On 15 October 2018, Pres. Adama Barrow launched the TRRC. In his launching statement, he said, “the TRRC was born out of the aspirations of a people who decided that they want a society where truth and justice prevail.” He went further to state that, “For the perpetrators, it provides an opportunity to come clean, face their victims and seek forgiveness,” noting that our common experience, which he said was bitter, should be our greatest teacher in building a ‘New Gambia’ of respect for human rights and rule of law.
The President concluded his launching statement with these words, “To conclude, I urge all Gambians to work together to promote reconciliation and justice and to heal and rebuild our nation. Let us stand together to say: “Never again shall a few people oppress us as a nation. Never Again! Never shall this beautiful Smiling Coast experience the oppression and tyranny of the minority against the majority.”
Therefore, three years later I urge all Gambians to go back to that speech once again to see if the words uttered by the President back then march with his actions today, after three years?
Hence, if civil society has called for a #NeverAgain March, it was not that they were just happy to do so. Rather, this march was born out of genuine and clear concerns that the transitional justice process is being severely delayed and derailed. For example, in his launching statement, the President highlighted some of the achievements of the transitional justice program which included the setting up of the CRC to write a new constitution. He also cited the creation of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) as well as embarking on legal and security sector reforms.
But today in 2021, we know that the President and his allies in the National Assembly killed the draft constitution. We also know that there are no significant legal reforms for the past 5 years while security sector reforms were never undertaken at all. Meantime, while we appreciate the creation of the NHRC, it is concerning that the same Government has begun flouting the recommendations of the NHRC as in the case of Gorgui Mboob, head of the Anti-Crime Unit who was returned to head the Unit against NHRC recommendation!
Therefore, when the Minister of Justice claims that this Government is committed to transitional justice and victims in particular, it should be taken with a huge pinch of salt. For example, after all that the President said in his TRRC launching statement, we saw Barrow form an alliance with the APRC. As if he did not notice how irresponsible and insensitive that act is against victims and undermining transitional justice, he went further to also visit the extended family of the tinpot dictator Yahya Jammeh. He claims his actions are driven by the need for reconciliation.
Yet the President noted in his speech that TRRC offers an opportunity for perpetrators to “come clean, face their victims and seek forgiveness”. Can the President ask himself if Yahya Jammeh and his family, and APRC and the host of perpetrators ever came out to accept their acts of violations and seek forgiveness? Rather what is evident is that Yahya Jammeh and his APRC have dedicated their despicable lives to ridicule, insult and mock victims while at the same time seeking to discredit and rubbish the TRRC and the entire transitional justice program. If the perpetrator is refusing to accept the truth, much more seeking forgiveness from victims, how come forming an alliance with APRC and visiting Jammeh’s family serve the purpose of reconciliation and justice?
If the Minister of Justice is indeed moved by the #NeverAgain March to the point of issuing a press release, one wonders why the same Dawda Jallow was not moved by Pres. Barrow’s party, NPP forming an electoral alliance with APRC? Is Mr. Jallow saying he did not see the President visiting the Jammeh family in Kanilai? Why have these two shameful events that directly undermine transitional justice not trigger the Minister to issue a statement against them?
Furthermore, the Gambia Government provided only D50 million dalasi to TRRC for reparations for victims so far. This money is understood to be even from the Senegalese Government. There was information that another D50M was to come but which never did. Hence, for the Minister to claim that D150 million is allocated to victims in the 2022 budget is hugely inadequate.
Can we ask the Minister of Justice to tell us the whereabouts of the D1.2 billion raised from the sale of the so-called assets of Yahya Jammeh? Why cannot the Government dedicate all of that money to the transitional justice program in order to ensure adequate funds for reparations, prosecutions, memorialisation, reconciliation and other activities geared towards achieving the objectives of transitional justice.
Therefore, I ask Gambians to take the press release from the Ministry of Justice with a huge pinch of salt, if not a bowl of salt! The greatest threat to transitional justice in this country so far is President Adama Barrow and his entire Government. Not only has Barrow saturated his Cabinet with former dictatorship enablers but he has also maintained a host of human rights violators across the public service including the security sector – after having caused the failure of the draft constitution and as well as failing to conduct the necessary constitutional, legal and institutional reforms in the public service and the security institutions.
Let CSOs and citizens in general not be carried by the press release of the Minister of Justice but to continue to vigorously engage. Let us realise that the Gambia Government has the necessary resources to put into transitional justice if they wanted to do so since 2017. Secondly, Barrow does not need to and should not have formed any alliance with APRC, much more perambulating around Yahya Jammeh like a fly in a toilet. Barrow does not need to keep Yahya Jammeh enablers in his Cabinet and in his party and across the public sector and security sector institutions. Hence, after having done all of these, how can anyone be convinced that this President and his Government are committed to transitional justice!
In fact, why would the Minster wait until after the march to issue a statement and not come to the march himself and deliver the statement right there? This shows that this Government does not care about victims and transitional justice. A responsible Government would have ensured that the President himself together with his Cabinet are present at the march to show practical solidarity, seriousness and commitment to victims and transitional justice.