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    Gambians await government’s decision on prosecution for rights abuses

    November 30, 2021

    Gambian supporters of the TRRC: still waiting for justice

    GAMBIANS have been urged by President Adama Barrow to be patient as his government studies the 17-volume report of findings and recommendations by the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), which was presented to him last Thursday.

    After public hearings that began in January 2019, and with 22 three-week sessions over 871 days, testimonies from 393 witnesses contained in 33 volumes comprising 14,636 pages of verbatim statements, Barrow announced that his government would “study the report carefully for appropriate action”.

    He said that a government White Paper that would “inform the general public of its position…will be published within six months from today”.

    He added: “In the interim, I advise all Gambians to exercise restraint.”

    The TRRC, which looked into human rights abuses in the country during the 22-year rule of Yahya Jammeh has recommended that those most responsible for gross human rights abuses between July 1994 and January 2017 be prosecuted.

    During this period, some 250 people, including 50 West African migrants, were killed in suspicious circumstances.

    “The names of those individuals recommended for prosecution have not been placed in a sealed envelope but mentioned expressly in the relevant sections of the report,” TRRC Chairman Dr. Lamin Sise, said when he presented the Commission’s report to Barrow.

    Many Gambians have been waiting with great expectation for the release of the report but they will now have to wait a while for action.

    The hearings were broadcast live and as such Gambians heard the harrowing evidence from victims of human rights abuses under Jammeh.

    “When the Commission began its work, it decided that its public hearings will be transparent and broadcast live for all to see and hear the truth being told in real-time,” Sise said.

    “There is nothing better than telling the truth in the open.”

    He said that the violations and abuses of human rights that the National Assembly mandated the TRRC to investigate were, “from the testimonies of witnesses… calculated and wicked…”

    During the final session of the TRRC’s public hearings earlier this year, Sise criticised Jammeh, who is currently in exile in Equatorial Guinea

    “The phenomenon of leaders of military coups civilianizing themselves was rampant in the sub-region of West Africa,” he said.

    “These leaders rigged and held farce elections to perpetrate their rule.

    “The Gambia became a collective victim of this phenomenon.

    “Witnesses have testified before this Commission that structures that underpin good governance, [such as] respect for the rule of law and independence of the Judiciary were virtually non-existent during the 22-year Jammeh rule,” Sise added.

    The report itself outlined 427 findings and 218 recommendations.

    These include measures aimed at reconciliation and peacebuilding; and recommendations that include initiatives on human rights and peace-building studies for children.

    The TRRC was mandated to get to the bottom of human rights abuses, uncover the truth to guarantee a clear historical record of what went on in the country and submit recommendations on reparations for deserving victims.

    So far, 671 such victims have received reparations from the D50 million advanced to the TRRC by the government, according to Sise who added that more were still being compensated.

    On the relevance of the probe, Barrow noted: “Through the TRRC, Gambians now know what happened on Gambian soil in the past.

    “Although we have decided as a country to unearth the truth, our desire is to create a path for healing and reconciliation, with the goal of co-existing peacefully as Gambians.

     “I am certain that, if we choose to do so, we can live together in peace and harmony, without any form of injustice, and nurture our young democracy in a stable nation where the rule of law prevails in the best interest of all,” Barrow added. 

    The Gambian leader thanked witnesses and their families for their “fortitude and courageous testimonies”.

    He went on: “I assure them that my government will ensure that justice is done, but I urge them to be patient and allow the legal process to take its course.

    “That way, justice will prevail, and we will be able to heal as a country and move forward united and stronger, with greater determination.”

    Nevertheless, there are some Gambians who doubt whether those with the greatest responsibility for human rights would be prosecuted.

    They are worried when Sise said: “Further investigation of allegations concerning persons who bear the greatest responsibility for human rights violations and abuses with a view to prosecuting them, if necessary.”

    Indeed, the TRRC was not a court of law and so it is likely that the claims made during its sittings would have to be investigated by the police and state prosecutor before charges are levelled.

    During a public forum days before the TRRC report was presented, Adama Dieng, a former Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the Prevention of Genocide, said: “The legal responsibility for prosecuting these crimes rests in the first instance with the government of The Gambia. 

    “We hope and we expect that The Gambia will be able effectively to prosecute these crimes, either alone or with the support of regional or international partners.”

    He said that if The Gambia was unwilling or unable to prosecute “these serious crimes, the International Criminal Court, in conformity with the principle of complementarity, may do its part in investigating and prosecuting those most responsible”.

    Dieng went on: “It is also possible that many of these crimes, in particular the murder of the West African migrants from Ghana, Nigeria, Senegal and elsewhere, could be prosecuted by other states under principles such as universal jurisdiction.

    “Let us be clear, however.

    “Whether it is in The Gambia, in another African country, before a special court, or at the ICC, justice must happen and justice will happen. 

    “Impunity is not an option,” he added.

    Human rights activists have argued that The Gambia might not have the capacity to prosecute the cases recommended by the TRRC.

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