The press conference by the Minister of Justice Abubacarr Tambadou on the measures the government is taking about the assets and financial transactions of the despot Yahya Jammeh indeed gives lot of hope and confidence. Listening to the details of some of the cases and issues only confirms and explains even better the kind of lifestyle that Yahya Jammeh lived as a dictator. With this press conference one can better appreciate the rationale and the source of funds of the hugely lavish jamborees that this despot was throwing away every few weeks in Kanilai, McCarthy’s Square and on the beaches and other places in The Gambia. It gives one a picture as to why and how he was the Donor-in-Chief as he splashed millions of dalasi to all categories of individuals, communities, institutions and organizations in and out of the Gambia. It is now getting clearer that indeed Yaya Jammeh had not only severely sucked the blood of this country but such bleeding will continue to hurt us for a long time to come.
I therefore welcome the idea of freezing his ill-gotten assets, which to me is better late than never. One of the first actions of the Barrow Administration should have been to freeze these assets both locally and internationally. One does not have to run an investigation to confirm that indeed Yahya Jammeh was engaged in fraudulent and corrupt practices. Hence the first decision of the government when it took over in January should have been the freezing of these assets and the seizure of all properties and put under government custody. If we had done that earlier, we would not have had the terrible experience between ECOMIG forces and folks in Kanilai. I hope Minister Tambadou will seek a court order to place all such properties under tight government control if this current action does not include that.
I also welcome the idea of a Special Prosecutor for the NIA case. I agree with the rationale for the decision. Not only are capacity issues critical but also to ensure the integrity and credibility of the process to seek justice, it is important that this case is pursued in a manner that will earn the trust and confidence of all stakeholders. This case must be pursued in a manner that should not appear to be a witch-hunt or a revenge exercise.
However I am concerned with the issue of the special prosecutor for one case when we have many more similar cases of legitimate public interest. What about the case of Koro Ceesay, Deyda Hydara, Daba Marenah and Co, April 2000 Massacre, Chief Ebrima Manneh, Mamut Ceesay and Ebou Jobe among other severe atrocities? Are we going to see a special prosecutor appointed for each of these cases or will they be prosecuted in the normal process? Hence I would urge the minister to reflect on these issues because the concerns that led to the appointment of a special prosecutor for the Solo Sandeng case are the same concerns for all the other cases. In fact while the NIA 9 case concerns only one person, we have other cases where multiple persons were victims. Thus there is a need to consider how best to address all of these cases in the most cost-effective manner.
The minister also pointed out the need for the Gambia to assume its rightful role in the promotion and protection of human rights in the continent. This is a very highly welcome statement and I wish that the government truly understands the significance of that point and fulfill it accordingly. The African Charter on Human and People’s Rights is nicknamed the Banjul Charter. This is because when no African government was willing to host a meeting to review the draft charter, it was the Jawara government that agreed to convene two ministerial conferences in 1980 in Banjul where the draft charter was reviewed and approved and subsequently submitted to the OAU Assembly on 28 June 1981 in Nairobi, Kenya where it was adopted. It was for this reason that the African Charter is also called the Banjul Charter. Later when the African Commission came into being in 1987, again Jawara agreed to have the Gambia serve as the host of the body until today.
For this reason, the Barrow government would therefore be fulfilling an historic duty that Yahya Jammeh abandoned if the current government goes back to take the lead for human rights in Africa. Yahya Jammeh had trampled upon human rights in The Gambia so severely that there were frantic efforts all over Africa to have the African Commission relocated from the country. If those efforts had succeeded it would have been an eternally painful shame for the country, which was indeed the midwife of both the African Charter and the African Commission. Therefore Barrow Administration deserves the highest commendation for their recognition of this historic duty and pledging to fulfill our historic duty and contribution to human rights in Africa and humanity.
As Tambadou noted, being the birthplace of the African Charter and hosting the African Commission places an obligation on the Gambia itself to be seen to defend and promote human rights at home. I am therefore encouraged that this government recognizes that responsibility and determined to fulfill it. We must remind the Barrow Administration that while we welcome efforts in seeking justice for the past atrocities, however our greater task is to ensure that form henceforth human rights shall characterize our lives, conduct and operations as a society and a state. Thus the adherence to the rule of law and protection of fundamental rights must become synonymous with this new dispensation.
I wish to also appreciate the information provided on the much talked about truth and reconciliation commission. While I prefer Truth and Justice Commission, I must add my support to the initiative especially when Tambadou noted their awareness and commitment to ensure its impartiality, integrity and credibility. I look forward to the composition of the commission and its terms of reference.
Finally let me say that this short but highly valuable statement by Minster Tambadou has served all Gambians well because we have heard from our trustees. This statement would have been even sweeter from the mouth of our Chief Servant Adama Barrow as the person we have directly elected to serve us. But while I appreciate the job Tambadou has done, one needs to again emphasize to them that when a government communicates to its citizens, it solves half the problem. The last time we had from Tambadou was in March, i.e. two months ago. Can the Minister do better to provide updates on a monthly basis at least given that he has raised quite many fundamental issues? We cannot wait for another two months before we know the status of the assets freeze, the special prosecutor or the outcome of the ongoing case in the UK.
Author: Madi Jobarteh