By Waceke Njoroge
Victims of former Gambian President Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorship had their hopes of getting justice any time soon dashed as the truth commission failed to release its much-anticipated report as promised on September 30.
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) later issued a press statement on Twitter explaining that it was still finalising work on the report.
“Work on the sixteen volumes comprising the final report has been completed, except for four volumes. It is the expectation of the commission that work on these remaining volumes should be finished shortly,” the statement said.
The commission said it would not propose another submission date. However, it held out hope that the report might be out soon. “The commission assures that this final phase of its work will not be prolonged,” it added.
It said it had informed the government about the latest development, through the Attorney General and minister of Justice, and that the authorities had been agreeable and had “…reassured the commission that the government will continue to provide the funds required for the completion of the work of the TRRC”.
Earlier, there had been widespread speculation in the absence of an official explanation from the commission on the delayed report.
An unnamed commission official had been quoted as telling AFP that the report would be out at an unspecified later date. “We are not yet ready,” the source had been quoted as saying.
The commission’s website was still announcing an earlier expected release date of July 31, 2021 even though the handing over had been moved to September 30. The document is expected to list the human rights abuses and violations of Jammeh’s 22 years in power and make recommendations on the action to be taken on the perpetrators in order to ensure justice for the victims and their families.
There has been concern about the commitment of Jammeh’s successor, President Adama Barrow, to implement the commission’s recommendations in the face of his rapprochement with Jammeh’s former political party as the December 4 presidential elections approach. He has failed to keep his promises to institute reforms and ensure justice for the victims by implementing the TRRC’s recommendations.
The TRRC was launched on October 5, 2018 with the mandate to look into alleged human rights violations during the rule of Jammeh. It heard testimony from nearly 400 people from January 2019 to May 2021. Witnesses gave evidence about cases of state-sanctioned torture, rape, and murder at the hands of Jammeh’s death squad, the Junglers.
Jammeh came to power after leading a coup in July 1994. Following his defeat by Barrow in the December 2016 elections, there was a six-week standoff that ended with the military intervention of neighbouring countries and Jammeh’s flight into exile in Equatorial Guinea.
Reed Brody, an American human rights lawyer calling for Jammeh to be prosecuted, said on Twitter that the postponement was announced “to the frustration of victims”. His sentiments echoed the victims’ emerging fears that the current administration will downplay or ignore the TRRC recommendations as it seeks to retain power after the elections.
The commission has the mandate to promote healing and reconciliation, respond to the needs of the victims, address impunity, and prevent a repetition of the violations and abuses suffered by making recommendations for the establishment of appropriate preventive mechanisms, including institutional and legal reforms in The Gambia.
Justice Minister Dawda Jallow recently sought to assure victims that justice would prevail after the government received TRRC’s recommendations. “We are preparing for that (post-TRRC prosecutions). We are involved in consultations. We are expecting support in that direction… Those who are recommended for prosecution, of course, we will work towards prosecuting them, unless the government decides otherwise,” said Jallow.
Emmanuel Kwesi Aning, director of the Faculty of Academic Affairs and Research at the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre, had told Al Jazeera from Accra that the reason behind the delay seemed to be linked to the coalition deal.
“It’s not only about being scared, but also the embarrassment and discomfort of a government that ended a 22-year brutal rule now cutting a very disturbing deal with a previous regime just for electoral success,” said Aning.
“I think it leaves a sense of unease. Knowing the testimonies that people gave to the TRRC, it would be very difficult for the government to justify the 360-degree turn from a government that respected human rights and rule of law and start to make some restitution to those who had suffered.”