The hallmark of Yaya Jammeh’s misrule is the merciless infliction of direct physical harm to Gambians. Through physical beatings, rape, mutilations, burning of genitals, cutting of body parts and summary executions hundreds of Gambians suffered pain and misery at the hands of henchmen and women at the behest of one man Yaya Jammeh for 22 years. Today there are many Gambian men who have become impotent because of these tortures. Many women have also been rendered infertile from Yaya Jammeh’s fake treatment program. Many other people have been completely disabled, unable to walk and confined to wheelchairs. Yet there are still many who have lost all or most of their senses due to torture at the hands of Yaya Jammeh’s evil men and women.
With his false claim to cure HIV/AIDS, infertility, cancer and other diseases, many Gambians became even more sick as they were forced to abandon modern medicine in favour of his fake herbs and roots. It would be recalled that in the Fonis particularly hundreds of old men and women were forced to drink poisonous concoctions on the pretext that they were witches. Many died while many more remain sick and distraught until today.
Consequently hundreds of families had to endure psychological pain as they live with family members who are maimed while others had to live without knowing what happened to their loved ones or their whereabouts. To add insult to injury these victims and their families continue to see their torturers, killers, rapists and abusers walk freely in our streets while many still remain in their positions in the public and the security services. For example one lady victim who was arrested in May 2016 and tortured at the NIA continues to see her torturers walk the streets of Brikama, freely! Unbelievable.
What is Pres. Barrow and his government doing about these victims? Yes, the Government said they are in the process of setting up a TRRC. Yes they have nine former NIA officers undergoing trial for the murder of Solo Sandeng. While we have no doubts that there will be prosecutions yet it is urgent that the Government responds to the needs of these victims.
I have met victims who had marched with Solo Sandeng and thrown into jail with Ousainou Darboe but until now have received no help. Today a lot of these people, young and old look sick and acknowledge that they are sick. They have undergone medial checkups at their own cost only to be billed exorbitant fees that they cannot pay. Because of the tortures many have become completely incapacitated hence cannot anymore provide for their families. I have met tortured fathers who go to office after office to seek school fees for their children. They have lost their jobs or they cannot anymore function as they used to in order to cater for their families. Because some of these victims are breadwinners who are now immobilized due to torture, it means their families have been plunged into poverty.
Yet since taking office for 10 months now, Pres. Barrow has not taken time to meet victims collectively. Such a meeting is urgent and necessary, not only to provide solace to these victims but also to assure the nation that we are a country of compassion that will stand with victims to ensure justice. Given the direct physical and mental pain these citizens endured, it was therefore expected that Barrow would have announced since January that there is a free medical service for these victims. The State must take it as its duty to restore the health of all victims of human rights violations.
For that matter there is the need for Barrow to set up a welfare program where the social needs of victims; especially the most serious victims are catered for. There are families who need Government intervention in terms of food aid, paying of school feels and provision of housing simply because their breadwinners where either completely maimed or killed through torture, enforced disappearance or executions.
Until now there are victims of April 2000 who are confined to wheelchairs without any support from the Government. They lack education and skills hence they have no source of living. These are now adults who continue to depend on family and friends to live a life. How can a man or woman uphold his or her dignity when such a person remains at the mercy of others for his or her sustenance? These victims deserve an immediate and full Government intervention urgently!
There is indeed no excuse why Pres. Barrow would fail to meet these victims. There is no excuse why the Gambia Government should not create a welfare program for victims of the Yaya Jammeh brutality. As citizens we must call on the president to respond immediately to the social and economic needs of these victims. At the same time, we must call on Barrow to speed up the transitional justice program to enable Gambians to transition from an atrocious past to a future of truth, justice, reconciliation and rehabilitation.
So long as victims exist in this society who continue to look into the faces of their perpetrators who remain free in our society then the peace and stability of the Gambia is under threat. In any society where past injustices are not repaired by bringing perpetrators to justice and compensating victims in full and immediately then such a society is sitting on a ticking time bomb. The Government must not confuse itself with outlandish notions of reconciliation to the point of ignoring victims and their plight.
Reconciliation can only be achieved where there is truth and justice. Yet while there has not been truth and justice, yet we see Pres. Barrow retain and even bring back ardent enablers of the APRC Dictatorship into his Government. This is a direct mockery and an insensitive disregard of victims that will not do any good for this society. Given that most of the leaders of this Government itself were themselves direct victims of physical abuse it therefore overwhelms me how therefore could they sit comfortably without seeking to put the agenda of victims on top of everything else!
God Bless the Gambia