The Gambian government has said it will prosecute former President Yahya Jammeh for murder, rape, torture and other alleged crimes committed during his more than 20-year rule.
The Justice Ministry said Wednesday that it accepted all but two of the 265 recommendations made by a commission that investigated alleged crimes committed by the state under the despotic former leader from July 1994 to January 2017.
The commission’s report, presented to President Adama Barrow and made public in December, was based on years of witness testimony.
Jammeh currently lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea, which does not have an extradition treaty with Gambia.
The government said it would prosecute the 70 alleged perpetrators named in the twice-delayed report by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, including former Vice President Isatou Njie-Saidy and members of the so-called “Junglers” death squad.
“For 22 years, Yahya Jammeh ruled The Gambia with an iron fist,” the government wrote in a white paper.
“During his regime, extrajudicial executions, rapes, torture, enforced disappearances and numerous serious human rights violations became an integral part of his military junta.”
Al Jazeera’s Ahmed Idris, reporting from the capital Banjul, said “victims, survivors, families of victims, activists, diplomats – they all came here this morning with the expectation that they will be disappointed at the end of the day.”
Many said they want the Gambian government to implement these recommendations, Idris added.
Emmanuel Daniel Joof, head of Gambia’s national human rights commission, said: “We seriously believe that the government will recognize and implement these recommendations.”
“We also understand that not everything will be implemented,” he told Al Jazeera.
‘The world is watching’
Meanwhile, Abdoulie Fatty, a former local legal consultant to the commission, called the government’s decision “unprecedented” and said “this level of acceptance of the recommendations by the government is extraordinary.”
“The fact that there is a strong emphasis on the prosecution of Jammeh and those who bear the greatest responsibility sends a strong message that the government is serious about his persecution and is ensuring that he is held accountable for his crimes,” he said.
The government said it was developing a “prosecution strategy” and would set up a special court located within The Gambia, with “the option to hold hearings in other countries”.
The truth commission had recommended prosecuting Jammeh and his accomplices in an internationalized court in another West African country.
“Impunity is a kind of incentive that we are not prepared to serve the perpetrators,” Justice Minister Dawda Jallow said in a speech on Wednesday.
“Their determination to commit these atrocities cannot be stronger than our collective will as a society to hold them accountable.”
Human rights groups say arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances and summary executions have become hallmarks of the regime. The testimonies of the alleged perpetrators before the truth commission confirmed that some murders were committed under the direction of Jammeh.
The former president has also been accused of running bogus HIV “treatment” programs and the massacre of some 50 African immigrants in 2005.
The commission recommended prosecuting the former president and 69 other alleged perpetrators. The government had until Wednesday to respond.
Jammeh was forced into exile in early 2017 after his shock electoral loss to Barrow and a six-week crisis that led to military intervention by other West African states.
Barrow, who was re-elected in December, last year formed a political alliance with Jammeh’s former party and appointed two known Jammeh supporters as speaker and deputy speaker of parliament.
“Barrow and his government know the world is watching, [so] they had no choice but to accept the TRRC’s recommendations,” said Nana-Jo N’dow, founder of an NGO campaigning against enforced disappearances and summary executions, whose own father disappeared in 2013.
“The question now is whether Barrow meets these recommendations and quickly.”