ICC Bensouda: We’ll keep a watchful eye on Gambia’s truth process

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Gambia’s truth-seeking process kicked-off this week with the swearing in of 11 commissioners as the International Criminal Court pledged to keep a watchful eye on the examination of human rights abuses during the 22-year tenure of former dictator Yahya Jammeh.

Fatou Bensouda, the Gambian-born chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), reminded authorities that as the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission begins operations, she would be keeping a watchful eye on the process.

Although truth commissions are not part of the mandate of the ICC, they have a nexus with Rome Statute on crimes such as genocide and systematic crimes against humanity committed as part of state or organisational policy such as murder, torture, rape and displacement of populations.

Bensouda, we many Gambians are now blaming for being quite on former president Jammeh’s human right abuses when she was still an active and significant figure in the Hague-based ICC, was among several dignitaries whowere on hand to witness the Monday’s swearing-in.

President Adama Barrow presided over the swearing-in of TRRC commissioners and other members and the inauguration of the truth-seeking process at Dunes Hotel.

“My office will be following the developments at the Commission with great interest. ICC is prepared to undertake its independent and impartial mandate under the Rome statue with conviction and dedication as it does in all situations where we have jurisdiction with full respect for the principles of complementarity,” Bensouda said.

She said those responsible for serious criminal acts during the Jammeh regime must face justice in a properly constituted court of law that abides by and applies the highest standards of judicial administration. “When confronted with atrocity crimes that shock the consent of humanity, there is no justifiable reason to look the other way or to entertain immunities,” she said.

The truth process could be a likely first step in seeking accountability for violations that occurred in the 22 years that Jammeh was in power. Jammeh presided over an authoritarian regime that was marked by widespread human rights violations. For decades, there were no effective investigations into violations and perpetrators have not been brought to justice. The National Assembly passed the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRC) Act on December 13, 2017, and the President assented to it on January 13, 2018. It is lining up a few witnesses to commence public hearings soon after the launch event. The secretariat says it wouldsoon announce the exact commencement date.

The truth commission is one of President Barrow’s foremost commitments since his coalition came to power following Jammeh’s defeat in the December 2016 elections.

Bensouda’s presence at this week’s launch was itself a remarkable statement of how much things have changed in The Gambia. Mr. Jammeh had made tentative steps to pull the Gambia out of the Rome Statute, the ICC founding treaty. Shortly after taking power in early 2017, President Barrow recommitted Gambia to the ICC.

It is a testament of how close-knit Gambian society is that Bensouda once served as Attorney General and Justice Minister under Jammeh before resigning in 2000 on principle.

Author: Amadou Jallow