By Dr. Omar Janneh
On August 20/21, 2018, the Ministry of Justice announced the names of the 11 individuals intended to be appointed by the President as Commissioners of The Gambia’s TRRC.
The public were invited to submit objections to the nominations by August 30, 2018. Seeing as I live in the UK and there is little or no guarantee that my objections would be delivered on time by any other cost-effective means (– as objections have to be submitted by surface mail or on foot to: The Justice Ministry, Marina Parade, Banjul, The Gambia; the Executive only gave us this address to send our objections to), I have decided to submit my objections to the nominations in public in this piece.
The list below shows in bold text the geographical distributions of the 11 intended Commissioners who may be appointed by the President:
1. Mr. Abdoulie (Mori Kebba) Janneh: Chairperson – Former Under Secretary General of the United Nations at the Economic Commission for Africa and current Head of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation (MIF).
Diaspora/Greater Banjul area
2. Ms. Adelaide Sosseh Gaye: Deputy Chairperson – Former Principal Saint Joseph’s High School, Gender Consultant and Retired Educationist.Greater Banjul Area
3. Ms. Anna Ngalu Jones- member – National Coordinator, West African Network for Peace-building, The Gambia (WANEP). Peace and conflict resolution expert. Greater Banjul Area
4. Mr. Mustapha Kah: Member of the National Youth Council. A graduate in Political Science and Law and currently working at the Ministry of Basic & Secondary Education (MoBSE). Greater Banjul Area
5. Mr. Abdourahman Sey: Member representing the Central River Region. He is an Imam. Rural Gambia
6. Ms. Ma Nyima Bojang: Member representing the West Coast Region. She is a teacher. Greater Banjul Area
7. Ms. Amie Samba: Member representing Lower River Region. She is a retired civil servant Rural Gambia
8. Mr. Lang Kinteh: Member North Bank Region. Retired civil servant. Rural Gambia
9. Mr. Jammeh Ceesay: Member representing Upper River Region. He is a farmer and the Agric Sub Head of the Village Development Committee (VDC). Rural Gambia
10. Bishop James Yaw Allen Odico: Member – Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of The Gambia.Greater Banjul Area
11. Imam Ousainou Jallow: Member – Imam, Pipeline Mosque. Greater Banjul Area
My objections to the appointment of the intended Commissioners and the reasons for the objections, including some lingering questions, are as follows:
(1) There is an uneven geographical distribution of the Commissioners. It can be seen in bold and underlined text above in yellow that about 7 of the 11 intended Commissioners come from the Greater Banjul Area. Questions: What is the rationale for having 2 Imams, but one Bishop? Are there any good reasons for these apparent partialities? Does any of the intended Commissioners have a good grasp of the number of victims, victims’ families, and perpetrators in the region they represent?
(2) Ms. Adelaide Sosseh Gaye is at least conflicted 3 times namely:
a) She has been a vocal critic of Dictator Jammeh;
b) Her daughter, Ms. Ndey Tapha Sosseh has been a solid critic of Jammeh’s cruel government, especially after the brutal killing on December 16, 2004 of her dear colleague, our veteran journalist Mr Deyda Hydara, of blessed memory; and
c) Some of us would know that until recently, Ms. Ndey Tapa Sosseh was living in exile. We may also be able to say with some certainty that Ms. Adelaide Sosseh Gaye is a UDP supporter which may make her unsuitable for appointment as a Commissioner of the TRRC under the TRRC Act, 2017; 5(3)(a). Overall, Ms. Adelaide Sosseh Gaye is unsuitable for appointment, especially as Deputy Chairperson of the TRRC;
(3) It is not clear if the intended Commissioners have experience of working with children affected by rights abuses or an advocate of children’s rights as may be investigated by this TRRC (TRRC Act, 2017; 34(3)(a&b); 35(3)(a&b);
(4) It is not clear if the intended Commissioners have experience in conflict prevention and management. This is important given the fragile nature of the security in the country. Please note that, despite his military experience, the (conflicted) Director of Research and Investigations is not a Commissioner;
(5) None of the Commissioners have judicial experience; none are or have been a Judge or Lawyer in the High Court for some considerable period of time (of at least 10-15 years). Please note that the intended Commissioner, Mr. Mustapha Kah and the Deputy Executive Secretary (who is not a Commissioner and may, therefore, not be consulted during the hearings) are not Lawyers, but are Law graduates. With respect, these two do not have any relevant practical experience of Procedural Law.
For the purpose of emphasising the importance of this fifth point on judicial experience, it is important that we visit the truth commissions of at least 4 countries before us. Because of the nature of the rights abuses investigated, all of the following 4 truth commissions had at least one Lawyer, with more than 10 years judicial experience in the High Court as Commissioner and with other Commissioners being internationally-respected human rights activists.
Similarly, the nature of the rights abuses endured by victims and victims’ families during Jammeh’s brutal regime requires that an individual with demonstrable (practical) judicial experience be included as a Commissioner in The TRRC since it is quite likely that some victims, victims’ families and perpetrators may be accompanied by their Lawyer(s) to the hearings. Indeed, due to the rights abuses that will be heard, it is important and necessary that a Judge/Lawyer of repute be present during the hearings. Below are some examples:
A. Liberia: There were 10 Commissioners and the Chairperson, Jerome J. Verdier Sr, is a leading human rights activist and a practicing Attorney. Other members of the Commission include Dede Dolopei (Vice Chairperson); Massa Washington; Henrietta Joy Abena Mensa Bonsu; John H.T. Stewart Oumu K Sylla; Bishop Arthur F. Kulah; Sheikh Kafumba F. Konneh; Pearl Brown Bull and Gerald B. Coleman.
B. Sierra Leone: They appointed some 7 Commissioners. Interestingly, Sierra Leone also had public nominations of Commissioners, but there was a coordinating role by the UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General in Freetown in the selection of the Commissioners. Also, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights put forward 3 internationals. Four members of the commission are of Sierra Leonean nationality.
A Sierra Leonean, Bishop Joseph Humper chaired the Commission. The Deputy Chair Laura Marcus-Jones is a former Judge of the Sierra Leone High Court. Other members include Sylvanus Torto (Professor of Public Administration); and Professor John Kamara (College Principal and Veterinary Surgeon). There were international members such as our very own Madam Aja Satang Jow (former Minister of Education and Principal at Gambia High School); William Schabas (Canadian human rights Lawyer; head of the Irish Centre for Human Rights; author of many books dealing on international human rights law); and Yasmin Sooka(leading human rights Lawyer who also served on the South Africa Truth and Reconciliation Commission; currently the Executive Director of the Foundation for Human Rights in South; and Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan).
C. Kenya: 8 Commissioners were appointed, with at least 5 having considerable practical knowledge in Law. There was Ronald C. Syle (Professor of Law); Tecia Namachanja Wanjala (an expert in conflict resolution); Gertrude Chawatama (has considerable judicial experience); Margaret Shava(with some 17 years’ experience in law management and peace building; human rights, governance and international refugee law); Bethany Dinka (with extensive high-level experience in leadership at international level, e.g., UN; Ambassadorial levels). Despite his sterling leadership qualities, Bethuel Kiplagat, of blessed memory, had to be removed from the Kenya Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission as Chairperson and was replaced by TeciaNamachanja Wanjala due to conflict of interest because of Mr. Kiplagat’s (alleged) role in the 1984 Wagalla Massacre.
D. South Africa: About 15 Commissioners were appointed, including very many high profile members such as Archbishop Desmond Tutu (chairperson), Dr Alex Boraine (Deputy Chairperson), Dr Faizel Randera, Mary Burton, Advocate Chris de Jager, Advocate Denzil Potgieter, Bongani Finca, Sisi Khampepe, Richard Lyster, Wynand Malan, Reverend Khoza Mgojo, Hlengiwe Mkhize, Dumisa Ntsebeza (Head of the Investigative Unit), Wendy Orr, MapuleRamashala, Yasmin Sooka and Glenda Wildschut(a prominent human rights activist and an authority on reconciliation).
Given our size of about 2 million, and the number of cases to be investigated, it could be argued if we need 11 Commissioners. If we do, we must have other high profile individuals with at least one Commissioner who has 10-15 experience, preferably in human rights Law to provide judicial oversight during the hearings.
Indeed, we have seen that during the Surahata S. Janneh Commission, some witnesses were accompanied/represented by their Lawyer. The Commissioners of this TRRC may be hoodwinked if it fails to include a Commissioner with practical experience of at least 10-15 years as a Judge/Attorney in human rights Law in the High Court. It may not be appropriate, credible, and honest to consult Lawyer(s) sitting outside the Commission during the hearings.
Finally, I think the appointment of the Director of Research and Investigations should have been left to the Commissioners and not done by the (conflicted) Executive Secretary. The(conflicted) Executive Secretary is in charge of the Secretarial work of the Commission and may appoint staff to that position as the Commission may require (TRRC Act, 2017; 24(1-3).
It seems that the appointment of a conflicted individual as Director of Research and Investigations, by the conflicted Executive Secretary is an unreasonable and unjustified interpretation of the powers conferred by the TRRC Act, 2017; 24(1-3) on the Executive Secretary. In fact, the TRRC Act, 2017 is silent over this specific appointment.
Surely, the work of the Director of Research and Investigations has far more bearing on the credibility, and fairness of the work of the Commissioners, and not the Secretariat and therefore such a high-profile appointment should have been handled by the Commissioners.
Therefore, to ensure that justice is seen to be done, – in the eyes of fair-minded people, regional partners, AU, UN, and donors – it is hoped that the Chairperson would seriously consider this matter and return some sense of sobriety, honesty, credibility and impartiality into the TRRC – in line with internationally accepted standards.