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By Omar Bah

A member of the Gambia-Ecowas Technical Committee, Salieu Taal, has said contrary to widespread misconception, the Ecowas Parliament didn’t necessarily block Ecowas’s involvement in the formation of a special tribunal for The Gambia. Last week, the Ecowas Parliament overwhelmingly voted against a proposal for the regional body to play a major role in the establishment of a special tribunal for The Gambia. Many people took that to mean that Ecowas has no interest in helping Gambia with the special tribunal.

But according to Mr Taal, the Ecowas Parliament merely gave an opinion on the establishment of a special tribunal for The Gambia and the adoption of the special tribunal.

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“The opinion given by the Ecowas Parliament is not binding on the Authority of Heads of State and Government, neither does it block the Authority from exercising its power as the supreme decision-making body in Ecowas. The ultimate decision-making authority is vested in the Authority of Heads of State & Government, and the proposal is yet to be tabled before them for consideration. It is therefore erroneous to conclude that Ecowas has blocked the formation of the Special Tribunal as widely perceived in the media,” he said.

Taal, a former president of the Gambia Bar Association, argued that he doesn’t agree with the position of the Ecowas Parliament, having listened to their debates online extensively, but he is comforted by the fact that it is not binding.

“I would like to believe that the Parliament’s intention is not to say that Ecowas has no business in helping bring accountability in a member state for gross human rights violations committed against its citizens and Ecowas nationals, well documented in a credible truth-seeking process,” he said.

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Taal added that he doesn’t believe the opinion of the Ecowas Parliament will adversely affect the pursuit of justice and accountability, given the enormous commitment, resources, and time spent by the different stakeholders, including the state, victims, civil society, and partners, to ensure there is accountability for the serious human rights violations committed between July 22, 1994, to January 2017.

 “A lot of work is already done. As you know, our National Assembly has enacted the enabling legislation which established the Special Accountability Mechanism and the Special Prosecutor’s Office back in May. The Chief Justice has also established a Special Division of the High Court to handle TRRC matters,” he noted.

He alluded that the Draft Statute was developed and drafted by a Joint Technical Committee of Gambia and Ecowas, supported by reputable international criminal law experts.

“A lot of work has been done, and Ecowas experts have been part of the process. I am hopeful the Authority of the Ecowas Heads of State and Government will approve the decision and the draft statute at the next Ordinary Session of the Ecowas Heads of State and Government,” he added.

Lawyer Taal said Ecowas is the right partner for the establishment of this Special Tribunal, given their role in the restoration of democracy in the country and the fact that there are Ecowas victims as revealed by the TRRC.

“Ecowas’s role is to give the court an international character similar to what the African Union did with the Extraordinary Chambers in Senegal set up to prosecute Hissène Habré. The next step is for the Gambia, led by our government to continue to engage Ecowas Member States and their leadership to ensure that the regional body will take a final decision on the establishment of the court with its backing,” he stated.

“It will be limited to the crimes committed during the 22-year regime and will also show that Ecowas does not stand for impunity when it comes to gross human rights violations in the subregion,” he concluded.

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