The Gambia’s truth commission has been globally claimed to be a product of a masterly crafted transitional justice system unrivaled and even highly rated than most of its kind on the continent and even beyond.
This is not least because of its unique features such as powers to determine and pay reparations, reconciling victims with perpetrators and perhaps most visibly, its soap-opera style of public hearings, which have captured the attention of huge audiences at home and abroad.
Television ratings in some sessions especially where the so-called Junglers or former Junta members testify, reached sky level with everyone gripped in suspense and riveting emotional journey. Indeed, the TRRC’s popularity is so huge that even the international community and human rights defenders follow it religiously and praise its organisation and operations. Its most visible staff, especially the lead counsel and his legal colleagues became instant celebrities.
Thus, the TRRC became the reference point and still is the reference point of the Gambia government’s transitional justice system and reforms. As recent as this week, the Ecowas committee on security recommended that because of the need to see through the TRRC process, the Ecomig forces should stay until its conclusions are implemented. All these underline the seriousness and importance even the world attaches to the TRRC process because human rights issues are always a global issue.
However, in recent days, and as highlighted by international human rights medium Justiceinfo, there are concerns among many who said the current seemingly uncertain aspects about it such as how long will the absence of public hearings continue, the lack of clarity on the embryonic reparation policy as well as seemingly ‘loosened’ government interest are all worrisome.
In our view, and as articulated by many who shared their thoughts with us, the TRRC should not find it difficult to hold public hearings in safety. All it needs is to observe social distancing among the commissioners who might not all be needed at all hearings, a ban on audience in the hall and relying on only its contracted QTV live coverage from which all media get feed. While it is important to note that the TRRC actually never stopped work since it has functional units that never stop behind the scenes, the long absence of public sessions will kill any interest perhaps play into the hands of its critics who did not want it in the first place. Given that the commission has important sessions such as institutional hearings, lik the notorious NIA and possible Part 2 of Junglers series as well as the murder of West Africans in 2005, it is important that the commission learn to live with the Covid-19 realities and make its own safety measures to continue the public sessions.
Secondly, the area of monetary reparations is growing to be a possible source of concern. Yes, it was welcome news that the policy has been validated and it is at an embryonic stage waiting for other processes to follow, but the lack of clarity as to how much is allocated for a case murder, torture disappearance, unlawful imprisonment are making it hard to comprehend. Or maybe the public or victims are in undue hurry.
At this point, it will be fair to revisit the commitment of the Gambia government to allocate money for all monetary reparations. As had been highlighted, the D50 million initially provided by government said to be proceeds from the sale of ex-president Jammeh’s assets, is just a drop in the ocean compared to the many possible reparations cases before the commission. And if the proceeds of the sales are where the next allocation too is coming from, what is delaying the release of funds from there after government itself told the National Assembly that another D300 million has been raised and has been safely deposited somewhere? The government must without delay release funds to TRRC as promised to enable it to give monetary reparations as soon as possible. What is the point of spending tens of millions in salaries and other budget of the commission and only for the victims to be left with crumbs