Three women have accused the former president of Gambia of rape or sexual assault while he was in office, according to a report released by two human rights groups on Wednesday.
Fatou Jallow now 23, former Gambian Beauty Queen is the First Woman in 2019 To Publicly Accuse President Yahya Jammeh of Rape.
The report issued by New York-based Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International, based in Geneva, details the women’s allegations against Yahya Jammeh, who ruled the country with an iron fist for over two decades.
Jallow was 18 years old when she first met Jammeh after winning the competition, where he soon acted like a father figure to her. After showering her with gifts, advice, money and the like, Jammeh asked for her hand in marriage. Fatou said she refused.
Jammeh’s aide insisted that Jallow attends a religious ceremony at the State House in her role as the beauty queen in June of 2015, continues but was instead taken to Jammeh’s private residence.
“It was clear what this was going to be,” she says.
But Fatou “Toufah” Jallow claims he raped her as a teenager at a religious event on the eve of Ramadan. Two other women also accused Jammeh of rape and sexual assault in interviews with Human Rights Watch and Trial International, and eight former Gambian officials said they had direct knowledge of the events. Jallow is the only one disclosing her real name.
The former winner of the prestigious Miss July 22nd beauty and scholarship pageant said she wanted to “start the conversation about something that is destroying the fabric of society” – girls carrying the burden of sexual abuse.
“I have really tried to hide the story and erase it, make sure it’s not part of me. Realistically, I couldn’t,” Jallow told the BBC. “So I am deciding to speak now because it’s time to tell the story and to make sure that Yahya Jammeh hears what he has done.”
Jallow decided she had to escape. She put on a niqab and went to the market where she gave the men following her the slip, she said. She crossed the Gambia River in a fisherman’s boat, begged a truck driver to smuggle her across the Senegalese border and slept in a Dakar bus station until she could get help, then sought asylum in Canada.
Two other women accusing the ex-president of rape or sexual assault chose to remain anonymous because they didn’t want their families to know about what happened to them, according to Human Rights Watch counsel Reed Brody.
Both women said government officials put them on the payroll in the protocol department in 2015 and in addition to their state salary, they were given gifts and promised privileges by Jammeh and his aides. One claims to have been raped and the other sexually assaulted by the ex-president, according to the authors of the report.
Jammeh allegedly lavished gifts on the impoverished family of “Anta”, a pseudonym for one of the other women who has accused him of sexual assault. She claims she refused his advances until he threatened to take everything away from the family. She further alleges that a soldier was sent with Jimbee to force her to move to State House to be on call for sex whenever he wanted it.
The third woman, referred to as Bintu, claims she was groomed and then told to undress in front of Jammeh and Jimbee, and when he started to touch her she started crying. She was told to leave and her scholarship was canceled.
On Wednesday, Gambia’s attorney general said he saluted Jallow’s courage for speaking up and sharing her story. He also encouraged “all women and girls in the country” to speak up about their own experiences with Jammeh.
In an investigation that started 18 months ago, Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International interviewed eight former Gambian officials, who also requested anonymity.
The officials, who said they have direct knowledge of the events described in the report, said that presidential aides regularly pressured women to visit or work for Jammeh, who then sexually abused many of them.
The officials interviewed said they either worked at the presidential palace or were close protection officers for Jammeh. A former national intelligence agency senior official was also among those interviewed for the report.
Jammeh is hiding out in Equatorial Guinea along with Jimbee, protected by the country’s president, Teodoro Obiang.