed an interest in taking the former president to trial, it is currently focusing on the creation of a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC). The commission is due to start work in summer 2018 and, somewhat unusually, will also be responsible for awarding reparations.
A matter of time
Even if it is likely to be a while before serious attempts to haul Jammeh before a Gambian court, the days of deposed dictators disappearing into protected exile are long gone. Just two years ago, Chad’s former dictator Hissene Habre was finally jailed for widespread human rights abuses committed in the 1980s.
Habre’s trial before the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), an ad hoc hybrid trial set up by the African Union within the existing Senegalese justice system, was the first time a former African head of state was judged before the courts of another African country. The EAC achieved a verdict in ten months at a cost of just $9 million. The trial was praised for having an all-African bench and court officials, and Chadian victims played a vocal role with many of them attending the trial in Dakar.
As I argue in my new book, the Habre trial has enormous political and symbolic significance because it shows that Africa can be serious about tackling historical cases of human rights abuses. It also sends a clear message – that victims can keep fighting for justice for 25 years and eventually bring a dictator to justice. The same could prove true again in the case of The Gambia.
“Slowly, but surely, The Gambia will reign in the rope on Jammeh. It won’t be today and it may not be next year or even the year after that. But one day, the political and legal conditions for justice for Jammeh will be met,” says Mark Kersten, editor of the Justice in Conflict blog.
“Jammeh will have over-stayed his welcome in Equatorial Guinea, he won’t have enough money to buy more time, and The Gambia will enjoy the stability and have the capacity to put him on trial before the eyes of Jammeh’s victims. It will take a lot of work to make that day happen, but there’s no shortage of effort and energy in The Gambia to realise justice for Jammeh’s crimes.”
Justice is a concept rarefied in being both abstract in idealization and concrete when implemented by a Court. No person is above the law as each person must be held accountable in being responsible for actions undertaken and or committed with their consent whether direct or implied as this is for a court of competent jurisdiction to decide without fear or favour.
Heads of Government and Heads of State themselves must defer to law with no expectations of special privilege attributed to Head of State or Head of Government status.
No parliament or legislative assembly designed by man has the privilege to exempt anyone who for reasons of privilege wishes to evade judgement.
Society demands from all Citizens absolute equality before law. Unfortunately, citizens with privilege in power desire to be made an exception from judicial rendering.
My hope is Society will prevail in assuring to all peoples, regardless of rank and status all citizens shall and will be judged according to the charges presented as judicial rendering is to be conducted within a veil of open transparency subject to already agreed rules of procedure designed not for arbitrary punitive redress.
Rather, all peoples with an interest in the pleadings will have an opportunity to be heard in favour or against and that the judgement will be rendered in a decision not tainted by animus and or bias.
Leaders who elect to suggest to their respective national parliament or national legislature that an extraordinary exception be made in virtue of public office are in reality Leaders weak, venal, corrupt.
My wish is for the peoples of the nation to rise up together and in a voice clear loud say no!
No to Executive Privilege.
No to having the illegitimate spoils remain with the [former] Head of Government.
Justice is key and justice should prevail. Former President of the Gambia, Yayah Jammeh, should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity,otherwise, this is will be a bad precedent for Africa where human rights abuse continue to be become a norm. Although the issue of security may be of concern in the Gambia scenario , that shouldn’t be an excuse for the delay in the prosecution former President Jammeh . After all, we have regional, continental and global integrations having a military wing to tackle any security issue by its member state. Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, etc., being a case in point. Apart from former President Jammeh, we have hanging issue of human rights abuses by the outgoing President of Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma. There is the intention of Group for Global Peace (GGP), Prince Foday being the Chief Executive, to contact victims of human rights abuse by the former President of Sierra Leone. Examples have to set on perpetrators of human rights abuse, otherwise, the global peace that we all desire will be doomed.
Justice is key and justice should prevail. Former President of the Gambia, Yayah Jammeh, should be prosecuted for crimes against humanity,otherwise, this is will be a bad precedent for Africa, where human rights abuse continue to become a norm. Although the issue of security may be of concern in the Gambia scenario , that should not be an excuse for the delay in the prosecution of former President Jammeh . After all, we have regional, continental and global integrations having a military wing to tackle any security issue by its member state. Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, etc., being a case in point of the success of such security intervention. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission by the Gambia is a great move but there is need to consider the African court of justice or international court of justice too in prosecuting former President Jammeh. Many heads had to roll under the Jammeh regime and those many skulls under the mud needs justice. Apart from former President Jammeh, we have the hanging issue of human right abuses by the outgoing President of Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma. Ernest Bai Koroma has to answer to the health negligence that led to the death of many during the Ebola epidemic, the mudslide that lead to the many deaths as a result of environmental lethargy even where his government was alerted about it, the cruesome death of Abdul N. Mustapha, and many more. There is the intention of Global Equal Rights and Justice Group (GERJUG) formally Global Peace Group (GPG) to contact victims and bereaved families connected to the human rights abuse by the former President of Sierra Leone, Ernest Bai Koroma. Examples have to set on the perpetrators of human rights abuse, otherwise, the global peace that we all desire will be doomed.