Rights Group Accuse Former Gambian Ruler Of Sexual Offences

It has been reported by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and TRIAL International that three women have accused Gambian ex-President Yahya Jammeh of sexual assault. Eight former officials have also anonymously claimed to have direct knowledge of the events described in the report. They have stated that Jammeh’s aides pressured women into visiting or working for him, and the women were subsequently sexually abused. 

Marion Volkmann-Brandau, HRW researcher, described Jammeh as “a serial, sophisticated sexual predator”, whereas fellow HRW lawyer Reed Broody accused Jammeh of operating “a state-sponsored system to get women into his bed.” The authors of the report have been unable to reach Jammeh, although a spokesperson for his party, the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, have labelled the allegations as “malicious” and “aimed at tarnishing the good reputation of Gambia’s legendary and visionary leader.”

The accusations could change how sexual assault is percieved in Gambian society. Gambia ranks 148th on the United Nations Gender Inequality Index. Broody notes that marital rape is not illegal in the country, and also that reporting sexual assault is a “huge taboo.” The only accuser who has waived her right to anonymity, Toufah Jallow, stated that she wanted her actions to have a trickle-down effect. She expressed the desire to “start the conversation” about sexual abuse in Gambia, stating that: “If I can do that with the president of the country, it becomes somewhat easier for someone who’s dealing with a CEO, with a boss, with a schoolteacher or with an uncle, because the highest level is exposed.”

The report aims to ensure sexual assault is remembered as part of Jammeh’s toxic legacy, and to encourage more women to testify against him before the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), which is investigating allegations of abuses of power during Jammeh’s 22 year rule. Jammeh’s government committed serious human rights’ abuses, including arbitrary detention of opponents; the alleged massacre of 56 migrants; and inciting violence against gay people. Toufah wants accusations of sexual assault against Jammeh to be taken as seriously as the murder, kidnapping and tourture of which he is also accused. 

Within Gambia there are already signs of the impact of Toufah’s accusations. Abubacarr M. Tambadou praised the bravery of the women and called on others to report encounters with Jammeh, and to join Toufah in testifying against the ex-President. There are even inklings of a Gambian #MeToo moment, with the hashtag #IAmToufah circulating around on Twitter. However, it is still unclear whether Jammeh will be brought to trial.

After losing an election in 2016, Jammeh attempted to hold onto power for over a month. He eventually requested exile in Equatorial Guinea, where he remains. Current President Adama Barrow has said that he will wait for the report of the TRRC to decide whether to pursue extradition from Equatorial Guinea. Toufah has stated that she wants her testimony to “be part of whatever brings him down.” The importance of this cannot be overstated in a country where sexual assault is such a taboo and is rarely discussed openly. If these accusations of rape tip the balance and become an impetus in Jammeh’s extradition, it would be a powerful endorsement of women’s rights in Gambia.