By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT
The Minister of Justice notified Parliament that he intends to establish the Victims Commission in the first Quarter of 2024 and also plans to progress plans to table the Special Prosecutors Office and Special Accountability Mechanism Bills in Parliament soon.
The Attorney General and Minister for Justice Hon Dawda A Jallow was responding to Parliamentary questions posed by the Hon Member for Busumbala and the Hon Member for Banjul North on the stages of implementation of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission’s (TRRC’s) recommendations and the Reparations component on 6th December 2023. The TRRC is a defunct Commission established to investigate the human rights violations that occurred from 1994 to January 2017 under the leadership of former President Yahya A J J Jammeh.
In response to the questions, the Justice Minister explained that after the TRRC submitted its report to the President on 25th November 2021, the Government published its White Paper presenting “the government’s position on the recommendations of the TRRC”. In addition, Hon Jallow added that “the implementation of the TRRC Recommendations which were accepted in the White Paper requires a comprehensive and coordinated approach that involves all stakeholders including Government Agencies, Civil Society Organisations and International Partners”.
The Minister for Justice explained that the Implementation Plan was eventually launched which stipulates timelines and budgetary costs to implement the accepted TRRC recommendations. According to Hon Jallow, the TRRC Implementation Plan was launched “in May this year  at a well-attended stakeholders conference and donor round table. The said Implementation Plan represents the Road Map for the Future”.
Turning his attention to the prosecution of those who bear the most responsibility, Minister Jallow noted that his Ministry has “now completed the drafting of two critical legislation which will soon be laid in” [Parliament] for enactment. These are the Special Prosecutors Office and the Special Accountability Mechanism Bills respectively”.
Another action point relating to prosecutions highlighted by Justice Minister Jallow is for “a joint technical working group with ECOWAS [that] has been formed and they will soon start work to draw concrete plans to implement the joint hybrid judicial chamber for the prosecution of TRRC-related cases”.
“In conducting these prosecutions, we are creating an accountability mechanism which will consist of the Special Prosecutors Office, a Hybrid Tribunal and a Special Prosecution High Court of the Gambia. The objective of the Accountability is to prosecute offences that can’t be prosecuted domestically in the Special Criminal Division of The Gambia and to prosecute the offences that are of an international nature under international law in the Hybrid Tribunal”, said Minister Jallow.
Victims Commission to be Established in Q1 of 2024
Speaking specifically on Reparations, Justice Minister Jallow revealed that “the passing of the Victims Commission Bill during your last [extraordinary] session was a great milestone in this regard. We now await the Presidential ascent for the act to formally come into force. We plan to have the Victims Commission established within the first quarter of 2024”.
“The Commission will administer the Victims Fund where Reparations will be paid as well as other needs of victims. The Commission will admit new victims based on the objective criteria, maintain a victims database and also reassess the fair quantum of compensation for the various types of injuries suffered. The Victim’s Commission is expected to be the one-stop shop for all victim’s affairs”, said Justice Minister Jallow.
Turning his attention to Bills that are currently under Parliament’s purview, Minister Jallow reminded members that “this Assembly is expected to consider and pass the Criminal Offences Bill and Criminal Procedure Bill with a view to repealing the existing Criminal Code and Criminal Procedure Acts and Reforming our Criminal Law to be in line with International Standards”.
During his lengthy response, Justice Minister Jallow noted various categories of Bills which have been grouped into three different categories; Bills passed by Parliament, Bills to be tabled in Parliament and Bills and Reforms under development by the Ministry of Justice.
A. Bills Passed by Parliament
- Prevention of Torture Act – Passed and Ascented,
- Ban from Public Office TRRC Act – Passed and Awaiting Presidential Ascent,
- Victims Reparations Bill – Passed and Awaiting Presidential Ascent
B. Bills to be Tabled in Parliament
- Special Prosecutors Office Bill
- Special Accountability Mechanism Bill
- Peace and Reconciliation Bill
C. Bills and Reforms Under Development by MoJ
- Cyber Crime Bill
- Evidence Bill
- Peace and Reconciliation Bill
- Prison Reform
- Judicial Reform
- Civil Service Reform
Commitment to Implement TRRC’s Recommendations Questioned
Subsequent Parliamentary questions from other members of the National Assembly questioned the Ministry’s commitment to implementing the TRRC’s recommendations. To these questions, Minister Jallow explained that his Office has missed some deadlines. “For example, it was my target to have the Victims Commission actually in operations during this last quarter  I missed that target. So, my new target is before the end of the first quarter the Victims Commission will be at work” said Minister Jallow.
Another important deadline was mentioned for the Special Prosecutors Office and the Special Accountability Mechanism Bill. “The Office of the Special Prosecutors should also be up and running by my own Policy target before the end of the first quarter . So, we have these timelines and guidelines in the work plan but you know this is government. Government business is difficult to operate entirely within the time but they’re there” noted Justice Minister Jallow.
To cap up the questions around commitment the Hon Member for Bakau asked “If am to put to you that Gambians Are not happy with the slow implementation of the TRRC Recommendations, Hon Minister of Justice what is your response?”
To this Justice Minister Jallow noted that he “can only tell them to bear with us. Some of these things to implement them require resources. Some of these resources are not even readily available in the country we rely on assistance from Partners to achieve some of them”.
Highlighting some of their efforts, Minister Jallow added that for TRRC Recommendations “that are considered low hanging fruits we’re doing our best with those ones and those that are resource intensive we have to mobilise resources to make sure that we implement them. So, if some people or some sections of society believe it’s slow, I respect their opinion but I only urge them to bear with us. It’s never too easy to do some of these things”.
Just last week the Minister of Justice announced that his Office plans for the Special Prosecutor to start work in mid-2024 after tabling two relevant Bills in Parliament in January 2024 during an extraordinary session. More on that publication below.