TRRC Recommendations & Gov’t White Paper acknowledgement; Beginning of the healing process for Jammeh’s Victims.
“The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends toward Justice” It is also a fact that Change takes a long time, but it does happen. The last five years have been an agonizing period for victims of the Jammeh dictatorship and their families in the Gambia. Losing family members through assassinations; enforce disappearances, torture, rape, witchcraft, unceremonious hiring and firing of Gambians was enough pain for citizens to go through. This was made even worse after the initial optimism of the change in December 2016, which disappeared quickly as politicians started positioning themselves to consolidate power once they were in charge. The hope that Gambians had that freedom and justice would finally be attained took a twisted turn as political adventurism reared its ugly head.
Then come the Truth, Reconciliation, Reparation Commission (TRRC), a transitional justice system which began its hearing and investigations of atrocities committed under Jammeh’s watch from 1994 to 2016. The commission, first of its kind in the West African state of the Gambia was an enlightening but traumatizing period as it conducted daily live hearings of witnesses, perpetrators and victims of human rights violation and political witch hunt by the previous Government. The hearings brought more shocking stories of what happened to Gambians which opened new wounds to families as they learned of the fate to their love ones, and surviving victims recanting their horrendous ordeals in the hands of security personnel and government officials. Gambians could not believe what they were hearing their own government did to its citizens.
As the TRRC worked to produce its mandated report and recommendations, Gambia’s political discourse became more toxic and divided over the work of the commission and how justice would be delivered on behalf of the victims. The period from 2019 leading to the Presidential Elections in December 2021 was particularly difficult for victims, human rights activists and Gambia’s International partners. This was because the political environment became more divided as politicians started positioning and aligning themselves with any group to retain or get into power. As usual, the politics appear to have precedence over the plight of victims and the fate of the TRRC became even more questionable. Gambians all, but gave up on any hope that President Barrow would have political will to implement any recommendations from the TRRC, as he made political and reconciliatory gestures toward former President Jammeh and the APRC party under whose watch these gross human rights violations were carried out!
While it was disappointing to see the President and his political allies continue to down play justice for the victims and instead, emphasize reconciliation and peace, many pundits were well aware of the usual game the politicians were playing, which is to do anything to retain power! Again, victims’ families and rights activists almost completely lost hope that justice would ever be delivered to the victims and the perpetrators held accountable for their alleged crimes. Some perpetrators and former President’s allies saw an opportunity to continue to discredit the TRRC and ignore what happened to the victims. They try to separate the APRC party from the former government which many Gambians knew was a false narrative!
However, Gainako and many rights groups continue to emphasize that the TRRC mandate though enacted through an act of parliament, it had a component that would make it difficult for the Barrow government to completely ignore despite its political alignment with remnants of the former regime! The TRRC was sponsored and mostly championed by Gambia’s international parties such as the UN; the ECOWAS, the EU and other rights groups just to name a few. It is also note worthy that Jammeh’s crimes extended beyond Gambians as it involved other West African Nationals and some such as rape, torture and murder constitutes crimes against humanity! It was therefore inevitable that the current government cannot disregard the report and recommendations of the TRRC.
For the victims of these crimes and all those who have worked tirelessly across the globe to fight against these atrocities and called for justice, the recommendations of the TRRC and Government White Paper accepting 99% of the recommendations is the beginning of the healing process. While no amount of compensation and justice can bring back the lost of love ones, the simple acknowledgement by your government that crimes were committed against innocent citizens is a step in the right direction. Agreeing to prosecute and or hold to account many of the perpetrators especially former President Jammeh who committed serious crimes against humanity is a welcome development to victims and their families.
We note that government’s acknowledgement of the occurrence, history and clear documentation of these crimes is itself a milestone which means; even if this government fails to implement the recommendations, a future government can pick up and still prosecute these cases. This is so because there are no statue of limitations on many of these crimes such as rape, torture, extra judicial killings and other crimes against humanity. The international component which allows other nations to prosecute some of these perpetrators as seen in the US, Germany and Switzerland are another welcome development.
Therefore the government of the Gambia did the right thing by accepting the recommendations and agreeing to set up a special tribunal to prosecute these crimes and compensate the victims for their pain and suffering. We must also welcome the idea of renaming the Arc to “Never Again” and to turn the facility into more of a museum to commemorate the victims of rights violations and to permanently document what happened in the Gambia. The recommendations must also serve as a warning to not only current government officials, but for future public officials, that if you are entrusted with a public responsibility and you took an oath to serve without fear or favor, you will be held accountable for any crimes that happened under your watch or you are a willing accomplish no matter how long it takes. The institutional reforms embedded in the TRRC recommendations should also work as a base and framework to finally bring the needed reforms Gambia so deserves! The TRRC we must conclude has been a remarkable success and it will serve as an example for how future TRRCs can deliver truth and reparation. The victims and their families can somewhat feel a sense of relief that some resemblance of justice is in the making. Our thoughts and prayers to all the victims and we will forever be indebted to those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for the freedom Gambia is enjoying today.