During the public hearings of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission which ended last week, witness testimonies showed that hundreds of Gambians were killed, disappeared, maimed, tortured, illegally jailed and detained, had their properties unlawfully taken from them, unduly dismissed from their employment or forced into exile. Women were widowed. Children orphaned. Like the Belgian king Leopold II did to Congo, Yahya Jammeh treated The Gambia as his personal fief, Jammeh Kunda Inc. The 22 years before 2016 had some bright spots, but for many Gambians, it was hell on earth.
After Jammeh’s ouster, a transitional justice process was put in place and the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission is a key part of it. The truth, to a great degree, has been unearthed. Now what? Obviously justice for the victims. And part of that dispensation of justice is the payment of reparations. If we are to get over the past and build national unity and reconciliation, we must make sure that people who suffered gross human rights abuses are acknowledged by providing them with reparation.
These measures cannot bring back the dead, or adequately compensate for pain and suffering, but they can improve the quality of life for victims of gross human rights violations and or their dependents. In these straitened times, reparations will surely help victims overcome the damage that they suffered and give them back their dignity.
There are both moral and legal reasons for payment of reparations. Victims of gross human rights abuses have the right to reparation and rehabilitation because of the many different types of losses they have suffered.
The TRRC was set up by an Act of the National Assembly and as is implicit in its name it is mandated to give reparations to victims of human rights violations. The process for reparation should be simple, efficient and fair. This means that the available resources will be used in a way which gives the most benefit to the those who deserve it the most.
Much to its credit, the Government of The Gambia initially gave D50 million to the TRRC towards the reparation fund. We learnt that interim reparations in the form of evacuation fees and medical bills for those victims needing urgent medical care were taken from this amount. The TRRC has asked government for more money. Its Reparations Committee chairwoman in fact stated that they needed about D300 million to pay the victims. Government had earlier indicated that it would give D100 million for reparations. This is D200 million less than what the TRRC is asking for.
The victims and the generality of Gambians want the government to take the issue of reparations seriously. The government should come out as soon as possible and say how much money it is in fact going to provide as reparation. On the other hand, the TRRC should be completely transparent about what it has done and what it intends to do with regard to reparation payment. One would have expected that when the Reparations Committee chairwoman invited the press earlier this week to talk about the desire to pay reparations by the end of this month, she would have given out facts and figures stating how much was spent on what and what is left in the kitty. But going forward, we need to have everything out there in the open so that everyone knows that justice is being administered and seen to be administered.