Gambia’s truth commission has wrapped up more than two years of public hearings into alleged human rights violations committed during the 22-year rule of former dictator Yahya Jammeh.
A steady parade of witnesses concluded their testimony Friday, delivering accounts of arbitrary arrests, torture, corruption and summary executions, in some cases with the victims' bodies fed to crocodiles.
Jammeh took power in a 1994 military coup, controlling the tiny West African nation until losing the presidency to Adama Barrow in a December 2016 election. Jammeh, now 56, fled with his wife into exile in Equatorial Guinea.
Barrow’s government set up the independent Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, which began the hearings in January 2019 and heard from 392 witnesses. The commission is expected to submit a report to the president in July. Barrow then will have six months to implement the commission’s recommendations.
“The testimonies heard during the 871 days of public hearings brought pain and bewilderment,” said Lamin Sise, the commission’s chairman.
Arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention and killings, torture, enforced disappearances and sexual violence allegedly committed by Jammeh and accomplices “achieved the desired effect of instilling fear among the Gambian population,” Sise said. “It also gave them time and space to pillage the country’s resources.”
Commissioners visited a crocodile pond that Jammeh ran in his native village of Kanila. They were presented with evidence that the animals were fed people, including babies, who were killed for ritual purposes.
The commission also investigated abuses including the 2005 slaughter of roughly 50 African migrants. Lead counsel Essa Faal said that, based on testimony and other evidence, he calculated that 214 people died at the hands of Jammeh and his accomplices.
Soldiers accused of coup attempts under Jammeh’s rule were summarily executed, student protesters were massacred, and journalists were killed or exiled, said those offering testimony, which included some perpetrators.
Human Rights Watch noted, in a May 24 report, that three of Jammeh’s alleged accomplices “already have been detained and are facing trial abroad under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction.”
It said Michael Sang Correa faces trial in the United States and Bai L. in Germany, where suspects’ full names are not disclosed because of privacy rules. Both were members of Jammeh’s elite guard, called the “junglers.” Ousman Sonko, the former interior minister, faces trial in Switzerland.
The truth commission cannot convict, but it could recommend criminal charges against Jammeh and others, according to Agence France-Presse. The commission is expected to recommend steps for accountability, with proposals focusing “on the possibility of a “hybrid” court with Gambian and international staff operating within the Gambian judicial system,” Human Rights Watch said.
Faal said if Jammeh is not prosecuted in Gambia, he could be held to account elsewhere, including in the International Criminal Court in The Hague.
This report originated in VOA’s English to Africa Service.