Gambia’s Justice minister Dawda Jallow has been quite upbeat as he unveiled on May 25 the government White Paper on the TRRC Report at the Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara International Conference Center in Bijilo.
Indeed, he was very enthusiastic to field reporters’ questions at the press conference which followed the release of the White Paper, which he called “a great milestone in the country’s transitional justice journey”.
We intend to do a write-up on Justice Minister Jallow’s interesting and lively encounter with reporters at the news conference.
Meanwhile, according to the government’s chief legal adviser, working on the White Paper was a consultative and inclusive process.
“I’m glad to announce that we now have a White Paper” which, he added, “represents the government’s position on the recommendations of the TRRC and a proposed implementation plan”.
Justice minister Jallow described the White Paper as “unprecedented in its scope and content”. He said that out of 265 recommendations of the TRRC, the government rejected only two (2) “leaving the rest of the recommendations earmarked for implementation in one form or another.”
“An acceptance rate of over 95 percent or more of all the recommendations is unprecedented In the history of truth commissions”.
He went on: “We now have a clear roadmap for reconciliation, justice, reparations, and ensuring non-recurrence.”
The government, he told his audience at the Kairaba conference center, recognizes that reparations are a central part of the reconciliation process and is committed to ensuring that life-transforming reparations are provided to victims of human rights violations.
Whilst there is a tendency to always equate reparations to monetary compensation, he said for reparations to be effective they must, in addition to monetary compensation, extend to physical rehabilitation, restoration of civil and political rights, and the provision of education and healthcare for victims.
The government provided D50 million to the TRRC for payment of interim reparations and had earmarked over D150 million in the 2022 national budget for reparations. “The government shall continue to work towards mobilizing additional financial resources for this process.”
For despite the comprehensive TRRC process, not all victims were likely identified. Thus the Ministry of Justice in consultation with victims is working on a Victims Bill to explore the best avenue to address the issue of reparations.
The Ministry will work to put in place independent structures for continuing evaluation and identification of victims and to administer a reparations scheme.
The release of the White Paper is just the beginning of the most important phase which is the implementation, continued Justice Minister Jallow
All stakeholders – the government, political parties, CSOs, victims’ organizations, and the media must all work together to ensure the effective and successful implementation of the recommendations.
“The Never Again slogan summarizes our dreams and aspirations for the future, but we must ensure that it does not only remain a slogan but is translated into concrete action.”
The Justice minister declared that implementation will be transparent and inclusive with clear timelines and measurable outcomes.
“Be rest assured that the government is fully committed to implementing as outlined in the White Paper. Now that we have the White Paper implementation must begin in earnest…”.
Mr. Jallow reiterated that the government places great importance on justice and accountability for human rights violations committed under Yahya Jammeh.
However, effective investigation and prosecution of international crimes such as torture, mass murder, and enforced disappearance is complex and requires specialist expertise which, he explained, “our domestic institutions – which do not ordinarily deal with such cases and must also manage their domestic caseload – do not have the capacity or experience to undertake”, he pointed out.
He went on: “It is, therefore, preferable to establish separate specialist accountability structures that can be annexed to or embedded into the domestic legal system and mandated to perform those functions through effective use of relevant advocates, investigators, appropriate expertise, and skilled support staff.
“It is in this regard that I will be setting up a Special Prosecution Division under the Ministry of Justice to be headed by a Special Prosecutor. This division will have investigative and prosecutorial authority over all offenses recommended for prosecution by the TRRC.
“In the same vein, the government intends to create a special judicial framework within the domestic court’s system for the prosecution of perpetrators.
“Th court shall be located within The Gambia with the option of holding sittings in other jurisdictions based on the exigencies of each case.
“This option balances the need to prioritize local ownership and victim participation with security concerns and witness protection requirements.”
In delivering his White Paper launch address, the Justice minister declared again and again that “the government must investigate and bring to justice the perpetrators of gross human rights violations”, and that “this is a duty it owes not only to victims but to society as a whole.
“Impunity is a kind of incentive that we are not prepared to serve perpetrators. Let us be clear about this – those who contemplate committing gross human rights violations must also not doubt that one-day society would hold them accountable for their actions.
“Their resolve to commit these atrocities cannot be stronger than our collective will as a society for them to be accountable.
“Notwithstanding, we desire to create an environment based on holding people accountable through proceedings based on the highest national and international standards of due process, where the right to a fair and speedy trial before a competent and impartial body will be guaranteed”.
In concluding his remarks at the ceremony to release the government White Paper, Justice Minister Jallow reiterated The Gambia government’s “unwavering commitment” to implementation of the TRRC Report as set out in the White Paper.
This is “to ensure reconciliation, national healing, accountability, and justice for the victims of gross human rights abuses and violations, the provision of reparations for victims, broad institutional reforms and ensuring non-recurrence”.
For the Record is a TAT news feature that attempts to highlight and give the reader access to the views and statements of public officials to enable the Gambian people to hold their leaders accountable now and in the future.
Scarecrow is the pen name of a staff columnist who writes opinion pieces and commentaries on topical news and current affairs events.