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Three women accuse Gambia's ex-president of rape or sexual assault

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Image: Former Gambian beauty queen, Toufah Jallow, who has accused the ex-P
Former Gambian beauty queen, Toufah Jallow, who has accused the ex-President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh of raping her, in her Toronto home on June 8. -
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Tara Walton/The New York Times
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Three women have accused the former longtime 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.

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 first for over two decades.

The only one of the three women who has publicly accused Jammeh is 23-year-old former beauty queen Fatou "Toufah" Jallow. She told the BBC on Wednesday she is sharing her story now in the hope it will help create a conversation about rape and sexual assault in her country.

"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."

NBC News tried to contact Jallow, but was unable to reach her.

Marion Volkmann-Brandau, one of the investigators for Human Rights Watch and TRIAL International, told NBC News Thursday Jallow is "taking a break" from interviews because "it has re-traumatized her and she is emotionally drained."

Former Gambian beauty queen, Toufah Jallow, who has accused the ex-President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh of raping her, in her Toronto home on June 8.
Former Gambian beauty queen, Toufah Jallow, who has accused the ex-President of Gambia Yahya Jammeh of raping her, in her Toronto home on June 8.Tara Walton/The New York Times

NBC News was also not able to contact Jammeh, who lives in exile in Equatorial Guinea, but did reach his party.

Ousman Rambo Jatta, the deputy leader of the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction, Jammeh's party when he was in power and the one he still heads, told NBC News in an emailed statement that the APRC is "utterly disappointed" to have been confronted with "malicious allegations" against the ex-president, which he said have "no shred of evidence" in them.

NBC News also contacted the press and information office of the government of Equatorial Guinea on Wednesday afternoon in an attempt to reach Jammeh, as officials from his party suggested, but did not receive a response.

The authors of the report told NBC News that also they tried to reach Jammeh and his lawyers, but were not able to.

The report released by the human rights groups alleges that Jallow won a state-sponsored beauty pageant in 2014, and over the next several months, Jallow said Jammeh lavished her with gifts and asked her to marry him, but she refused.

The report alleged that Jallow was raped by Jammeh in the presidential palace in 2015. She said the ex-president locked her in a room and said: "There's no woman that I want that I cannot have."

She says she fled to neighboring Senegal days later.

Jallow told the BBC she hoped Jammeh will have the courage to publicly address her accusations.

News

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.

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.

Brody told NBC News none of the women reported what happened to them to the police or the authorities at the time because that would be "the shortest way for them to be killed."

He also said the women didn't provide any direct evidence that would incriminate the ex-president.

Human rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, say Jammeh's rule was marked by widespread abuses, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, torture and arbitrary detention. As president, Jammeh crafted a religious persona and claimed to cure the sick. He reluctantly gave up power after a surprise defeat in the presidential election in 2016.

After he stepped down and went into exile, a number of human rights groups launched a campaign to bring Jammeh to justice for his alleged crimes. Gambia has also established the truth reconciliation and reparations commission to investigate the former president's alleged wrongdoing.

NBC News has reached out to the commission and the office of current president Adama Barrow for comment.