The Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) joins the world in honouring the memory of victims of gross human rights violations on the International Day for the Right to the Truth Concerning Gross Human Rights Violations and for the Dignity of Victim, observed on March 24.
Nowhere in West Africa is it harder for victims of gross human rights violations to get justice, reparations, or truth for harm suffered than in The Gambia. For twenty years, West Africa’s King of Impunity, President Yahya Jammeh, has disappeared, tortured, and murdered Gambians. Despite three rulings against The Gambia by the ECOWAS Community Court of Justice demanding the deliverance of truth and remedies, Jammeh has gotten away with his crimes.
Today, the MFWA reminds the world about President Jammeh’s vicious witch hunt six years ago, for which no one has ever accepted responsibility or been held accountable.
From January to March 2009, Jammeh ordered the kidnapping and torture of over 1,000 villagers following his aunt’s death, for which he blamed witchcraft. Jammeh brought in “witch hunters” from Guinea and Burkina Faso—and provided state security agents to accompany them—to take the villagers to secret detention centres or Jammeh’s nearby farm. There, they were tortured into confessing to witchcraft. The villagers were held for days and forced to drink potions that caused hallucinations, instant diarrhoea, and vomiting and also left long-lasting effects such as serious kidney problems. Some were severely beaten; women were raped. At least six people died.
On February 5, 2009, Halifa Sallah exposed the witch hunt in his pro-opposition paper, Foroyaa. One month later, Gambian police responded by arresting and detaining him under sedition and espionage charges. Soon after, amidst mounting pressure from international efforts to publicize the witch hunt, the witch hunt ended and the charges against Sallah were dropped. However, the victims’ internationally recognized right to a remedy and reparation continues to be denied by The Gambia’s failure to publicly disclose the truth about its involvement in these affronts to human dignity.
The culture of impunity in The Gambia has necessitated the intervention of international and regional organizations to uncover the truth and secure justice. Although the ECOWAS Authority has the power to sanction The Gambia for failing to comply with the ECOWAS Court’s judgments, it has yet to do so. In honour of the victims of the Jammeh regime, the MFWA urges ECOWAS to exercise its mandate and implement sanctions against The Gambia for its non-compliance. Such an act may finally pressure The Gambia to respect and fulfil victims’ right to truth and mark a long-awaited win in the battle against impunity.