Gambia: Women accuse ex-President of sexual violence

26.06.2019 ( Last modified: 11.07.2019 )

Yahya Jammeh reportedly forced young women to have sex with him. Some of them received a state salary and worked at the presidential palace as “protocol girls”. They are now accusing the former president.

The Presidential Palace in Banjul. © DR

Three women have accused Gambia’s former president, Yahya Jammeh, of rape and sexual assault while he was in office, Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International reported today. Former Gambian officials said that presidential aides regularly pressured women to visit or work for Jammeh, who then sexually abused many of them.

“Yahya Jammeh treated Gambian women like his personal property,” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who led the investigation. “Rape and sexual assault are crimes, and Jammeh is not above the law.”

 

FIRST HAND TESTIMONIES

Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International interviewed three women who accuse Jammeh of rape and sexual assault, and a fourth woman who said that Jammeh’s aides confined her in an apparent set-up for sexual abuse. The organizations also interviewed eight former Gambian officials and several other witnesses. The officials, who said they have direct knowledge of the events, include two men who worked for the Protocol Department at State House (the presidential palace); four close protection officers for Jammeh or at State House; a woman who worked at State House; and a former National Intelligence Agency senior official. The officials and two of the women requested anonymity. Fatou Jallow (known as Toufah), who alleged that Jammeh raped her in 2015, asked that her name be disclosed because she wished to come forward publicly.

 

PAID TO HAVE SEX WITH THE PRESIDENT

Those interviewed made detailed allegations against the former president, saying that he forced or coerced young women into having sex with him. Some were put on the state payroll and worked at State House as so-called “protocol girls.” Former officials reported that Jammeh and his subordinates gave the women cash and gifts and promised them scholarships or other privileges – powerful tools in one of the poorest countries in the world. Witnesses said that both consensual and non-consensual sex took place at the president’s residences.

The three women who made the allegations against Jammeh described coercive, deceptive, and violent actions by Jammeh and his aides, and retaliation if the women refused his advances.

 

FAMILY BUSINESS

The three women and several officials identified Jimbee Jammeh, a female cousin of the president, as the person overseeing the “protocol girls” and the procurement of other women. The three women said she befriended them, phoned them, had them brought to State House, took them to Jammeh, and stayed with them and the president in his room before leaving them alone. Jimbee Jammeh went to Equatorial Guinea with Jammeh.

 

CHARGES AGAINST THE FORMER PRESIDENT BUILD UP

Jammeh’s exploitation of women was well known to those around him. Five former officials said that he ordered them and others to get the phone numbers of women he identified. They said they later saw some of these women leaving Jammeh’s house with money. Officials working with Jammeh said that he also had sex with women soldiers assigned to his close protection and other civil servants working under him.

Jammeh’s rule was marked by widespread abuses, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, torture and arbitrary detention. As president, Jammeh crafted a religious persona, preaching sermons and claiming to cure HIV and heal the sick. In March 2019, an official Gambian commission and the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an investigative reporting platform, accused Jammeh of stealing up to US$1 billion from state coffers.

Jammeh is currently in Equatorial Guinea, where he sought exile after losing the 2016 presidential election to Adama Barrow. A Gambian Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission is documenting human rights violations committed during Jammeh’s 22 years in power, including sexual violence allegations. The TRRC and the Gambian government should ensure that allegations of rape and sexual violence by Jammeh and other former top officials are fully investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted.

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