Jammeh’s Trial

Africa, Europe, Asia and the Americas now speak with one voice in consolidating international justice for all. Having a court to try former Gambian President, Yayah Jammeh is a key recommendation of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC). The TRRC was set up in 2019 following Jammeh’s defeat in the elections.

Its main task was to investigate and present an impartial historical record of Jammeh’s human rights violations against fellow Gambians. TRRC Chairman, Dr Babagalleh Jalloh said the former President would be brought to justice if the recommendation is upheld. Dr Jalloh said the commission was wrapping up after it was set up two years ago.

Until 2019, Jammeh ruled the Gambia for 20 years. He received popular appraisal from within and outside the Gambia for his prudent management of a small developing economy with sound result. He was however bashed at for his poor human rights record.

Extra-judicial killings, destroying the right to freedom of expression and other violations puts Jammeh in a negative limelight. He handed over power in 2018 to President Adama Barrow apparently unwillingly. The Gambia would have seen a military intervention after Jammeh initially refused to hand over power to the winner owing to threat by Mr Barrow of a possible prosecution of the former President.

Jammeh defied an ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) warning to step down. Fearing a danger that loomed ahead, Head of Gambian Army, Osman Baggie fled while Jammeh remained. As Commander-In-Chief of Gambian Armed Forces, Jammeh reportedly ordered army personnel to dig trenches in readiness for full- scale combat operations with ECOWAS troops.

Anti-aircraft machines were also reportedly deployed to forestall possible airstrikes. Jammeh’s defiance to leave the political stage when time was up may be used against him in a future tribunal. He now seeks solace in the West African country of Equatorial Guinea.

He appears to be safe but military politics may sweep him. It happened to former President Charles Taylor who sought refuge in eastern Nigeria after an outstanding warrant of arrest was in force for his involvement in the Sierra Leone war. The former Liberian President was reportedly told to escape after Nigerian borders had been sealed off. Former President Taylor serves a 50-year jail term in a UK prison after his conviction.

Taylor aided abetted the commission of atrocious crimes in Sierra Leone for which he was held individually criminally responsible.  Considering the terrific pace international justice gathers, it is clear that Jammeh would follow suit. Throughout his leadership, the Gambia was no haven for journalists.

Jammeh’s bitterest foes were media practitioners critical of his administration. Alleged Killings, Kidnappings, disappearances and widespread terror tactics were methods employed by the former President to silence journalists who seek the truth. The methods were extreme, bizzare and compelling.

In his reign, Gambian journalists fled from the Gambia to other countries escape Jammeh’s thirst for blood. In a rage of outburst, a senior government official in the Jammeh administration said years back that the Gambia would never be a safe place for journalists.

The maxim was clear: the Gambian Government would not tolerate few people to disrupt the country’s peace. Media practitioners were seen as breeders of conflicts in the Gambia making a strong case to check their activities. Apart from his weak relationship with Gambians, Jammeh was in bad blood with the Commonwealth of Nations, an organisation of former British colonies.

The Gambia, under Jammeh, walked out of the Commonwealth, a move that isolated the country from a community of peace-loving nations. Jammeh’s withdrawal from the Commonwealth came after former British Prime Minister, David Cameron announced cutting aid to African countries that failed to recognise the rights of gays and lesbians.

The announcement made Jammeh to see Britain as a country with no moral authority to   influence nations. Britain’s stance was supported by her key ally, the United States. Former President Barrack Obama threw his weight behind the policy.

Obama looked at the plight of soldiers who pursued war in distant countries in Asia and other parts of the world. In his recognition of the right of gays and lesbians, Obama believed that it is freedom when government fears the people, but it is tyranny when the people fear government.

Jammeh was not alone in the denunciation of the former Prime Minister’s, policy. Zambabwian and Nigerian Presidents similarly opposed Britain for the country’s outrageous move.

In spite of Jammeh’s strained relationship within and outside the Gambia, the world is now more than ever united to end crimes against humanity and genocide anywhere it happened.

The world community of nations demonstrated their commitment to end such crimes following the adoption of the Rome Statute in 1998. The 1998 statute established the International Criminal Court housed at the Hague, Netherlands with an international jurisdiction.

It holds accountable political leaders and individuals who abuse the rights of their people especially genocide. Hailing nations for the move towards justice, former UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan said the Court would end impunity in various parts of the world.

The former UN Secretary-General believed that those who commit war crimes, genocide and crimes humanity will no longer be beyond the reach of Justice.

The ICC has no respect for official status. Presidents, prime ministers, kings and queens could be roped in for crimes that fall within the court’s mandate. Situation in the Gambia is very much Akin to Sierra Leone’s.

After the civil war (1991-2002), Lome Peace Agreement in 1999 recommended the setting up of a Truth and Reconciliation to establish a credible and neutral account of the war. One of its Key recommendations was to have a tribunal that would prosecute those who bear the greatest responsibility.

The court’s first Chief Prosecutor, David Crane, a professor in military law said there would be no hiding for the indictees.

Prof Crane tightened the screws especially for Charles Taylor, West Africa’s first sitting President to be indicted. President’s Taylor was a dominant personality in light his of considerable influence in the sub-region.

Leaders of various warring factions: Revolutionary United Front, Civil Defence Forces and Armed Forces Revolutionary Council were humbled in the hybrid court. The court has folded up. Its facilities at New England are not only monumental edifices but reminiscent of the processes of international justice.

It is reminder to those who wish to take the path of inciting violence to look back and think gain. Despite the aura of power Jammeh surrounding Jammeh after two decades, he is now in a tight corner outside his home country.

His activities are closely monitored with a view to bring him to justice when occasion calls for that. If the court holds, Jammeh would go into the list of West African leaders held accountable in international tribunals during and after their presidencies.

A Gambian Journalist has said there is no gift more precious for the Gambians than to see Jammeh in court for his brutality to his fellow Gambians.

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