Alagi Yorro Jallow

(JollofNews) – The National Assembly must enact a Human Rights Victims Reparations and Recognition Act, and create an independent Human Rights Victims’ Claims Board to administer a compensation fund for the human rights victims of former President Yahya Jammeh.

This fundamental legislative policy shall be intrinsic in our laws, such as a mandate of the Presidential Commission on Good Governance and Human Rights to go after the ill-gotten wealth of Yahya Jammeh, and the National Assembly to enact an Act providing for the reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during Yahya Jammeh’s regime.

The sacrifices of the great stalwarts of democracy, who fought in the most adverse circumstances against Yahya Jammeh, traitor to the Constitution and to the republic, must be recognized and cherished by all generations of freedom-loving Gambians.

The government of Adama Barrow shall acknowledge its moral and legal obligation to recognize and compensate all victims and families for the deaths, injuries, sufferings, deprivations, and damages they suffered under Jammeh’s dictatorship.

What is the price tag for all those lost years and agonizing suffering? And tell me, what is a fair price for the life of a mother, father, spouse, daughter, son, friend, cousin, or loved one? The biggest atrocity of Jammeh’s rule was the separation of wives from husbands, mothers from children, and the tearing apart of societies by killing and exiling worthy sons and daughters. What is the price of the empty chair that waits and waits for the beloved to once again sit at the table?

What is fair compensation for a broken nation? What is reasonable compensation for generational poverty and wholesale corruption in government, the twin legacies of this despicable dictator? What is sufficient compensation for families torn apart, this heartbreaking diaspora to which we see no end? But really, how can we compensate for interrupted lives? For water torture, electrocution of testicles and genitals, rape, dismemberment, solitary confinement, and years of imprisonment with no charges filed against you? For torturing you to within an inch of your life?

The state should have a policy to recognize the heroism and sacrifice of all Gambians who were victims of summary execution, torture, enforced or involuntary disappearance, and other gross human rights violations committed during the regime of Yahya Jammeh, covering the period from July 22, 1994 to January 19, 2017, and restore the victims’ honor and dignity. The State shall acknowledge its moral and legal obligation to recognize and provide reparation to all victims and/or their families for the deaths, injuries, sufferings, deprivations, and damages they suffered under Yahya Jammeh’s brutal rule.

torture victim
Torture, kidnapping and murder of government critics and opponents by security forces was prevalent in Gambia

There is no price tag, no words to describe the misery, anguish, and suffering of the thousands of Gambians who suffered from physical torture, incarceration, homelessness, economic deprivation, and loss of life. Yahya Jammeh’s rule is synonymous with a divided and plundered nation, in which people became deaf, blind, and mute, with low aspirations in life, in comparison with a segment of Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) supporters and their cohorts, who flourished and lived flamboyantly.

The assertions that Yahya Jammeh plundered the nation and violated the most basic rights of its citizens are not mere claims made on social media or over dinner conversations. They are, under the law of evidence, legislative facts that courts of law must accept as true, regardless of politics or even one’s preferred version of history. What this means is that given the status of our laws, with respect to Yahya Jammeh there can be no debate that he plundered the nation and violated human rights on a scale that required remedial action from the state.

There is nothing inspirational or worthy of imitation with respect to the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh, which can best be described as one of the darkest periods in Gambian history.

The National Assembly should enact the Presidential Commission on Good Governance and Human Rights and set up an administrative and judicial mechanism for recovering the money stolen by Yahya Jammeh and his cohorts.

The fact that millions of dollars and other immovable assets have been discovered here and abroad proves the decades-long embezzlement. The Supreme Court should make a decision and recognize the thievery of Yahya Jammeh’s regime, characterizing it as a ‘well-entrenched plundering regime of twenty-two years.’

The National Assembly shall add to the Act providing for reparation and recognition of victims of human rights violations during the regime of Yahya Jammeh. The government, in recognition of the horrors of the dictatorship, should enact a policy of using public funds to pay for Jammeh’s use of state machinery to inflict violence on Gambian citizens.

The Gambian people must complain about the human rights abuses with respect to Jammeh’s regime, and force the government to own up to the scale and intensity of the abuses inflicted during that period by offering reparations.

The Gambia is a Charter-State of the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and is, therefore, duty-bound to protect and uphold the basic rights of all its peoples. The Gambian government should value the dignity of every human person and guarantee full respect for human rights, pursuant to a declared policy and the constitution that prohibits the use of torture, force, violence, threat, intimidation, or any other means that vitiates free will and mandates the compensation and rehabilitation of victims of torture (or similar practices) and their families.

We owe new Gambia the valor and determination for the resumption of democracy and restore human rights and human dignity.

By Alagi Yorro Jallow

Mr Jallow is founder and former managing editor of The Independent, the Gambia’s only private newspaper before it was banned by the government in 2005. He was a Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy, a 2007 Nieman fellow and is the author of Delayed Democracy: How Press Freedom Collapsed in Gambia published in 2013.