By Yusef Taylor, @FlexDan_YT – Interview conducted on 13th May 2022
“Our recent history is too fresh in our minds for us to have a nonchalant attitude towards human rights. Those who govern us (the Executive and its agents), those who are governed (the public) and those who aspire to govern us (political parties and their supporters) must believe in the principles of human rights and not just pay lip service to its ideals”.
These are the words of the Chairperson of the Gambia’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) Mr Emmanuel Joof during his hearing at the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) aired live on QTV on 20th May 2021. Chairperson Joof was speaking as a Human Rights Defender with two decades of experience during the 22-year rule of former President Yahya Jammeh. Our reporter caught up with the NHRC Chairperson to discuss their role in the implementation of the TRRC Recommendations.
NHRC Recommendations by TRRC and CSOs
The Gambia Government published its White Paper on the TRRC recommendations and report on 25th May 2022. In that regard, the report has recommended for the NHRC monitor the implementation of the TRRC recommendations and submit a yearly report to Parliament.
The TRRC also recommended, “that the NHRC be responsible for the archiving and digitalisation of documents, information and materials emanating from the TRRC to help in the preservation of the impartial historical record of human rights violation that the TRRC was mandated to establish”.
Civil Society Organisations (CSO) also submitted a White Paper on the TRRC urging the Government to strengthen the NHRC “in its promotion and protection mandate” to increase the chances of “the country’s ‘Never Again’ campaign” becoming “a reality”.
The CSO White Paper submitted to the Minister of Justice on Thursday 6th May 2022 also recommended for the NHRC “to take up the role of a ‘successor body’ to the TRRC with a post-TRRC mandate to advise the government and engage in monitoring the implementation of the recommendations, thereby enhancing public trust in the post-TRRC process”.
Finally, the CSO White Paper also calls for the NHRC to “facilitate coordination of national actors in post-TRRC engagements and support the government in its investigations in the case of missing persons who continue to be in a state of enforced disappearance until the government makes their fate/whereabouts known”.
Both the TRRC and the NHRC were enacted as transitional justice mechanisms by the National Assembly. The main difference in both is that the TRRC was mandated to investigate the Human Rights violations of the former regime of President Yahya Jammeh from 1994 to 2016 while the NHRC is mandated to investigate all human rights violations from 2017 onwards. While the TRRC has a temporary role the NHRC is a permanent body.
NHRC’s Role in TRRC Recommendations
The NHRC is already playing an active role in promoting the TRRC Recommendations. In the same week, our reporter had an interview with the NHRC Chairperson the Commission was engaged in a three-day National Stakeholder Dialogue on the TRRC Report.
Chairperson Joof believes that the Consultations prove “that the State has taken ownership of” the TRRC. Chairperson Joof noted that the consultation was “done by the Minister of Justice in collaboration and partnership with the NHRC, the ICTJ and also supported by the American Bar Association with Victim Led Organisations”.
Speaking on the importance of the National Stakeholder Dialogue Mr Joof explained that it was an opportunity “to look at the recommendations” and to come up with even more recommendations. “So, we were all divided into working groups there was a plenary session where you had serious discussions and it was not censored,” he explained.
After the working groups were divided Chairperson Joof revealed that he was responsible for one of the groups which dealt with Volumes 5, 6 and 7 of the TRRC Reports as a facilitator of the group. At the end of the consultations “the Committee looked at the recommendations and also gave even more recommendations and it is hoped that these recommendations will peep in the White Paper that we are expecting on the 25th of May 2022”.
The NHRC Chairperson noted that “there has been a lot of sceptics and misconceptions [when it comes to the TRRC] and for obvious reasons. Sometimes it was politicised. You had certain segments even ridiculing the whole process of the TRRC which was sad because you had victims who were there their families were killed and you had some people who were actually not showing any sign of remorse and making a mockery of the system”.
When our reporter asked the NHRC Chairperson if his Commission could succeed the TRRC given its permanent status he noted that “the NHRC has by its very mandate a monitoring role on everything that is human rights to make sure that whatever is there is implemented. We are not going to be an implementing agency that is within the purview of the government because they will come up with a white paper and the white paper will have an implementing strategy. If it’s prosecutions who will be prosecuted? How and when? Reparations and issues surrounding Reconciliation. The historical records now we have it, it’s there”.
Chairperson Joof elaborated further when he said “issues relating to impunity. Impunity also goes with prosecutions for those who bear the greatest responsibility”. Giving examples of how the NHRC can impact the implementation Mr Joof opined that people “will just hear the government saying yeah, we will do it but somebody has to tell them, no. You have said you will prosecute these people why have you not done it? You have said that you are supposed to give reparations or set up a reparations committee why have you not done it?”
“So, the TRRC Report itself says we should be making sure that the implementation of the TRRC Recommendations is done and are done within a specified period,” noted the NHRC Chairperson.
The NHRC Chair also highlighted that their Commission had a Consultative Workshop on the TRRC without the Ministry of Justice “where we invited Civil Society because the TRRC is our TRRC. If we are going to carry the Never Again mantra and bring back a culture of human rights and rule of law in this country it is the NHRC and we cannot do that by just singing never again we must do that by making sure that there is no impunity”.
“Those who bear the greatest responsibility will be prosecuted, people will be given reparations and there will be institutional reforms. Those institutions that were known to be the engine of human rights violations like the Police, the Military, the PIU, Immigration, and the Prisons will operate within the confines of a human rights system. So, nobody can take us away from the TRRC because we will carry the Never Again mantra but it is a lot of work. You need implementations that are immediate, medium-term and long term,” explained the NHRC Chairperson.