Public hearings came to a close on 31 October at The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), which was set up to investigate human rights violations during the time of ex-President Yahya Jammeh. Jammeh was Chairman of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council from 1994 to 1996, and then President of The Gambia from 1996 to 2017.
More than 25% of Gambians claim that they or a family member have suffered some form of human rights violation under Jammeh’s regime, with allegations ranging from arrest, detention without trial, torture, rape, brutality by agents of the state, intimidation, or wrongful dismissal from work.
TRRC heard evidence from several victims and survivors over the course of several weeks (14 to 31 October), which was specifically devoted to hearing victims and survivors’ experiences of sexual violence.
Three women had made accusations against Jammeh himself; Fatou “Toufah” Jallow agreed to waive anonymity. She told TRRC that she took part in a Jammeh-sponsored beauty pageant in November 2014, as she was hoping to secure the funds to take up a university place abroad. She won the competition and as part of this met Jammeh.
Jammeh proposed marriage to her after meeting with her on three occasions. She declined. She told TRRC that, “He is a man who probably was not used to so many “no”. He could not take it that someone like me was rejecting him”. That night, Jammeh forced himself on her. “He said, let’s see if you are a virgin. I started to apologise… I didn’t even know what I was apologising for”. She claims Jammeh pulled down his pants, rubbed his genitals in her face, and injected her with a needle before raping her. After this, she disguised herself in a burka and fled to nearby Senegal.
She bravely rejected the idea that she should be silent, adding, “I know it makes people uncomfortable. But it’s okay to be uncomfortable as a society before we shift things around”. Ms Jallow verified TRRC’s beliefs that Jammeh would hire girls for sex.
The other women who chose to testify said they did so to raise awareness and empower other victims and survivors. They described being used as Jammeh’s “property” and one recounted how after rejecting Jammeh’s advances he dispensed all his offers of help and refused to see her.
It is believed by Human Rights Watch, who are campaigning to bring Jammeh and others associated with his regime to justice, that there were many more women who were sexually abused by Jammeh.
Jammeh is currently living in exile in Equatorial Guinea, where he fled in 2017 after losing the presidential election, taking with him $1 billion of public funds. Gambians appear doubtful as to whether Jammeh will ever face trial, he has been granted asylum by Equatorial Guinea’s Vice President Teodoro Obiang Ngeuma, with whom he is understood to be close, and the country has no obligation to return him to The Gambia. TRRC does not have the power to prosecute Jammeh or anyone else, and is only able to make recommendations to the Attorney General.
Whilst Jammeh’s fate remains to be seen, one hopes that The Gambia’s “never again” movement will empower those impacted to speak out, and will invoke the government to take steps to enact real change.
Written by Amanda Munro at BLM