By Rohey Jadama
By all accounts, the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) of The Gambia was given a huge responsibility. According to the 2017 Act that established it, the TRRC was mandated to establish a historical record of the nature, causes, and extent of violations and abuses of human rights committed during the period July 1994 to January 2017 – the reign of former President Yahya Jammeh – and to consider the granting of reparation of victims.
The purpose of this includes promoting healing and reconciliation; responding to the needs of the victims; addressing impunity; and preventing a repeat of the violations and abuses by making recommendations for the establishment of appropriate preventive mechanisms, among them institutional and legal reforms.
This, indeed, is a remarkable task. Now that the commission has concluded its public sessions and has embarked on preparing its report, it seems to be an opportune moment to ask whether it was sufficiently enabled to do its work well.
Dr Baba Galleh Jallow, the Executive Secretary of the TRRC, does not think so. He has in the past described the budget the Gambian government set aside for the TRRC as “a drop in the ocean”. He added that the commission made it clear to the government that its budget for the work expected to be done was insufficient.
Speaking to Journalists For Justice (JFJ) in his office before the commission closed public hearings, Dr Jallow explained that the commission was funded by the Gambian government with support from The United Nations Peace Building Fund office in New York through the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Gambia.
One of the commission’s mandates includes assisting victims of abuse. Therefore, TRRC has paid the medical bills of several victims who were treated in Turkey. This includes the cost of medical treatment, daily sustenance, rent, and transportation. One victim, Abdou Karim Jammeh, had a bullet removed from his leg.
“The government gave us 50 million dalasi for the reparation programme and committed to give more. If our process ends before the money comes in, then it will probably go to the institution that will take over from us,” said Jallow.
“The reparation programme is still being rolled out and has yet to be implemented. The reparation policy has been adopted. The regulations are in the process of being adopted. However, right from the beginning, we had an interim reparation programme to offer victims medical, employment, and livelihood support.”
Jallow said the donor assistance is mostly in the form of technical and victim support. The TRRC’s victim support fund is sponsored by the UNDP Transitional Justice Project.
“We provide medical support for victims. We also give employment support, – we have employed two victims of the April 10-11, 2000 student massacre. We give livelihood support, supplying victims with food and rent money. We pay tuition fees for young victims and children of victims. We also offer psychosocial support like counselling,” said the official.
Due to the Covid-19 disruption, the commission’s two-year mandate was extended by five months to allow it to present its report after June 2021.
“We support victims to become self-sufficient through poultry farming, entrepreneurship training, skills training, and technical training. I expect that another institution will take up the responsibility of reparation at the end of TRRC’s mandate. We can’t pay all the reparations during our lifetime.”
Jallow acknowledged that the government could find it difficult to implement recommendations for prosecution because of the National Assembly’s failure to approve a new draft constitution that would have taken into consideration the issues at hand. The current constitution only allows prosecution if the crimes are deemed to be violations against humanity. However, there is still hope because the recommendations will also include institutional, administrative, and policy reforms, and will not be affected by the lack of a new constitution.
The reforms, Jallow said, would not be affected by Parliament’s rejection of the draft constitution in September this year. The recommendations most likely to be affected are those on prosecutions, and that will happen if the commission does not find that the violations of human rights constitute violations against humanity. If they are violations against humanity then the constitution cannot stop prosecution from happening. Some prosecutions could also be carried out in Ghana because of 50 Ghanaian and other West African migrants who were killed in The Gambia and Senegal in 2005.
“This commission was set up to succeed with or without implementation of the recommendations. That is why we have various units. If the violations constitute crimes against humanity they will be prosecuted one way or another. We have the Women’s Affairs Unit, the Victim Support Unit, the Youth and Children Network Unit, and the Reconciliation Unit. All these units have been doing important work since we started the ‘Never Again’ campaign, visiting schools, helping victims, organising reconciliation activities for the people of Jambur, for example, who have been in conflict for a long time. So, the success of the TRRC cannot be measured by the implementation of recommendations for prosecution alone. Prosecutions are important, but we cannot say the TRRC did not succeed because the person recommended for prosecution did not face the law.
“We are all concerned that the 1997 constitution, which was manipulated to favour Jammeh and his people, will still be in place, but we are confident that we will do our work and submit our report and recommendations. Some of these recommendations, like prison, administrative, policy reform, for example will have to be implemented. They raise questions about what went wrong, why was it possible for former President Yahya Jammeh to stay in power for 22 years? Why was the coup d’état possible? Prosecution is just one item among the recommendations that we will make,” said Jallow.
He reiterated that the commission was determined to carry out its mandate. “We will continue to advocate ‘Never Again’, to have people stand up and say we can’t have dictatorship in this country again. We will prepare our report and recommendations, and submit them to the government. Then it will be up to the Gambian people to insist that the recommendations are implemented.”