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Gambian government ready to prosecute ex-dictator Jammeh

The Gambian government said Wednesday it is willing to prosecute former dictator Yahya Jammeh for a "myriad of crimes" committed by the regime during his more than 20-year rule.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 01, 2016 Incumbent Gambian president Yahya Jammeh (C) has his finger inked before casting his marble in a polling station in a presidential poll, in Banjul. – The Gambian government said on May 25, 2022 it is willing to prosecute former dictator Yahya Jammeh for a “myriad of crimes” committed by the regime during his more than 20-year rule. (Photo by MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

The Gambian government said Wednesday it is willing to prosecute former dictator Yahya Jammeh for a “myriad of crimes” committed by the regime during his more than 20-year rule.

The Ministry of Justice said in a statement that it accepted all but two of the 265 recommendations made by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), “notably the prosecution of ex-President Yahya Jammeh, for a myriad of crimes committed between 1994 and 2017”.

The former dictator is living in exile in Equatorial Guinea, which has no extradition treaty with The Gambia.

The ministry also accepted recommendations to prosecute alleged perpetrators named by the truth commission, including senior officials.

Justice Minister Dawda Jallow said in a press conference that he would create a special prosecutor’s office and a special court inside The Gambia with the option of holding sittings in other jurisdictions.

“Impunity is a kind of incentive that we are not prepared to serve perpetrators. Those who contemplate committing gross human rights violations must also have no doubt that one day society will hold them accountable for their actions,” Jallow said.

“Their resolve to commit these atrocities cannot be stronger than our collective will as a society to hold them to account.”

The truth commission found that 240 to 250 people, including AFP journalist Deyda Hydara, were killed by the state during the eccentric ex-leader’s rule. Established in 2017, it heard chilling testimony from nearly 400 people before ending in May 2021.

Rights activists accuse Jammeh, who turned 57 on Wednesday, of committing a litany of crimes, from using death squads to raping a beauty queen and sponsoring witch hunts.

The former president has also been accused of administering phony HIV “treatment” programmes and of the massacre of some 50 African migrants in 2005.

In a report released in November after two delays, the commission recommended prosecuting the former president and 69 other alleged perpetrators. The government had until Wednesday to respond.

Jammeh was forced into exile in early 2017 after his shock electoral defeat to current President Adama Barrow and a six-week crisis that led to military intervention by other West African states.

Barrow, who was re-elected in December, last year formed a political alliance with Jammeh’s former party.

Though the ex-dictator himself rejected the deal, Barrow then nominated two known Jammeh supporters as speaker and deputy speaker of parliament.

‘Important and meaningful step forward’
For Fatoumatta Sandeng, spokeswoman for the Jammeh2Justice campaign, a coalition of victims’ groups, Wednesday’s white paper is just the next step in a long healing process.

Her own father, Ebrima Solo Sandeng, a member of the opposition United Democratic Party, was tortured and killed by security services in 2016.

“Truth and reconciliation commissions have been launched in many countries,” she said, adding that their recommendations are often ignored.

“The most important work right now is to make sure the recommendations are respected, implemented, and you don’t just put it aside like other commissions.”

Reed Brody, a lawyer with the International Commission of Jurists who works with Jammeh’s victims, called the ministry’s response to the truth commission “an important and meaningful step forward”.

“Now the government will have to demonstrate with concrete actions to an increasingly sceptical 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, and Yahya Jammeh has to be brought into custody.”

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