On October 9th, 2018 the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Aboubacarr Tambadou, said during a news conference held at his office located in the capital city Banjul that The Gambia is not yet ready to hold trials involving the “Junglers” – a hit squad which operated during Jammeh’s regime, arguing that he did “not think this country is yet ready to hold trial of this magnitude”. He has made similar statements on several occasions.
A year ago, the country was not ready to hold hearings of victims before a truth and reconciliation commission. But with political will and stamina, the Ministry of Justice has created the conditions to put in place a solid and sufficiently funded Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), which was formally launched on 15th October 2018.
But for victims, the truth is not enough! We expect the same willingness to build the capacity of the judicial system and the state prosecutor and find adequate funding and expert support for it. The prescription for the TRRC to be the only option for victims to seek redress raises concerns for notable reasons. These concerns were echoed by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, who visited The Gambia in June 2017, which reiterated on several occasions that transitional justice mechanisms are not intended to and cannot replace judicial investigations and prosecutions.
The Government has secured considerable funding from the European Union but also other states, like Qatar, to assist the country in continuing its democratic transition, building on strong democratic institutions, the respect of human rights and the rule of law, and sustainable and shared economic growth. The funding allocated should therefore benefit the entire transitional justice process.
It is equally important to stress that the TRRC recommendations are non-binding. This means that the Government can elect to implement them or not, in other words there is no guarantee of prosecutions after the TRRC hearings. A perfect example is the case of Liberia. Almost ten years after the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission made its recommendations, victims of the atrocities committed are still waiting for justice because the Liberian government has failed to act upon them.
So, what can The Gambia Government do?
In the immediate, the Government can do a little more in adopting a posture which reassures the victims that it cares about the remaining evidence of crimes committed in the past. A case in point is the NIA-related cases. The Government could start by organising the long overdue securing of the NIA archives for instance to avoid further tampering with evidence.
Secondly, we recommend the Government suspend alleged perpetrators within the security forces identified by victims as having taken part of torture. These steps do not need funds or capacity building to be taken immediately.
Thirdly, it will be advisable the Government put in place a small unit, of capable and vetted police officers, to start objective and independent investigations. The release of four junglers in August 2018, was a blow in the face of the victims. You cannot conduct a thorough and impartial investigation when the people that are supposed to make the investigation were part of the repressive security apparatus.
Our recommendations bring us to two words: Political Will. The government needs to show the victims that it has the political will to take these actions and lack of capacity or resources are not acceptable or justifiable anymore. Separating the promotion of reconciliation from the promotion of justice simply undermines both. The pain suffered by victims will simply not be disappearing anytime soon. It is bound to come up again in the Gambia’s political discourse in the future if justice is not seen to be delivered to victims. To quote Hassan Bility, executive director of the Global Justice and Research Project and prominent Liberian human rights activist: “the Government does not have the power to ask anybody to forgive and forget”.
ANEKED (African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances)
Led by young African human rights activists, the African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances (ANEKED) is an independent organization that campaigns against forced disappearances and summary executions. Passionate about the existing human rights movement in Africa, the network seeks to change the status quo- where cases of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances largely go unreported and unprosecuted on the continent. ANEKED believes that their efforts at seeking justice for victims are an affirmation of everyone’s dignity and humanity.
For more information, please check www.aneked.org or email: [email protected]