BANJUL, Gambia (AP) – Investigators from the Gambia Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission on Thursday presented a final report to the president listing those responsible for crimes and human rights abuses that occurred during the 22-year rule of former President Yahya. Most responsible, identified and prosecuted is Jammeh.
Upon receiving the report, President Adama Barrow said he hoped the commission would be one of his legacies as the leader of the Gambia.
After his election in 2016, Barrow vowed to redress the wrongs of the past, particularly the widespread abuses under former leader Jammeh. The commission was tasked with compiling an impartial historical record of the human rights violations that occurred from July 1994 to January 2017, when Jammeh fled into exile after losing elections. Over two years of hearings leading up to the report documented human rights violations and horrors that occurred under Jammeh’s rule.
His submission comes just before Gambia’s 2 million people vote in the presidential election on December 4th, in which Barrow is running for re-election against five other candidates.
Following the presentation of the report, the chairman of the commission, Lamin J. Sise, said that “those involved in the violations and abuses must be held accountable for their crimes” and that their names “are specifically mentioned in the appropriate sections of the report will”.
The commission found that the abuses resulted in the deaths of “240 to 250 Gambians and non-Gambians at the hands of the state or its agents”.
Sise did not reveal the names of those the commission recommended for prosecution, but Jammeh is likely among them, according to experts.
“The evidence is in … We have the truth,” said Baba Hydara, whose father Deyda Hydara was killed while working as a newspaper editor in 2004.
“Now we need justice,” he said. “Justice for my father, justice for all victims of Jammeh, and justice for Gambian society as a whole.”
The Gambia National Human Rights Commission called on the government to commit to implementing the report’s recommendations.
The government now has “a duty to take the next important step,” the national human rights watchdog said in a statement released today and seen by The AP. “We hereby request the President to review the report and share it with all relevant stakeholders … and put in place all the necessary mechanisms, institutions, processes and resources to implement all recommendations fully and appropriately within a realistic timeframe.”
Similar calls, repeated by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International, urged the Barrow government to ensure victims receive redress.
Jammeh is likely high on the list of former officials whose prosecution is recommended, said Reed Brody, of the International Commission of Jurists, who works with Jammeh’s victims.
“First-hand witnesses have implicated Jammeh in murder, torture, rape and the other horrific crimes cited by the commission,” Brody said.
“With this report begins the countdown to the day Yahya Jammeh will have to face his victims. Whether in Gambia or in an international court, it will now be very difficult for him to escape justice, ”he said.
The Commission’s report will not be published immediately.
Barrow, who received the report in the Gambia’s capital, Banjul, now has six months to publish a paper on the implementation of the Commission’s recommendations. He promised on Thursday that “justice will be done”.
“I assure (the families of the victims) that my government will ensure justice, but I urge them to be patient and let the trial run its course,” said the Gambian leader. He promised to submit his white paper within six months. In the meantime, he will circulate copies of the report to the country’s legislature, the UN Secretary-General and the African Union.
“In the meantime, I advise all Gambians to exercise restraint,” repeated Barrow.
A recent rapprochement between the Barrows National People’s Party and the former ruling party has cast doubt on the willingness of the authorities to correct past wrongs to ensure justice is done.
Barrow sought an alliance with Jammeh’s former party in September, which was denounced by human rights activists. However, Jammeh has formed a rival party that many of his followers hope will return from exile.
Jammeh, who took power in a bloodless coup in 1994, was voted out of office in 2016 after opposition parties formed a coalition with Barrow as the main candidate.
After initially agreeing to resign, Jammeh resisted and, in a six-week crisis, neighboring West African countries prepared to send troops for military intervention. Jammeh was forced into exile and fled with his family and many belongings on a plane to Equatorial Guinea.
56-year-old Jammeh still has significant support in the tiny West African nation despite the abuses under his rule.
Petesch reported from Dakar, Senegal.
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