The Gambia Government White Paper on the TRRC Report is a huge step in the right direction, but …
I once remarked to someone: “I wish former President Yahya Jammeh a long and healthy life we all share.” He replied in shock: “What?” I repeated my statement and pointed out to him that Yahya Jammeh was more useful to us as a country alive than dead.
I said to him, “look at Liberia which was led for years by the late Samuel Doe until he was overthrown and killed by rebels led by Charles Taylor. Although people have forgotten about him, the legacy of his misrule still haunts Liberia.” In the same vein, Yahya Jammeh would probably be forgotten almost as soon as he dies, but the tragic legacy of his 22 years of dictatorial rule will live with us for a very long time to come.
It is for this reason that I told my friend that I pray that we all live to see his trial for the crimes he as inflicted on Gambians and people of other nationalities. I also pray that we all live to see him convicted of his crimes, and thrown into jail at Mile 2 Prison he called his “hotel” because he was fond of throwing people there, often on false charges. And I pray that we also live to see the day when name of Mile 2 Prison would be changed to “Yahya Jammeh Prison” or “Yahya Jammeh Hotel.”
I would love to see him thrown in jail because taking him to court (instead of summarily executing him, as he did to some of his victims) would inculcate a culture of justice in us, Gambians. By giving him a fair trial, we would be according to him the right to justice that he so cruelly and unjustly denied many people.
Secondly, having Yahya Jammeh serve out a life sentence at Mile 2 Prison would be a lesson that many can learn from — every day. Mile 2 Prison is just outside Banjul, meaning that every day, people going to and from there would be reminded by the detention of Yahya Jammeh there that no one is above the law. I have no idea whether my prayers would be answered, but recent events have provided me evidence that Allah is certainly listening.
On May 25, 2022 the government of The Gambia released its White Paper on the recommendations of the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC). The TRRC was created by the TRRC Act 2017 of the National Assembly to establish the nature, causes, and extent of violations and human rights abuses during former President Jammeh’s rule from July 1994 to January 2017, to consider the granting of reparation to victims of his abuses, promote reconciliation, help prevent the recurrence of such misrule in the country.
The TRRC worked for two and a half years between 2018 and 2021, and conducted research, visited sites of human rights abuses, and outreach activities. The TRR also held public hearings in which 392 witnesses testified about widespread abuses of public office under former President Jammeh, including arbitrary arrests and detentions, sexual and gender-based violence, witch hunting, inhumane and degrading treatment, and a fake HIV-AIDS treatment program.
Former President Jammeh also presided over widespread and systematic torture, extrajudicial killings, and enforced disappearances, especially by the Junglers and officials of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), both of which were under his direct command and control. The TRRC concluded its public hearings in May 2021, and submitted its much-anticipated final report to the government in December 2021.
The TRRC Act mandates that no later than six months after the submission of the TRRC report, the Gambia government should publish a White Paper on its plan for the implementation of the recommendations of the TRRC report. As such, the Gambia government published its White Paper on May 25, 2022 amid much fanfare and celebration! It certainly is no exaggeration to say that the public release of the government’s White Paper was one of the finest moments of President Adama Barrow’s government, which has often been criticized for being too cozy with supporters of former President Jammeh.
To the surprise of many, and to everyone’s relief, the Gambia government accepted all except two of the TRRC recommendations. Specifically, government accepted all TRRC recommendations regarding the prosecution of former President Jammeh for various crimes committed during his rule.
The government thus accepted the TRRC recommendation that members of the former AFPRC junta namely, Yahya Jammeh, Sanna B. Sabally, Edward Singhatey and Yankuba Touray should be prosecuted for unlawful arrests and detention of former Ministers and political opponents. The White Paper also noted that while The Gambia currently has no statutory provision under which an individual can be charged for the crime of torture, international law provides a basis to bring such charges against the said individuals.
With regards to the summary executions of soldiers involved in the abortive coup of November 1994, the Gambia government White Paper states that government accepts the TRRC recommendation that AFPRC junta members Yahya Jammeh, Sanna Sabally, Edward Singhatey and Yankuba Touray, as well as senior military officers Baboucarr Jatta, Peter Singhatey and Papu Gomez be prosecuted “as appropriate” for the murders/unlawful killings, torture as well as inhumane and degrading treatment of the coup plotters. Furthermore, the government is developing a Prosecution Strategy to implement this recommendation.
The White Paper also states that the government accepts the TRRC recommendation for the prosecution of Yahya Jammeh, Edward Singhateh, Yankuba Touray and Peter Singhatey for their roles in the premeditated murder of Ousman Koro Ceesay, former Minister of Finance, and for “subverting the course of justice by covering up their crime.” The White Paper also notes that this recommendation has been partially implemented following the conviction and sentencing of Yankuba Touray for his part in the murder of Mr. Ceesay. Furthermore, government will seek the extradition of those living outside the country, and explore the possibility of their prosecution in the countries they reside in.
The government also accepted the TRRC recommendations that Jammeh, his former Vice President Dr. Isatou Njie Saidy Baboucarr Jatta, and Ousman Badjie should be prosecuted for the arbitrary arrests, detentions, tortures, injuries, and killings of student demonstrators in April 2000. However, the government rejected the TRRC recommendation that Vice President Njie Saidy should be denied amnesty for her alleged crimes because she “did not give a full and truthful disclosure” to the TRRC.
The Gambia government also rejected the TRRC recommendation to grant amnesty to Sana Sabally who was a founding member of the AFPRC junta. Mr. Sabally, who gained notoriety for his penchant for violence, as well subjecting people to torture and human rights abuses, went on to suffer those abuses after he fell out with Jammeh in January 1995.
With regards to some foreign judges who served Jammeh’s interests, the TRRC recommended that they should be banned from holding public office in The Gambia. However, the government rejected this recommendation, arguing that it is unfair of the TRRC to characterize the Judges as “mercenary Judges,” especially considering that they were not provided opportunities to defend themselves. Government was also mindful of the need to maintain cordial bilateral relations with the countries which provided these foreign judges under technical assistance programs; some of which are on-going.
The government also rejected the TRRC recommendation that Ousman Sowe, current Director General of the State Intelligence Service (SIS), formerly the NIA, should be banned from holding public office for a minimum of 10 years for “the destruction and concealment of evidence at the NIA.” The TRRC reported that Mr. Sowe, against the advice of his legal officer, “deliberately and with willful intent” presided over the destruction of material evidence when he renovated NIA premises, including rooms and facilities used to torture people.
In his January 2021 appearances before the TRRC, Mr. Sowe insisted that he did not intend to conceal evidence, and that he was not aware that the NIA would be the focus of TRRC’s investigations, or that human rights abuses occurred at the NIA. This from someone who rose to be the Deputy Director General of the NIA during former President Jammeh’s rule, and according to testimony before the TRRC was present when some people were tortured at the NIA.
Despite all of this, the government rejected the TRRC recommendation to ban Mr. Sowe from holding public office because the alleged actions happened in May 2017, which fell outside the period covered by the TRRC mandate. Be that as it may, Mr. Sowe admitted that he had engaged in acts which helped conceal NIA crimes. As such, and I should say here that I’m not a lawyer, he committed a crime by concealing crimes. For this reason, Mr. Sowe should be charged for concealment of crimes and prosecuted as anyone who aids and abets a crime should be.
But I’m sure its wishful thinking for me to call for the prosecution of Mr. Sowe who is presently the Director General of the SIS. Nevertheless, I’m sure and satisfied that Mr. Sowe knows that in the eyes and minds of many Gambians, especially the victims of former President Jammeh’s abuses, he has done them great disservice for which he will never get forgiveness. Certainly not from me.