denial of justice to the victims Open letter to the Governement of The Gambia
by ANEKED, the Victims’ Center and the Solo Sandeng Foundation The recent
withdrawal of charges against several NIA officials, who had been accused of
participating in the burying of UDP activist Solo Sandeng is yet another blow
in the face of victims awaiting justice. The news was released on 28th October
by Gambian media, without any further details and prior information given to
the family of the deceased.
This new setback in the fight against impunity, is the latest in a long series of delaying tactics by the Government. Indeed, on October 9th, 2018 the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Aboubacarr Tambadou, announced in a press conference, that The Gambia is not yet ready to hold trials involving the “Junglers” – a hit squad which operated during Jammeh’s regime, arguing that he did “not think this country is yet ready to hold trial of this magnitude”. He has made similar statements on several occasions. The victims want to remind the government that a year ago, the country was not ready to hold hearings of victims before a truth and reconciliation commission. But with political will and stamina, the Ministry of Justice created the conditions to put in place a solid and sufficiently funded Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).
For us victims, the truth is not enough! Separating the promotion of reconciliation from the promotion of justice simply undermines both. We expect the same willingness to build the capacity of the judicial system and the state prosecutor and find adequate funding and expert support for it. The prescription for the TRRC to be the only option for victims to seek redress raises concerns for notable reasons. These concerns were echoed by the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances, who visited The Gambia in June 2017, which reiterated on several occasions that “transitional justice mechanisms are not intended to and cannot replace judicial investigations and prosecutions”.
The government has secured considerable funding from the European Union but also other states, like Qatar, to assist the country in continuing its democratic transition, building on strong democratic institutions, the respect of human rights and the rule of law, and sustainable and shared economic growth. The funding allocated should therefore benefit the entire transitional justice process.
It is equally important to stress that the TRRC recommendations are non-binding. This means that the Government can elect to implement them or not, in other words there is no guarantee of prosecutions after the TRRC hearings. A perfect example is the case of Liberia. Almost ten years after the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission made its recommendations, victims of the atrocities committed are still waiting for justice because the Liberian government has failed to act upon them.
what should the Government do?
In the immediate, the Government should do a little more in adopting a posture which reassures the victims that it cares about the remaining evidence of crimes committed in the past. A case in point is the NIA-related cases. The Government could start by organising the long overdue securing of the NIA archives for instance to avoid further tampering with evidence.
Secondly, we recommend the Government suspend alleged perpetrators within the security forces identified by victims as having taken part of torture. These steps do not need funds or capacity building to be taken immediately.
Thirdly, it will be advisable the Government put in place a small unit, of capable and vetted police officers, to start objective and independent investigations. The release of four junglers in August 2018, came as a shock for their many victims. You cannot conduct a thorough and impartial investigation, and come to objective conclusions, when the people that are supposed to make the investigation were part of the repressive security apparatus.
Our recommendations bring us to two words: Political Will. The government needs to show the victims that it has the political will to take these actions and lack of capacity or resources are not acceptable or justifiable anymore. The pain suffered by victims will simply not be disappearing anytime soon if justice is not served!
Signed by: ANEKED (African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances), The Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations and The Solo Sandeng Foundation