By Louise S A Alsan, @AlsanLouise
The Chairperson of the Reparations Committee of the Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) says she’s “very confident that the Government will give the D50 million pledged and more”. However, the Chairperson of the Gambia’s Victim Center told Gainako News that during recent meetings with Justice Minister, Dawda Jallow, the Government promised to include reparations payments in the 2022 Budget. Meanwhile, Civil Society Advocates and one victim who returned his reparations payment have expressed disappointment with the Government’s failure to fulfil its promise.
The TRRC is a Commission enacted by the National Assembly to investigate the human rights violations of former President Yahya Jammeh and his regime. On 16th July 2021, TRRC Vice-Chair, Ms Adelaide Sosseh who also Chairs the Reparations Committee told the media that the Government “gave the TRRC D50 million with a promise to give an additional D50 million. The promise was not kept for reasons that are out of our control”. However, in a recent interview with Ms Sosseh, she says she is “very confident that the government will give the D50 million pledged and more. They will honour their obligations to the victims” she said. “I have no doubts about their commitment”.
2022 Budget Will Include Reparations
To better understand the dynamics surrounding payment of reparations Gainako interviewed the Chairperson the Gambia’s Victim Center, Mr Sheriff Kijera, who acts as an interface between the victims and the Government.
Speaking on the Government’s failure to pay another D50 million Mr Kijera opined that “it is quite disappointing that the Government has not kept its promise to fulfil its pledge to contribute to the victims’ reparations fund.”
Mr Kijera revealed that during meetings between the Victim Center and the Ministry of Justice, Dawda Jallow “he told us that the Government will have it as part of its budget for 2022 fiscal year”. Mr Kijera also explained that “the government plans to institute a successor institution to the TRRC to carry out the payment of reparations and other implementation of the TRRC and recommendations. So, the government would put through a bill through the house of Parliament for an act to establish a successor institution to the TRRC so hopefully that also will be done before the end of this year.”
More Money Needed for Reparations
Out of the first D50 million paid to the Commission, D13 million has been paid on urgent “interim reparations” this includes support for four TRRC Victims who travelled to Turkey for medical treatment. Vice-Chair Ms Sosseh explained that D37 million was left to spend on 1,000 victims.
When asked how much funds were outstanding to complete reparations payments, Ms Sosseh said that D168 million was needed to complete reparation payments to victims. However, this does not include reparation payments for 54 West Africans killed in the Gambia in 2005. Vice-Chair Sosseh revealed that the Gambia will pay D32.4 million to the family of the 54 West Africans.
One victim who returned his first reparations payment is Yusupha Mbye, a victim of the April 10th, 2000 student massacre which saw at least 16 students killed and many others seriously injured. Yusupha was shot in his spinal cord on that fateful day and has been wheelchair-bound ever since.
Yusupha was one of the four victims flown to Turkey for medical treatment. After testifying at the TRRC Yusupha was paid the first instalment of D19,000 in reparations which he returned to the Commission.
When asked about the Government’s failure to pay the D50 million Yusupha opined that “this government has already failed us since day one because since at the beginning of the TRRC I was always saying that am not convinced with the government and now they showed the whole world that they are not having any interest with the TRRC that’s why they haven’t fulfilled their promise to pay D50 Million to the Commission.”
Gainako questioned the Chair of Reparations if any other victims have returned their payments and what the Commission intends to do with the money. In response, Ms Sosseh said “only Yusupha Mbye returned his pro-rata grant of D19,000. The monies have been refunded to the Victims Reparations Fund and Yusupha has been given a receipt for the refund.”
SGBV Reparation Payments Undisclosed
In reaction to the Government’s failure to pay its second D50 million reparations payment to the Commission, the co-founder of Women’s Association for Victims’ Empowerment (WAVE), Ms Priscilla Yagu Ciesay described the Government’s reluctance to pay as “a sad state of affairs and rather unfortunate”.
In her view “victims have a right to reparations – be it monetary, symbolic, on an individual or collective basis. Reparations are a crucial component of a nations Transitional Justice process. Measures that will contribute to healing for victims, survivors and from the angle of building trust with the people. Reparations allow the government to show they have empathy about the plight of the victims. As such, it will be essential for the government to show commitment towards reparations and thus ensure the Transitional Justice process is full circle”.
Gainako questioned the Commission to redeem its promise to compile “a note and send it to all media houses” identifying the number of funds allocated to each category of human rights violations. In particular, Gainako requested the number of funds allocated to victims of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV). In response, Ms Sosseh only revealed that “rape was the highest with lesser amounts for the different types of sexual abuse”. Further enquiries with the media team revealed that the Finance Team was very occupied with other activities to respond.
The Chairperson of the Gambia’s Civil Society Organisations, Mr John Charles Njie of TANGO stressed that “it is important that as Civil Society we continue to advocate and hold the government accountable and make sure that this reparation is paid in as soon as possible”. He rallied support from “every Gambian” who he says “must come on board and support the reparations effort. We cannot only wait on Government. The Government must meet its obligations but as citizens, we can also contribute our quota to support the reparations process”.