The bottom line is that putting the former Gambia Head of State Yayha Jammeh on trial would take a large amount of political will – and that’s not in evidence. But keep on reading as we explore the arguments:
Over the weekend Jammeh and his family took an offer of exile from The Gambia, after more than 22 years in power. Twitter commentators noted that his final destination is Malabo – capital of Equatorial Guinea and not a member of the International Criminal Court.
Why was membership of the International Criminal Court relevant for Jammeh’s destination? Because there has been much speculation that while he was forced reluctantly to accept the results of December’s election, which swept Adama Barrow into his shoes, Jammeh may also have to face up to allegations of human rights abuses committed while he was in power.
Torture for instance.
According to Human Rights Watch, two UN special rapporteurs reported in 2014 “torture is a consistent practice” in the country.
Under Jammeh, The Gambia had also withdrawn from membership of the ICC. When Barrow was elected excitement was at fever pitch and speculation rife, that being back in the ICC club was on the cards, and Barrow’s own party said they’d rejoin the ICC.
Among exiles, supporters and human rights campaigners there was a lot of enthusiasm for a potential Jammeh and associates trial.
And nearby, in Senegal, former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre had been put on trial – also for torture – many years after he stepped down into what was meant to be a comfortable exile. That precedent certainly helped to raise some hopes.
But during December and much of January Jammeh refused to budge and tried various ways to stay in power. It took intervention – a military threat – from combined regional troops – to make him finally leave.
Or did it? Was it in fact a promise of immunity that helped to send him on his way?
At the weekend the news slipped out that the document on which basis Jammeh had stepped down appeared to give him some guarantees against prosecution.
And then some people – President Barrow’s own people and the Senegalese foreign minister included – said no, that document didn’t count.
But whatever is true, it’s clear that at high government levels in some African countries, there’s no appetite for prosecution for one of their former colleagues. The debate about providing immunity to heads of state which has dominated discussions about the ICC at AU summits has shown that.
Meanwhile, what about the democratically-elected President Adama Barrow? He remained in neighbouring Senegal throughout this debacle. And he’s been telling journalists that one of the first things first he’ll do is set up a truth commission – before thinking about potential prosecutions.
In an interview with Associated Press he was quoted as saying it was “ too soon to tell whether the former president could face trial at the International Criminal Court or elsewhere. “
“We aren’t talking about prosecution here. We are talking about getting a truth and reconciliation commission,” he said. “Before you can act, you have to get the truth, to get the facts together.”
So again it looks like there’s a long game here, where the new Gambian leadership’s enthusiasm for a prosecution is not especially high.
And the latest twist was at a press conference in the Senegalese capital, where Barrow’s special adviser Mai Ahmad Fatty told journalists that Jammeh made off with more than US$11.4m as he left along with luxury goods including an unknown number of vehicles. That’s now being debated.
Journalists have also been doing some counting.
But looting a treasury or a few cars doesn’t come under the ICC’s mandate…
Photo credit: Zainab Jammeh/Facebook