By Waceke Njoroge
As had been widely expected, the report of The Gambia’s Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, which was finally released to the public on December 24, 2021, has former president Yahya Jammeh at the top of the list of the people recommended for prosecution for the various crimes that were committed during the 22 years of his dictatorship.
The 17-volume report, which was handed to President Adama Barrow on November 25, 2021, but only made public a month later by Justice Minister Dawda A. Jallow at the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara International Conference Centre in Bijilo, The Gambia, includes a record of serious human rights violations committed during Jammeh’s repressive regime and recommendations for the pursuit of justice.
The commission found that the abuses start right from the time of the bloodless military coup on July 22, 1994.
“The Junta’s crackdown on civil and political rights, fundamental rights and freedoms commenced immediately after the military takeover. Decrees 70 and 71 were passed limiting freedom of expression. The Newspaper Act (Amendment) Decree introduced harsh and draconian laws to curtail freedom of expression and a free press.”
Prominent politicians, ordinary citizens, and members of the then ruling People’s Progressive Party (PPP) were arbitrarily arrested and tortured as the junta resorted to ruling by decree.
The commission recommends that all the military members of the junta – Jammeh, Sanna B. Sabally, Edward Singhatey, and Yankuba Touray – and senior military officers who participated in the November 11, 1994 torture and killing of the captured suspected counter-coup plotters – Baboucarr Jatta, Peter Singhatey, and Papu Gomez – be prosecuted for murder/unlawful killing, torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment.
It also says all the decrees made by the junta, which are susceptible to rights violations and abuses, should be repealed.
The commission recommends the prosecution of Jammeh, Edward Singhatey, Touray, and Peter Singhatey for their role in the premeditated murder of Ousman Koro Ceesay, the minister of Finance and Trade, in June 1995, and also subverting the course of justice by covering up their crime. According to witness accounts, Ceesay was bludgeoned to death by Touray and the Singhatey brothers, then his body staged to appear as though he had died in a car accident.
On attacks on road users in connection with accidents and deaths caused by the presidential convoy, the commission found that soldiers in Jammeh’s convoy terrorised, traumatised, intimidated, bullied, and beat other road users, including those by the roadside. Failing to stand up when the presidential convoy was passing was considered a crime and the presidential guards summarily inflicted punishment on those who did not show “respect” to the president.
The commission recommends that members of the convoys of the president and junta vice-chairman Sanna B. Sabally, including Jammeh, be investigated and prosecuted for murder, manslaughter, and other road traffic offences. It also recommends that Parliament enact legislation and/or regulations limiting the privileges of convoys, including the president’s. The rules could be included in the Motor Traffic Act or Highway Code.
For the aftermath of the student demonstrations of April 10 and 11, 2000, during which 14 people were shot dead by security personnel, the TRRC recommends the prosecution of Jammeh for “…the atrocities against students such as arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, tortures, assaults causing harm and killings of the demonstrators…” It says that as Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, he gave the orders and instructions that led to the killings; he failed to investigate and prosecute members of the security forces who committed the violations; and sought to shield them from responsibility by enacting the Indemnity Act, which exonerated public officials from liability.
On attacks on the media and freedom of expression, the commission says Jammeh should be investigated and prosecuted for the murder of The Point newspaper co-founder and editor Deyda Hydara, the disappearance of journalist Chief Ebrima Manneh, the arson attacks on Radio 1 FM and The Independent newspaper, and the torture of all journalists and other persons mentioned in relation to the Freedom Online Newspaper issue.
The former president should also be prosecuted for attacks on religious freedoms, particularly in the unlawful arrest, detention, and torture of Bakawsu Fofana, Sheikh Muhideen Hydara, Dr. Dumbuya, Ismaila Manjang, Imam Baba Leigh, Imam Alhagie Ousman Sawaneh, Imam Karamo Touray, Imam Omar Colley, Lasana Fatty and Imam Cherno Gassama and the persecution of minority religious groups.
The commission found that Jammeh had created the Junglers as a kill squad to be used to eliminate his enemies or people he perceived as threats to his rule. It recommends the prosecution of Jammeh for the crimes committed by the Junglers on his orders and a life ban on his holding of any public office. All the Junglers, and other persons listed for their complicity in the crimes should also be prosecuted unless they are granted amnesty.
TRRC also recommends the introduction of a mandatory course for all soldiers on human rights and on the role of the military in a democratic society. Further, it suggests putting in place a mechanism to identify the burial sites of the victims of the Junglers, exhume their remains, and conduct their proper identification with a view to handing them over to their families for proper burial. It wants the killing of Gambia Armed Forces soldier attached to the State House Mariama Camara and her husband, Alpha Jallow, at Hamza Barracks further investigated with a view to prosecuting those found responsible.
On the President’s Alternative Treatment Programme (PATP), in which HIV and Aids patients were herded into treatment camps and forced to ingest Jammeh’s herbal conconctions that he claimed could cure their illnesses, leading to several deaths, the commission found that the former president and Dr Tamsir Mbowe, who assisted him, should be charged with murder for “intentionally and knowingly causing the death of PLHIV (people living with HIV), who were conscripted in the sham PATP and deprived of life-saving treatment”.
They should also be prosecuted for negligence causing death; and inhumane and degrading treatment.
The TRRC report said sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV) was committed throughout the Jammeh era. Violations include rape, sexual exploitation, sexual assault, sexual harassment, and sexualised torture. The commission also found that sexual violence accompanied other violations, including forced labour. Sexual violence was used to repress, punish, intimidate, humiliate, and ill-treat men and women who were opposed to or perceived as being opposed to Jammeh or his Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) party. Members and perceived supporters of the United Democratic Party (UDP) and their family members were frequently targeted for arrest, detention, and sexual violence.
The commission recommends that Jammeh be prosecuted for rape and other forms of SGBV, including the rape of former beauty queen Fatou Jallow (Toufa) and other protected witnesses; former Cabinet minister Ousman Sonko be prosecuted for rape and other forms of SGBV, including the rape of Binta Jamba, a 15-year-old girl in Lamin Daranka, and other allegations of harassment against women; and General Solo Bojang and Captain Saihou Jallow be prosecuted for their roles as superior officers in directing and supervising the witch-hunting exercise ordered by the president in 2009 during which SGBV occurred.
The TRRC recommends the prosecution of Jammeh, Solo Bojang, and Saikou Jallow for the murder/manslaughter of 41 individuals who died after being accused of practising witchcraft and forced to drink toxic concoctions.
It also wants Jammeh, Solo Bojang, Ensa Badjie, Tambajiro, Saikou Jallow, and Omar Jawo prosecuted for inhumane and degrading treatment and torture inflicted on the victims of the witch-hunt.
Other names listed for prosecution in connection with the multiple crimes they committed, including the sexualised torture, include Foday Barry, Baba Saho, Kawsu Camara (Bombardier), Alagie Martin, Solo Bojang, and Sheikh Omar Jeng. The government, through the Department of Social Welfare, should provide and run facilities such as one-stop centres with trained staff and adequate facilities to receive and assist victims, the TRRC said.
On enforced disappearances, the commission recommends that Jammeh and the Junglers be prosecuted for the unlawful disappearances and killing of the victims, and that a task force be set up to inquire into and investigate the fate and whereabouts of persons who remain missing, and those who have been found to have been killed but the whereabouts of their remains still remains unknown.
The commission wants Jammeh and 13 accomplices prosecuted for the killing of 67 West African migrants who landed on the shores of The Gambia on July 22, 2005, and the cover-up of their murders. It also recommends the setting up of an international joint investigation team of forensic experts to investigate the matter and try to locate the remains of the migrants.