Victims of the former Gambian government of Yahya Jammeh and their supporters reacted with indignation to a declaration by the president of Equatorial Guinea Teodoro Obiang Nguema that he would “protect” the exiled leader from justice.
“By what right can one dictator protect another from justice?” asked Baba Hydara, son of Deyda Hydara, editor of The Point newspaper who was murdered in 2004.
“Those of us whose relatives were killed, who were tortured or raped in prison, who were shot for peacefully demonstrating, who were forced into Jammeh’s phony HIV ‘treatment’ program, have a right to justice that will not be denied, and we will fight however long it takes.”
Jammeh fled The Gambia in January 2017 for exile in Equatorial Guinea after losing December 2016 presidential elections to current president Adama Barrow.
In a January 17, 2018 interview with RFI and France 24, President Obiang said that he had given no guarantees of Jammeh’s immunity and would “analyze any extradition request with [his] lawyers.”
However, after meeting with Guinea’s president Alpha Condé, who helped negotiate Jammeh’s departure from The Gambia, Obiang reversed himself on January 26 and said that he would reject any extradition request.
“I totally agree with [Condé]. It is necessary to protect [Yahya Jammeh], he must be respected as a former head of state in Africa, because it is a guarantee that the other heads of state who must leave power will not be afraid of the harassment they may suffer later,” said Obiang.
In the meantime, President Barrow of The Gambia said in several press interviews on January 25 that he was “more than willing” to open discussions about Jammeh’s extradition if that course was recommended by Gambia’s Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission which has been established by legislation.
“Presidents Obiang and Condé have no right to usurp the decision of the Gambian people as to whether Jammeh’s alleged crimes should be prosecuted,“ said Madi Jobarteh, Program Manager for the Association of NGOs in the Gambia (TANGO). ”The African Union and ECOWAS should support our demands for justice, as they did in the Hissène Habré case, and not stand in our way.”
The Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice, which brings together Gambian victims and national and international rights groups, noted that that the 1984 UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which Equatorial Guinea ratified in 2002, obliges states to either prosecute or extradite alleged torturers who enter its territory.
On July 20, 2012, in a unanimous decision, the International Court of Justice ruled that, because of this “no safe haven” provision in the torture convention, Senegal was obliged to prosecute or extradite Chad’s former dictator Hissène Habré, who was put on trial shortly thereafter.
“By suggesting that once you have been a head of state you can never be prosecuted no matter what crimes you commit against your people, Obiang and Condé want to give rulers a blank check to murder and torture with complete impunity,” said Ayeesha Jammeh, whose father Haruna Jammeh, and his sister Marcie, cousins of Yahya Jammeh, were murdered in 2005 after criticizing the former leader.
“We Gambian victims won’t accept that and I’m sure no one in Africa will.”
Ironically, in his farewell speech as African Union president two days later, Alpha Condé announced that “we are no longer a trade union of heads of state who protect each other.”
In 22 years of autocratic rule, Jammeh’s government used killings, enforced disappearances, torture, intimidation, sexual violence, and arbitrary arrests to suppress dissent and preserve its grip on power. In one 2005 incident, over 50 migrants, including 44 from Ghana, were massacred by Jammeh’s security forces.
Jammeh coerced some 9000 Gambians—the great majority of whom were living with HIV—into receiving his herbal remedies through a sham “Presidential Alternative Treatment Program.”
The Campaign said that it was seeking Jammeh’s extradition for trial in The Gambia, but understood that this could take several years as political, security and institutional concerns need to be addressed before Jammeh could get a fair trial that would help promote the rule of law in The Gambia.
“President Obiang, whose government continues to use torture, arbitrary arrests and extra judicial killings against its critics, cannot be allowed to hide behind the mantle of ‘African solidarity’ to deprive the people of The Gambia of justice,” said Tutu Alicante, head of EG Justice, the leading organization campaigning for human rights in Equatorial Guinea.