Gambia investigators urge justice for abuses under Jammeh

BANJUL, Gambia (AP) — Investigators with Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission delivered a final report to the president Thursday, identifying and recommending prosecution for those most responsible for crimes and human rights abuses committed during the 22-year rule of former President Yahya Jammeh.

After receiving the report, President Adama Barrow said he hoped the commission will be one of his legacies as a leader of Gambia.

Following his election in 2016, Barrow vowed to right the wrongs of the past, especially widespread abuses under previous leader Jammeh. The commission was mandated to establish an impartial historical record of abuses committed from July 1994 to January 2017, when Jammeh fled into exile after losing elections. More than two years of hearings that led to the report documented human rights abuses and horrors that occurred under Jammeh’s rule.

Its submission comes just before Gambia’s 2 million people are set to vote in presidential elections on Dec. 4, in which Barrow is running for re-election against five other candidates.

After submitting the report, Commission chair Lamin J. Sise said that “the individuals involved in perpetrating the violations and abuses must be held accountable for their crimes” and their names are “mentioned expressly in the relevant sections of the report.”

The commission found that the abuses resulted in the deaths of “240 to 250 Gambians and non-Gambians in the hands of (the) state or its agents.”

Sise did not mention the names of those the commission has recommended for prosecution, however, Jammeh is likely among them, according to experts.

“The evidence is in … We have the truth,” said Baba Hydara, whose father Deyda Hydara was a newspaper editor killed in 2004.

“Now we need justice,” he said. “Justice for my father, justice for all of Jammeh’s victims, and justice for Gambian society as a whole.”

The Gambia National Human Rights Commission called on the government to commit to implementing the recommendations of the report.

The government now “has the duty to take the next important step,” the national human rights watchdog said in a statement issued today and seen by The AP. “We hereby urge the President, to consider and share the report with all relevant stakeholders … and put in place all the necessary mechanisms, institutions, processes, and resources to implement all the recommendations fully and adequately within a realistic timeframe.”

Similar calls were reiterated by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, urging the Barrow administration to make sure that victims get redress.

Jammeh is likely at the top of the list of former officials whose prosecution is recommended, Reed Brody of the International Commission of Jurists, who works with Jammeh’s victims, said.

“Witnesses with first-hand knowledge implicated Jammeh in murder, torture, rape and the other terrible crimes cited by the commission,” said Brody.

“This report begins the countdown to the day Yahya Jammeh will have to face his victims. Whether it’s in The Gambia or before an international court, it will be very difficult now for him to escape justice,” he said.

The commission’s report will not be made immediately public.

Barrow, who received the report in Gambia’s capital, Banjul, now has six months to release a paper on how to implement the recommendations submitted by the commission. He promised Thursday that “justice will be done.”

“I assure (victims’ families) that my government will ensure that justice is done, but I urge them to be patient and allow the legal process to take its course,” said the Gambian leader. He promised that his white paper would be filed within six months. He will, in the mean time, share copies of the report with the country’s lawmaking body, U.N. Secretary-General and the African Union.

“In the interim, I advise all Gambians to exercise restraint,” Barrow reiterated.

A recent rapprochement between Barrow’s National People’s Party and the former governing party has cast doubt on the authorities’ willingness to right the wrongs of the past in making sure justice is served.

Barrow sought an alliance with Jammeh’s former party in September, a move denounced by rights activists. Jammeh, however, has formed a rival party, with many of his supporters hoping he will return from exile.

Jammeh, who seized power in 1994 in a bloodless coup, was voted out of office in 2016 after opposition parties created a coalition with Barrow as the main candidate.

After initially agreeing to step down, Jammeh resisted and a six-week crisis saw neighboring West African countries prepare to send in troops to stage a military intervention. Jammeh was forced into exile and fled to Equatorial Guinea aboard a plane with his family and many belongings.

The 56-year-old Jammeh still has considerable support in the tiny West African nation, despite the abuses under his rule.

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Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.

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