Yahya Jammeh’s Authoritarian Machinations Used Prisons To Instil Fear, Inflict   Punishment

150

The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in its Investigative Report and Recommendations to Government alleged that former President Yahya Jammeh, with his autocratic rule, used prison to instilled fear and inflict punishments on those who opposed him or fell out of favour with him. 

See below the reproduction of the Commission Report and Government Position as stated in the ‘White Paper’ as we proceeds with the serialisation on Theme 16: Institutional Hearing: Prisons.

Background

  • Prisons are an important part of the criminal justice system. Their role within criminal justice is mainly to facilitate a judicial decision to deprive an offender’s liberty in order to fulfil the sentence of a court. The prison service deals with offenders convicted and sentenced to a custodial sentence or those on remand pending a decision on their case.
  • The Gambia is a party to key human rights instruments including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in 1979, the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) and the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT). The Basic Principles for the Treatment of Prisoners, adopted and proclaimed by UN General Assembly resolution 45/111 of 14 December 1990, provides under Article 1, that “All prisoners shall be treated with the respect due to their inherent dignity and value as human beings”. Article 5 of The Basic Principles holds further that, except for limitations that are made demonstrably necessary by the condition of their imprisonment, all prisoners must be afforded the human rights and fundamental freedoms set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as well as the ICESCR, the ICCPR and other rights found in other United Nations covenants.
  • The Commission found that like the other state and security institutions, The Gambia prison system was used as a tool to facilitate former President Yahya Jammeh’s authoritarian machinations. He used the prison to instil fear and inflict punishment on those who opposed him or fell out of favour with him.
  • The Commission also found that the Prison Service over the years had become unfit for their purpose and did not comply with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners. The public hearings painted a picture of the horrendous state of the prisons but particularly the Mile II Central Prison which it attributed in part to the location and infrastructure having been

built by the colonialists in 1920 in a swampy area has dampness on the walls and leaky roofs which constitutes a serious health hazard to prisoners and staff alike. The conditions of the cells in the Security, Remand and Main Yard Wings, particularly the Security wing where most detainees were held in solitary confinement in cramped, dark, mosquito, rat and vermin-infested cells are unfit for human beings. The dreadful conditions are not limited only to the Security Wing but extended to the Main Yard and Remand Wings. According to witness testimonies, the conditions of the Remand Wing was so overcrowded that some prisoners could not sleep and had to sit up for the entire night, while others spent the nights in the toilets. All the witness testimonies indicate that the conditions of the entire prison system was terrible, including in the country’s other two prisons, Jeshwang and Janangbureh.

  • The Commission also found that the dire physical conditions of the prisons were further exacerbated by poor management. To ensure that the Prison Services served his purposes, former President Yahya Jammeh used loyalty as a basis to appoint the Director General of the Prison Services who would carry out his unlawful instructions without questions. The non-adherence to proper procedures in the appointment of prison officers had an impact on the behaviour of prison staff.
  • Those who were recruited without due process were more likely to follow unlawful instructions. According to witness testimonies, “those who did not come into the prison administration through the right channels were more prone to just follow what those who brought them in instructed them to do rather than what the law, regulations, service and training requires.”
  • The Commission found that many innocent victims including security officers, politicians, business persons, journalists and advocates were detained at Mile II Central Prison without due process. They were subjected to inhumane and degrading treatment, tortured and some died as a result. The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, developed by the United Nations Commission on Crime Prevention that contained provisions protecting the human rights and personal liberties of detainees, were not applied.
  • It was found by the Commission that in some instances prisoners were simply brought in and detained at Mile II for indefinite periods of time in the Security Wing. Detainees that were brought in based on Executive Orders/Directives from the Office of the President could not be rejected by the prison officers as refusal was likely to lead to them being charged and dismissed for refusing orders. Under the direction of the former President, many arrests and detentions in the prisons were conducted outside of any legal framework. Many detainees were imprisoned without any warrant for their detention, without being booked or recorded in the records of the prisons.
  • In addition to admitting persons to the prisons without due process and in contravention of the laws governing the prison, stipulating the times when arrestees can be interned or removed from the prisons, the prison authorities, the NIA and other state institutions and agents also engaged in a number of gross human rights violations in their handling of prisoners. The NIA and Junglers enjoyed unrestricted access to the prisoners and could inflict any sort of treatment on prisoners without interference by the prison authorities under whose authority they were in.
  • The Commission also found that there were many young people in detention or remand for simple crimes that did not require a custodial sentence. Without rehabilitation services and putting them in the same space as hardened criminals many of these young people run the risk of developing anti-social behaviours. There were also several persons who were languishing in detention without their cases ever being taken before the courts. The Commission observed that the conditions of the prison cells were a gross violation of the right to the minimum of space, hygiene, privacy and security necessary for a humane and dignified existence.