By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
A packed room of civil society actors, Victims, authorities and other stakeholders of the Gambia’s Transitional Justice process went on an emotional roller coaster ride on Friday 20th January 2023 during the premiere of a Docu-Drama focused on Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) aspects of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).
The TRRC was pioneered by the Government of President Adama Barrow to investigate human rights violations that occurred during the 22-year-long misrule of former President Yahya Jammeh from 1994 to 2016. After the commission completed its work and submitted its report and recommendations to the President in 2021, work has been progressing to disseminate the bulky 16 Volumes of Reports to the Gambian populace. Volume 10 of the TRRC Report focuses on SGBV, however, it’s widely understood that a significant number of SGBV victims declined to testify at the TRRC’s public hearings due to societal pressures.
Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH) focused Civil Society Organisation (CSO) Fantanka, has been producing reports for youth, women and an animation booklet for children to convey the findings of the TRRC to a younger audience. Even literates may not have the time to go through the large volumes of the TRRC Report and the Government White Paper. Continuing to bridge the gap, Fantanka’s latest effort is an approach to improve the “understanding of the Transitional Justice outcome, especially to non-literates”.
The Docu-Drama featured popular comedian Kitabu and his Team and performances during the launching event by Miss Jobiz and Omar Champion Cham. The night started with speeches and statements from the Ministry of Justice, a statement from their SGBV unit, a TRRC Victim and advocates. Soon after the premiere shifted into a festive mood with performances from Kitabu and Miss Jobiz drawing laughter and dancing from the crowd.
Moderating the event, Ms Satang Dumbuya who also worked in the TRRC’s Reparations Unit explained some of the barriers limiting the understanding of SGBV and its legal implications. “When we talk about Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, especially with regards to the laws, not everyone understands this, both the literate and the illiterate”. In a bid to address this Ms Dumbuya believes that “it’s important we create environments like this, where everybody gets to see what has been happening in the past. Not everyone can learn what is written in books. Some people are best at reading stories or drama to understand exactly what transpired”.
Counsel Kimbeng Tah who spearheads the Ministry of Justice Transitional Justice process noted that during the Jammeh Government, “SGBV crimes were both a catalyst and an ingredient for human rights abuses that happened. If you remember April 10 and 11, one of the things that led to the whole student’s protest was SGBV, the alleged rape of a student that led to the protest. When you look at the Kalama Revolution and the brave protestors that went to protest on April 16th, Nogoi Njie, Fatou Camara and all these people you see that SGBV was one of the offences that they suffered”.
Counsel Tah noted that because of the stigma in society both women and men find it very difficult to speak and provide witness testimony against SGBV. This makes it challenging for legal action to be taken against perpetrators.
After the performances, the Docu-Drama took centre stage setting the tone for some honest truth-telling between representatives of the Ministry of Justice and its SGBV Unit; and victims who poured their hearts out about life since the conclusion of the TRRC. One victim enthused that the Government’s lack of implementation demonstrates their lack of regard for the Never Again Mantra which he rebranded as “Repeat Again”. Counsel Kimbeng Tah, former TRRC Staff and Advocates did their best to allay some of the concerns of the victims.
Towards the end of the event, one lady and two children highlighted the lengths she went to, just to attend the Premiere and poured her heart out for help noting that she was trying to escape from an abusive relationship.
After very spirited and frank exchanges between some victims, the authorities and advocates, Omar Champion Cham took the mic to deliver a poignant poem on SGBV and the need for society to take ownership to curb the illegal act. The docu-drama provoked meaningful reflections and challenged attendees to take ownership in ridding SGBV from our homes while challenging the Government to be more proactive in prosecuting and setting an example.