The president of the Gambia has said he wants to extradite and prosecute his predecessor Yahya Jammeh, who is living in exile in Equatorial Guinea, if a national inquiry looking at human rights abuses recommends it.
Adama Barrow, whose election in December 2016 prompted a national outpouring of joy and then a political crisis, said he would like to broach Jammeh’s extradition with the president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang, and they had already discussed the autocratic former leader’s future.
“We are more than willing to engage the international community, and to engage the president of Equatorial Guinea, because as a country we believe in justice and rule of law,” Barrow told the Guardian. “I think the international community has a great role to play in this.”
He said he had met Obiang recently in the US. “We had a good discussion as far as bilateral relations are concerned, and we will continue to engage him.”
After the 2016 election, Jammeh initially congratulated Barrow on his win, calling it a “clear victory”, but then rejected the result. After a month-long standoff, Jammeh finally agreed to leave, taking his fleet of luxury cars with him to Equatorial Guinea.
Barrow was responding to questions about a statement Obiang made in which he did not rule out extraditing Jammeh.
“If there is a judgment against him, I would like to see the indictment, and I’ll consider it with my lawyers,” Obiang told Radio France Internationale, though he added: “To prosecute a person who has chosen to leave power might be a bad idea politically.”
Barrow said there was still some time before extradition could be sought. “Before all these things, we have to build a very strong case [against Jammeh],” he said. “That is why we are setting up the truth, reconciliation and reparations commission.”
Last month a law was passed to set up such a commission to examine state crimes during Jammeh’s 22-year tenure.
Sabrina Mahtani, of Amnesty, said it and other human rights groups had documented alleged systematic torture, enforced disappearances and other rights abuses under the Jammeh regime.
“It is critical that Jammeh and others are investigated and undergo fair trials,” said Mahtani. “Gambians need accountability to be able to move on from a past centred on impunity. However, reform of security services and the repressive legal regime is just as fundamental.”
Reed Brody, of Human Rights Watch, said: “Jammeh is accused of killing journalists, torturing opponents, shooting at demonstrators, a massacre of migrants from Ghana, and forcing 9,000 Gambians into his phoney and cruel HIV ‘treatment’ programme.”