The Guardian: Survivors of Yahya Jammeh's bogus Aids cure sue former Gambian leader
SOURCE: The Guardian
By Saikou Jammeh and Ruth Maclean
June 1, 2018
The Gambia’s former president, Yahya Jammeh, has been summoned to court for the first time since he was forced out of office more than a year ago as survivors of his controversial HIV treatment programme sued for compensation.
Lawyers for Lamin Ceesay, Ousman Sowe and Fatou Jatta – the only woman in the case – filed a civil suit at the high court in Banjul on Thursday, claiming damages for harm suffered from the treatment.
Jammeh sent shockwaves across the world when he announced that he had a cure for Aids. The treatment involved months of confinement, during which his victims were forced to drink herbal concoctions.
“I believe it is my responsibility to hold Jammeh to account,” said Sowe, a former university lecturer. “I knew that one day the real story would be told.”
Ceesay, Sowe and Jatta were the first of many groups of patients who underwent the treatment programme, which ran from 2007 to 2016. More than 300 patients were “treated”, according to Dr Tamsir Mbowe, a former health minister who later became director of the herbal treatment programme, which allegedly cost some people their lives.
According to the court filing, Jammeh made patients strip and lie down. He then “appeared to utter some words of prayer before proceeding to pour a liquid from a bottle into his gloved hands that he then massaged all over the body of the plaintiffs, including their genitals”.
Jammeh was helped in the massage process by the health minister, nurses, some Cuban doctors and other strangers, claimed the papers. Patients were then made to drink a liquid concoction that gave them hallucinations, nausea, and diarrhoea.
Combeh Gaye, the lawyer for the survivors, said that while her clients voluntarily accepted to be part of the treatment, coercion was involved in subsequent events.
“They didn’t know the full scale of what they were going into,” she said. “They got in, and couldn’t come out. They thought they were going to take medicine and go back, but it wasn’t the case.
“Lamin Ceesay was hospitalised for several months from complications from the treatment. He contracted TB and lost his wife – also HIV-positive – who was at the time undergoing the treatment. He himself nearly lost his life.”
Sarah Bosha, a research and policy associate at Aids-Free World, branded Jammeh’s hoax the most egregious premeditated assault on people living with HIV and Aids in history.
“There is no cure for Aids,” said Bosha. “When an individual of great power claimed otherwise, human health was jeopardised, lives were cut short, and a deadly epidemic was prolonged – all in the service of the insatiable ego of Yahya Jammeh, one of the great villains of modern times.”
It is a matter of weeks before the trial begins, though no specific date has been confirmed. For now, lawyers are trying to work out how to notify Jammeh, who has lived in exile in Equatorial Guinea since his historic loss of power.
“As of now, the defendant hasn’t been served and it will be difficult to do so,” Gaye said.
“We have the option of substituted service, meaning we can advertise it in the newspaper or use diplomatic channels through which our foreign affairs ministry can contact the foreign affairs ministry of Equatorial Guinea. We don’t expect them to cooperate but as long as there’s proof of service, the court will be obliged to proceed with the case.”
Jammeh has been accused of gross human rights violations and plundering Ghana’s resources. A commission of inquiry into his assets and finances is underway and, so far, findings show that he personally owns about 180 landed properties and 22 accounts with various local banks. All of his known assets have been frozen.
The long-awaited truth, reconciliation and reparations commission is also expected to be officially launched next week.
“We are aware that there will be reparations for the truth commission. So my clients will join the queue,” said Gaye. “When we have a judgment in our favour, we will go after the assets.”
In an interview earlier this year, Jatta told the Guardianshe had been “silently tortured”, even after the “treatment” was over.
“He said: ‘If you test for HIV and you have it, I’ll know you’ve been infected again. If I hear of it, I’ll lock you up.’ He thought he was God, while he was just a mere human being like us,” said Jatta.