By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
Gambian Civil Society Organisation Women’s Association for Victims’ Empowerment (WAVE) launched their video documentary titled “We Were Accused” on Friday 16th March 2021 at the Kairaba Beach Hotel. The documentary showcases victims of a witch hunt campaign initiated by former Dictator Yahya Jammeh back in 2009.
Co-Founder, Ms Priscilla Yagu Ceesay explained how “WAVE has been working with victims of the witch hunt campaign since they started  on the Kairabolungi Project”. However, “bringing it to the big screen” was through “the collaboration with the UN Transitional Justice and funding from the Peace Building Fund”. Speaking about the documentary she highlighted that it “speaks of a number of issues but then it goes through to also help in the healing process in empowering the victims themselves. [Victims] have been able to come out and talk about stories”.
“A number of individuals who for the very first time in their lives really and even in the TRRC process have not really been able to engage to talk about issues of such significance to them and issues that contributed to their psychological trauma and their loss of livelihood, family, ostracization, stigmatisation all the negativity you can talk about yet they mustered the courage and talked,” said Ms Yagu Ceesay.
In fact, they did not only speak, “they spoke from the depths of their hearts and they were able to bring a number of people around them to be able to support them in the process and in that process as well they’ve been able to talk to so many people and so many other victims who have now been able to come out themselves and say look, we are standing to be counted we want our voices to be heard we want to be part of the TRRC process. We will be part of processes in own individual communities.”
Victims Need the Necessary Resources to Heal
Event moderator of the day Fatou Muloishi of GRTS TV highlighted that “we are all aware of the fact that the Truth and Reconciliation process is ongoing and during this process, I’m sure you heard of people who narrated their ordeal of being victims of circumstances. These people were given hallucinogenic concoctions by the former president for whatever reason we understand is to find the killer of his Aunt.”
She explained how both men and women were abducted “from the districts Jamburr and Essau”. The victims were rigorously accosted by “Witch Doctors” who forced them to drink “concoctions in the hope that they would cleanse them from being witches and wizards and get them to testify to being witches and wizards.”
Unfortunately, many of the people abducted were severely tortured and subjected to degrading treatment, in fact “some women were raped and women were sexually harassed” said Ms Muloshi.
Some of the victims featured in the film testified at the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), which was tasked to investigate all the human rights violations of the former President and Dictator Yahya Jammeh. “However, the documentary highlights that some victims declined to testify at the TRRC due to the difficulty of coming to terms with violations perpetrated on them. The documentary also highlighted some of those victims” said Ms Muloshi.
“The event was an opportunity to hear how the witch hunt affected victim’s family and dignity. It also offered a chance to send a signal to International Supporters and Partners about the need to recommit their resources and efforts to make sure that they can get the required resources and support to live the dignified life that they deserved”.
Victims Died from Concoctions
A report published by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) Women experiences during the dictatorship also highlights the Witch Hunt incident and reported that “some lost consciousness for days. Women who were too old or weak could not endure the toxic concoction and died. According to the victims, after being released, most of the women who got sick were taken to the Sulayman Junjung Hospital in Bwiam and other public hospitals were refused treatment because the former president instructed the hospitals not to treat them”.
One victim explained how she took her mother after her release from the incident. “We took her to the Bwiam hospital where she spent two nights but was not given medical treatment. We brought her home and she died the following day” she said. One of the recommendations from the report indicates that Victims from Sintet and others engaged in the ICTJ Report “want the full truth about the 2009 witch hunts to be revealed, and we call on the TRRC to clear our names, affirm our dignity, and let the whole world know we are not witches”. While TRRC is completing its mandate with the final report, the commission should also consider ways to restore the dignity of these victims, through official acknowledgement and rehabilitation.
Through the WAVE documentary, this recommendation could be progressed as the truth of the Witch Hunt incident is brought to the big screens for people to hear the stories of the victims told by the victims themselves. Here is a link to the Live Stream of the event.
This publication was supported by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ)