By Edrissa Jallow
The Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) concluded its investigation of human rights violations committed during the leadership of former President Yahya Jammeh in 2021. The TRRC Report and Recommendations indicted the former President for numerous crimes ranging from unlawful killing, sexual and gender-based violence and enforced disappearances to name a few.
The TRRC’s Recommendations have been mostly accepted by the current President Adama Barrow and are being implemented by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) and Victims Led Groups. To learn from Chad and Senegal who collaborated to successfully prosecute former Chad President, Hissene Habre, the Government, Civil Society Actors and Legal Experts converged in Senegal for a two-day conference organised by the African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearance (ANEKED).
This is the second article from a three-part series on the Lessons Learned during the conference held between the 13th and 14th of December 2022. In this publication, we feature an SGBV survivor and a Counsel of the MoJ. Here is a link to the first story in this series.
Ms Lowe: Bringing Jammeh to Justice Requires Patience
It could be recalled on 14th October 2019, the TRRC began to investigate crimes against gender-based violence (GBV) that occurred during former President Yahya Jammeh’s regime where several alleged rape cases were heard. Ms Sainabou Camara Lowe appeared in person before the commission on the same day where she narrated her traumatic ordeal.
Ms Lowe is a survivor of the April 10th and 11th 2000 student demonstration. During her testimony at the TRRC, she narrates that Paramilitaries captured her as she joined her colleague student in the protest where “they started beating me with their batons,” and was later “dragged” into Westfield paramilitary camp.
According to her narration, the paramilitaries took her to a tiny room, tied her hands, and legs, and further stamped on her including her private parts which resulted in her going unconscious after some time. A week later, she regained consciousness and realized “my face and private parts were swollen” as she was admitted to the Gambia’s main referral Hospital in Banjul.
Ms Lowe who was also part of the study team in Dakar and shared her experience of lessons learned from Chadian Victims with our reporter. According to her, among the lessons learned from the Chadian victims is “patient and communication”.
“Although they [Chadian Victims] thought us to be patient they also taught us to fight harder to ensure he [Yahya Jammeh] is brought to justice as they did to Hissène,” said Ms Lowe.
The Chadian victims in the person of Clément Abaifouta and Abdourahmane Gueye advised TRRC victims to be patient as they [Chadian victims] had to wait for 25 years to get justice. The two victims who triumphed over the former Chad President also encouraged victims to build a strong communication team where victims can come up with their position and present it to the Government.
Both victims further expressed their sincere gratitude to ANEKED for organizing the two-day-long initiative.
Prosecution of Former Chad President Hissène Habré
Former Chad President Hissène Habré was convicted and sentenced to life in prison on 30th May 2016 in the capital city of Senegal, Dakar by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system after being found guilty of committing a series of crimes including torture, sexual violence, and unlawful killings.
A Human Rights Watch publication highlights that an “appeals court confirmed the verdict and ordered Habré to pay approximately €123 million euros in victim compensation” on 27th April 2017. However, a few years later, Habré eventually died in August 2021, while serving his life sentence at the ripe age of seventy-nine.
Given that The Gambia is going through a similar process and initiating the prosecution of former President Yahya Jammeh, ANEKED’s first-of-its-kind international conference facilitated lessons learned from the Habré trial.
Counsel Ceesay: It’s Not Going to Be Easy as We Thought
The Principal State Counsel at the MoJ, Aji Adam Ceesay told delegates that prosecuting Jammeh will not be as easy as Gambians think. Counsel Ceesay who represented the Gambia’s MoJ also shared her thoughts with our reporter on the role of government in bringing Jammeh to Justice.
“It’s also sure that the process is not going to be easy as we taught and is going to also take time, it’s not a one-day process because it took them (Senegal and Chad) twenty years before they could have Hissène Habré to justice”.
Counsel Ceesay added that the MoJ has also learned during the two-day conference about the legal and legislative reforms required for a smooth Transitional Justice process. She explains that the Transitional Justice “processes cannot be done without proper legislative reforms, it’s a number one thing to do”.
According to Counsel Ceesay, the government has “started something and we have learned that in areas that Chad didn’t have it right we as a nation are trying much better that’s having the reparation goes together with all the public hearings and then also doing the legislative reforms”.
However government “admits that there is much more to be done,” she concluded.
Earlier this week the Minister of Justice delegated the Minister for Transport and Works to re-introduce Bills crucial to the Transitional Justice process. On Tuesday 20th December 2022 the Minister of Transport and Works, Hon Ebrima Sillah re-introduced the “Prevention and Prohibition of Torture Bill 2020, Criminal Procedure Bill 2020, Criminal Offences Bill 2020 and the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Bill 2019,” which are all important for the Legislative Reforms required for a smooth Transitional Justice process.