Former dictator Yahya Jammeh would face immediate arrest if he returned home, Gambia’s justice minister warned Sunday, days after his supporters called for his return from exile.
After a year of hearings investigating abuses during his 22-year rule, “it can no longer be ruled out that crimes against humanity have been committed in The Gambia”, said Abubacarr Tambadou.
“There will be the accountability of the highest order for these crimes and I assure the victims that it is now only a question of when, and not if,” he added.
Unless the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) ruled otherwise, “if former President Yahya Jammeh, ever comes back to this country, he will face immediate arrest and charges of the most serious kind”.
Tambadou’s speech, given to mark the opening of the judicial year, was quickly posted online by groups campaigning to have Jammeh brought to justice.
The former dictator ruled the Gambia with an iron fist for 22 years but fled in January 2017 after losing a presidential election to relative unknown Adama Barrow. He only relinquished power after popular protests and international pressure, moving to Equatorial Guinea.
On Thursday, thousands of the former president’s supporters demonstrated in the capital Banjul, calling for his return to the country and to active politics.
They argue he has a right to return under a joint statement from the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the United Nations, published at the time of his exile.
In an audio recording leaked last week, Jammeh could be heard saying he supported Thursday’s protest.
On Monday, the TRRC will resume its work investigating the alleged abuses during Jammeh’s years in power. Last year, it heard 190 witnesses give testimony alleging torture, murder, rape and witch hunts under his regime.
Those in power at the time identified by the Commission “will face certain prosecution in the most serious form”, said Tambadou.