By Desmond Davies, London Bureau
The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has rebutted claims that it failed to act while alleged atrocities were being committed in The Gambia under former President Yahya Jammeh.
Fatoumatta Sandeng, the daughter of Gambian politician Solo Sandeng who died in police custody in April last year made the accusation an event organised by the Africa Legal Aid (AFLA), during the recent African Union summit in Addis Ababa.
Ms Sandeng was addressing a panel discussion by victims of political violence in Africa at the seminar, which dialogued on how to carry forward the legacy of the trial of former Chadian President Hissen Habre in Senegal.
The Extraordinary African Chambers, sitting in Dakar, found Mr Habre guilty of human rights crimes in May 2016 and this was later upheld on appeal.
In a tearful statement, Ms Sandeng said that Gambians reached out to the ICC to intervene to stop the alleged excesses of the Jammeh regime.
She said they were hoping that the ICC Prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, being a Gambian would have shown more interest in investigating the allegations in The Gambia.
When asked by the GNA to comment on Ms Sandeng’s claims, the OTP said: “…the Office followed media reports regarding allegations of violence against civilians in The Gambia last year.
“The fact is that concerned by these reports, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda took the initiative to assign a team at the Office to assess the situation within the legal framework of the ICC… given that The Gambia is a State Party to the International Criminal Court,” the OTP said.
“Following this legal assessment, and as the Prosecutor has already publicly stated, the situation in The Gambia at the time did not warrant the intervention of the Court.
“The ICC is a judicial institution with a specific jurisdiction over mass atrocities, namely genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.
“These are serious crimes which have specific criminal elements which must be satisfied in any given case.
“The Prosecutor, at all times, undertakes her mandate without fear or favour and will not hesitate to take the necessary steps in accordance with her mandate wherever the Court’s jurisdictional requirements are met,” the OTP told the GNA.
Mr Sandeng, a prominent member of the opposition United Democratic Party (UDP) was arrested, along with other supporters, while leading a protest calling for electoral reform in Banjul in April 2016.
The family did not see Mr Sandeng alive again and it was only in March this year that the police announced the discovery of his body in the west of the country following a tip-off from members of the National Intelligence Agency under the Jammeh government.
The death of Mr Sandeng led to a coalition of opposition parties putting up just one candidate against Mr Jammeh in last December’s presidential election, which he lost.
Mr Sandeng’s death and the activism of his daughter spurred Gambians to reject Mr Jammeh in the polls after 22 years in power.
Ms Sandeng has established the Solo Sandeng Foundation to campaign for a “just, equal and free world”.