Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow, the executive secretary of Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations’ Commission (TRRC) Secretariat has said that the much-talked about mechanism being set up to probe violations and abuses under Jammeh will be different from many others around the world.
In a paper presented at a recent event consultative event organised by Africa Legal Aid, the Gambian professor of African Studies argued that most societies that have witnessed truth commission processes have not experienced the kind of socio-political and cultural transformation that can prevent a recurrence of dictatorship or widespread human rights violations. That is why Gambian process stands to be different, he added.
“Some transitional justice experts attribute this relative lack of truth commission success to a lack of inclusivity in truth commission processes. In many cases, the general public is more of an audience than an active participant in truth commission processes. We want to do things differently in this country,” Dr. Jallow said.
In fulfilment of its mandate, the TRRC will “create an impartial historical record of violations and abuses of human rights from July 1994 to January 2017, in order to “promote healing and reconciliation … respond to the needs of victims … provide victims an opportunity to relate their own accounts of the violations and abuses suffered … establish and make known the fate or whereabouts of disappeared victims … grant reparations to victims in appropriate cases … 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 essence then, the ultimate mandate and the mission of Gambia’s TRRC is ‘Never Again,’ Dr. Jallow argued, asking “how can we ensure that ‘Never Again’ becomes a reality in The Gambia?”
He went on: “Do we wait for and depend only on the recommendations contained in the TRRC report? Or, do we start that work now? We ask these questions because while Never Again has been the mandate and mission of a majority of the 40 truth commissions that have existed around the world since 1974, it has not always been accomplished.”
He further argued that historical records show that while there have been a few notable success stories, most truth commissions have not conclusively helped guarantee non-recurrence of dictatorship or gross human rights violations in their countries.
Gambia has already departed from this tradition of public exclusion and embraced inclusion by actively seeking the participation of all Gambians in the TRRC process.
In 2017, the Ministry of Justice in collaboration with key players carried out a nationwide tour and held community meetings at which Gambians were invited and encouraged to express their opinions on the TRRC process. “Opinions and ideas shared at these national consultations informed the establishment by the Ministry of Justice of a technical committee of governmental and non-governmental institutions to actively work together on shaping the TRRC and other mechanisms of the larger transitional justice programme namely, the Human Rights Commission and the Constitutional Review Commission.
“This technical committee, including an internal task force of young state attorneys continues to hold regular consultative and brainstorming sessions at the Ministry of Justice. They contributed to the conceptualisation and formulation of the TRRC Act and the guidelines for the selection of commissioners and are actively involved in the production of a Strategic Plan for the National Transitional Justice Program.
“The guidelines for the selection of commissioners have been published in the media and in the urban areas, calls have been issued to the general public and civil society organisations for the nomination of persons of integrity to serve on the commission. The nomination and selection process for the five regional commissioners will involve widespread consultations at the village, district and regional levels. Once the nomination and selection process are complete, the president shall appoint commissioners after consultations with key state institutions and civil society organisations,” Dr. Jallow explained, swearing the integrity and independence of the entire process.