By Omar Bah
American human rights lawyer has said former president Yahya Jammeh will under ‘no circumstance evade justice’ for crimes committed under his watch.
Speaking to The Standard Tuesday, International Commission of Jurists lawyer Reed Brody said: “It’s clear that he must be held accountable, that he must not escape justice, but it will be a matter of mobilising political will nationally and regionally.
“The victims are counting not just on The Gambia but also on Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal, and all the countries whose citizens were killed, to support a criminal investigation.”
Some 392 witnesses appeared before the Gambia’s truth commission which claimed that 214 murders occurred in The Gambia attributed to Jammeh and his agents in addition to enforced disappearances.
In an impassioned closing statement at the end of the commission’s public hearings, lead counsel Essa Faal propounded that former president Jammeh should be tried for crimes against humanity for the murders and gross human rights abuses he has been accused of during his 22-year rule.
The former Human Rights Watch lawyer continued: “The TRRC has implicated Jammeh personally in numerous grave crimes including murder, rape, torture, the ‘witch-hunt’ and a sham AIDS-treatment programme. We would all be shocked if the TRRC did not recommend that Jammeh be prosecuted, as well as other officials who bear the greatest responsibility from the crimes of his government.”
Commenting on the progress made by the Jammeh2Justice campaign, Brody said: “We’re all waiting for the TRRC report; that’s when the hardwork will begin. In the meantime, Jammeh’s victims have organized themselves into a powerful, audible, and visible force, whose stories and quest are known nationally and internationally.
“Our investigations brought forth evidence that Jammeh personally abused and mistreated women and that in 2005 he had ordered the massacre of some 59 West African migrants, in particular from Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal. There’s a dynamic ‘Jammeh2Justice Ghana’ coalition too which is forcing the government of Ghana to talk about accountability for the massacres of its 44 migrants. So the campaign is prepared for the next steps,” he added.
Brody said the end game is getting Equatorial Guinea to extradite or surrender Jammeh for prosecution.
“And that could be the most difficult part because President Obiang has said that he would ‘protect’ Jammeh. But Equatorial Guinea has ratified the 1984 UN Convention against torture which obliges it to either prosecute or extradite alleged torturers such as Jammeh who are on its territory, and the Convention acts as an extradition treaty between two state parties like Equatorial Guinea and The Gambia. I think President Obiang will not want to go against a regional movement for justice,” he stated.
He said the main challenge, as always, is political will.
“The victims need to convince the governments of The Gambia and Equatorial Guinea that it’s not in their interest to stand in the way of their pursuit of justice,” he said.
Brody further said: “It will be up to civil society to hold the government’s feet to the fire. TANGO, the Victims Center and groups like the Gambia Bar Association will be making an issue of the TRRC recommendations in the upcoming elections, asking the government to begin implementing the recommendations immediately and asking each of the candidates and parties to commit to putting them into practice.”
Brody said the National Human Rights Commission intends to use its mandate to press the government as well.
“There seems to be a growing consensus that the strongest option might be a ‘hybrid’ court with both Gambian and international staff, which could prosecute Jammeh-era crimes and at the same time build the capacity of the national justice system.”
A hybrid court, Brody added, “organised by Gambia and ECOWAS, could also hold trials outside of The Gambia if it were considered unwise or unsafe to hold Jammeh’s trial in The Gambia.”