By Mustapha Darboe
The United States government yesterday announced it has sanctioned former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh under a 2016 human rights law, a statement from the Treasury Department confirmed.
A press release from the Treasury Department noted that the Trump administration has used the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act that former President Obama signed in 2016 to freeze the assets of Jammeh and a dozen other “serious human rights abusers and corrupt actors” around the world.
US president Donald Trump on Thursday signed an executive order “declaring a national emergency with respect to serious human rights abuse and corruption around the world and providing for the imposition of sanctions on actors engaged in these malign activities.”
A number of companies affiliated to Jammeh were mentioned in the press statement such as Africada Airways, Africada Financial Services and Bureau de Change, Africada Insurance Company, Africada Micro-Finance Ltd, Atlantic Pelican Company Ltd, Kanilai Group International (KGI International Company Ltd), Kanilai Worni Family Farms Ltd, Kora Media Corporation Ltd, Palm Grove Africa Development Corporation Ltd, Patriot Insurance Brokers Company Ltd, Royal Africa Capital Holding Ltd (Royal Africa Holding), and Royal Africa Securities Brokerage Co Ltd, among others.
Some of these companies are owned by businessman Ebrahim Sanyang who had protested when a Gambia high court placed a temporary freezing order on them saying the former president has no relations with them
President Jammeh is alleged to have created a hit squad known as “the Junglers” that terrorised and killed numerous political foes, including religious leaders, journalists and dissidents, during his time in power from 1994 to 2017.
Jammeh is also accused of plundering his country’s treasury by stealing at least $50 million in state funds.
Yankuba Badjie, another subject of the sanction, is the former Gambia spy chief who is alleged to have overseen the murder of many including opposition figures.
Jammeh reportedly owns a US$3.5 million compound in Potomac, US and rights groups have long called for his assets to be frozen.
Months ago, the Gambian authorities froze the assets of Mr Jammeh and stationed his fleet of expensive cars and announced the auctioning his aircraft.
The US Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control also sanctioned “39 affiliated individuals and entities” under the directive.
“Today, alongside the president and the Department of the Treasury, the Department of State took action against persons who have committed serious human rights abuse and engaged in corruption around the world,” said Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in a statement. “The department is committed to protecting and promoting human rights and combatting corruption with all of the tools at our disposal.”
“Today’s actions advance our values and promote the security of the United States, our allies, and our partners,” he added. “We must lead by example, and today’s announcement of sanctions demonstrates the United States will continue to pursue tangible and significant consequences for those who commit serious human rights abuse and engage in corruption.”
Jammeh who stepped down in January after he lost to current President Adama Barrow in the country’s 2016 presidential election. Jammeh is in exile in Equatorial Guinea.
A report that Human Rights Watch released in 2015 stated that police and officials with Gambia’s National Intelligence Agency “promptly rounded up” dozens of people “on suspicion of their sexual orientation” after Jammeh signed a law that sought to impose a life sentence upon anyone found guilty of “aggravated homosexuality.”
Jammeh in 2015 said he would slit the throats of gay men in his country. He has also described gay men as “vermins” and said homosexuality is among the three “biggest threats to human existence.”
The Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act is an expansion of the Magnitsky Act, which freezes the assets of Russian citizens who commit human rights abuses and bans them from entering the US.
The law is named after Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian lawyer who died in a Moscow prison in 2009 after authorities arrested him after he investigated a US$230 million tax fraud scheme.