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Usra Zeya, US Under Secretary for civilian security, democracy and human rights

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By Lamin Cham

The United States Under-Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights Usra Zeya, visited The Gambia this week. She is the most senior Biden- administration official to visit The Gambia. During her visit, Zeya met and held talks with President Barrow and Justice Minister Dawda Jallow about the Gambia’s restoration of democracy, transitional justice and human rights.

She also performed the launch of a new project, Improved access to Justice in The Gambia, funded by the US, to be implemented by the International Law Development Organisation IDLO.

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 On the side-lines of this launching, Under Secretary Zeya spoke to The Standard’s editor Lamin Cham on the US – Gambia relations and partnership since the restoration of democracy in 2017. Excepts:

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Madame Under Secretary, what is the assessment of the US government about the Gambia’s progress to democracy since the change of government in 2016 when the country emerged from decades of dictatorship, and how has your government assisted the country on this path?

Thank you Lamin. I am very happy to have been giving the opportunity to be interviewed by you.

Well the US sees The Gambia as a bright star of democracy in Africa and we are committed to helping Gambia realise her ambition of being a democratic nation. So I think the bilateral partnership between the US and The Gambia can best be characterised as strong and going strong.

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One of the strongest demonstration of US commitment to The Gambia was President Biden’s announcement last December at the US- African leaders summit that The Gambia was one of a handful of few nations found to be eligible for a new Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) compact, targeted at reducing poverty and stimulating economic growth. But it is important to know that this is on top of, concurrent with our existing US25M MCC threshold agreement which started in late 2021. I think also that the overwhelming support that the Gambia has received attest to the country’s profound democratic transformation and the US’s confidence in the country’s future. So other ways that the US is supporting consolidation of democracy, strengthening the Gambia government’s’ ability to deliver for all her people, included the USAID promoting rights and justice programme, a USD8M programme that is working to strengthen the Gambia’s justice sector so  that the abuses that occurred  under Jammeh never happen again.

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And I want to share this point Lamin. I understand from your biography that you were personally impacted and targeted as a member of the media and I think you, and your work, your bravery are a living testament to the resilience of the Gambians and the significant gains in human rights and press freedom. So am very happy to be doing this interview today.

One of the topics you discussed with Gambian officials is transitional justice. What is the stand of the US on this?

The US absolutely commend the Gambian Truth, Reparations and Reconciliation Commission (TRRC) and its important work which we see as a model for the region and the world. It is so critically important to hold accountable those responsible – the perpetrators of past crimes, and to give power and voice to the victims.

But it is very important now to support the implementation of the recommendations of the TRRC and to this end I have had an excellent discussions on this topic with President Barrow and Justice Minister Dawda Jallow and what we hear is a very strong commitment on the part of the government to follow the recommendations of the TRRC and to translate them into implementing legislation and action. To this end we think that the hybrid court with Ecowas which President Barrow announced his support for last month, is very important as it will allow a specialised statute to overcome legal and political barriers. It could also be flexible and look at cases that are still imbedded in The Gambian legal system and still being very specific to country’s domestic context.

An additional form of support is strengthening the judicial sector and that’s why the project we just launched here, Improve access to Justice in The Gambia, a two- year project, is so important in this context. It is a over one million dollar project with the IDLO, a respected leader in this space and I believe it shows a shared objective between our two governments which is to deliver an equitable, impartial and efficient justice for all the people and we absolutely understand that it is incomplete with respects to the survivors of the Jammeh’s grievous abuses.

So this why our State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs which I oversee will work very closely with Gambia’s justice and judicial stakeholders to build the technical infrastructure to develop a procedural system that would help with case management, reduce backlogs and ultimately we hope this will enhance the capacity of Gambian justice officials to ensure that justice is served where crime is committed. You mentioned also Lamin the very important issue of recuperation of the the ill-gotten gains of President Jammeh in the United States and this is why the US State Department and Department of Justice have worked very closely to seize the property of the ex- president in the US. The Department of Justice is handling a sale and working very closely with the Government of The Gambia to ensure the best result. But I think in line with this deepening and expanding US- Gambia bilateral relations as we have seen during the launching of the new project Improve access to Justice in The Gambia, the MCC compact, the USAID support, the USDA S25M nutrition and literacy support, we are really committed to ensuring that the proceed of the sale serves the intended purpose, supporting, strengthening of Gambian democracy and accountability for the  survivors  of Jammeh’s misrule.

Thank you Under Secretary. 

Thank you Lamin, and for your work at The Standard.

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