By Our Nation Our Voice (ONOVO)
Reparations are necessitated after a country emerges from political violence, armed conflict, gross human rights violations or a dictatorial government as in the case of The Gambia, which endured a 22-year dictatorship under the leadership of former President Yahya Jammeh who succeeded by current President Adama Barrow in January 2017.
After former President Jammeh overthrew the democratically elected government of first President Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara in 1994, the former Armed Forces Soldier oversaw over a thousand human rights violations from rape, torture, enforced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and much more.
President Jammeh threatened to rule for a Billion years if Allah willed it, however, it all came to an end after the December 2016 Presidential elections after he was voted out in favour of the Coalition which promised reforms and a transitional process. The Coalition which was spearheaded by President Barrow established various commissions to oversee the Gambia’s transition from a Dictatorship to a full fledge Democracy.
The Janneh Commission was created, the permanent National Human Right Commission [NHRC] was constituted, the Constitutional Review Commission [CRC] presented a Bill for a new Constitution which was thwarted in Parliament and the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission [TRRC] investigated the human rights excesses of the former Jammeh Government.
All these Commissions were created to ensure the successful implementation of the transitional justice process similar to countries like Turkey, Colombia and Ivory Coast to name a few. The TRRC established that the Government of former President Yahya Jammeh violated the rights of some 1,154 victims who were due a total of D238.2 million in reparations. After the TRRC concluded its public hearings and submitted its recommendations to President Adama Barrow, the Government accepted most of the recommendations of the commission to progress reparations.
Currently, a Reparations Bill is being progressed by the Ministry of Justice to be tabled in Parliament which will pave the way for victims to receive reparations from the Government.
It is against this backdrop that necessitates reparations for victims whose rights have been violated to restore as best as possible the damages caused to them by people in authority. Reparation is a powerful tool for a country to demonstrate that there are consequences for illegal activities and promotes a culture of accountability.
Types and Forms of Reparations
All these commissions’ work, reports and recommendations would only yield importance if reparations are been done to give redress to the victims. The reparation bill as have drafted but could not be passed, this reparation bill contains all the mechanisms highlighted on how the victims will get their reparations, every victim of human rights violation has the absolute right to get reparation. Reparations are akin to fundamental human rights that should be enjoyed by all victims of human rights violations.
The Gambia is yet to establish a Reparations body, however, victims received the first round of reparations before the TRRC concluded its work. Some victims were flown overseas for treatment to the tune of D13 Million and another D37 Million was used to pay the first round of reparations to victims.
Reparations can also be in the form of a State Funeral as observed on January 10th 2023 during the State Funeral of Ebrima Solo Sandeng who was killed by Officers of the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) which reported directly to President Jammeh.
There are other forms of reparations not only compensation as mentioned above or apologies, according to (Stevens 2021) there are five formal categories set out by the UN as types of reparations and these include; Restitutions, Satisfaction, Damages, Rehabilitation and Guarantees, these five types serve as guidelines for successful implementation of reparations process.
Non-Inclusive Reparations Process Without Youth
Recalling the important role CSOs played including young people during the 2016 presidential election that marked the defeat and fall of Yahya Jammeh who was president from 1994 to 2017. The role that youth played in the past is evidence of the importance of youth participation and the results of youth united around one common goal.
The transitional justice process in the Gambia is backed and endorsed by the Gambian people as the appropriate approach to dealing with the legacy of the past. The investigations also took the form of public consultations allowing the public to observe the proceedings of the Commission thereby involving the entire nation and international observers.
The impact of decades of dictatorship had negatively impacted the effectiveness of Civil Society Organisations which were exempted from political engagements with the government and coupled with the fact that the Transitional Justice process was clearly a new concept in the Gambia.
With the change of Government and the newfound freedom and willingness to engage, what was a challenge before now presents an opportunity for Gambian CSOs to enhance their capacity and for youth to take centre stage in the Transitional Justice process. The International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) responded to the call for support from Gambian youth who initiated the ONOVO spearheaded by Gambian youth to ensure their voices are heard and included in the Transitional Justice process.
The youths can take ownership by coming together as they did in 2016 with CSOs that are working in the transitional justice process to put pressure on the government to ensure that they are included in the process. Without the inclusion of ideas from the youth, the Transitional Justice process cannot be considered inclusive. The common adage, ‘youths are the future leaders of tomorrow’ also means that the decision of leaders today can impact the future leaders of tomorrow.
Some of the activities which the youth could embark on together can involve advocacy to secure Parliamentary approval for; the CRC Draft Bill for a new Constitution, the Victims Bill and the Reparations Bill. Gambian Youth could also advocate for accountability for human rights violations documented in the TRRC such as the killing and maiming of April 2000 students and other young persons.
Another form of advocacy is to explore the limits of democracy and freedom of expression to engage the State to enhance people’s living conditions and access to basic social services. Gambian youth have a number of common issues to address such as the large number of youths taking the irregular migration route via the Sahara Dessert to Libya and the Mediterranean seas.
However, a key area that youth should consider intervening is in the reparations needs of victims because not all victims who were youth at the time or still youth fully understand the process. Even some of the Civil Society Actors are not fully aware of the reparations process because the Government hasn’t been very forthcoming with the reparations process.
The Reparations process is expected to resume after the Reparations Bill is approved by Parliament and assented to by the President. At that stage, it would be imperative for youth to be engaged on the various forms of reparations, how the preparation process would be implemented and how victims can receive their reparations.
This would ensure that there is minimum misunderstanding among victims who may see reparations as only cash compensation. ONOVO intends to collaborate with Gambian youth to ensure the successful implementation of the Reparations process.
All the youth-led CSOs and youth movements could come up with projects like nationwide sanitizations of different key areas of the transitional justice process ranging from security sector reform, reparations, TRRC recommendations, the government White paper, the victims’ Bill, Torture Bill etc. to help the government with the Reparations and Transitional Justice process. The importance of sensitisation cannot be overemphasized, more so for Gambians in remote areas.
It’s important for Gambians to understand what are reparations, why it is important, and what they should expect from the Reparations Commission when it is set up by the government. Reparation is considered the final stage of the transitional justice process and one of the most important stages.
Without a successful Reparations process, it would be impossible to achieve the “Never Again” mantra of the TRRC. Therefore, it’s of paramount importance for the government and the entire country to prioritize paying reparations to victims to uphold the “Never Again” of non-recurrence.
This article is supported by the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ).