Resignations, accusations rock Victims Center

Jun 24, 2024, 11:38 AM | Article By: Sanna Camara

The fate of the Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations, also called Victims Center is a subject of much speculation as its board chairman, Demba Ali Jawo tendered his resignation several months after his election in a unanimous vote of the victims community.

Mr Jawo, confirmed his resignation from the body over the weekend, after waiting for almost two weeks for a response to his letter from the board. “Yes, I have tendered my resignation as chairman of the Victims’ Center since 12th June, 2024, which was prompted purely by personal reasons and nothing to do with any grievances against anyone or anything in particular.”

He said he was not able to “fit in” the equation that exists at the Victim Center.

“I had my own pre-conceived ideas about how I intended to carry out my functions. However, as time went on, it dawned on me that the situation on the ground was not the same as I had anticipated and no matter how hard I had tried, I was not able to fit in the existing equation. Therefore, I thought it was only fair that I stepped down to give chance to someone else to take over and probably steer the Center to safer waters,” his letter, a copy of which was acquired by The Point stated. 

However, insiders at the Victim Center claim that Mr Jawo’s efforts in presiding over matters of the Center with greater efficiency, transparency and responsiveness was frustrated by elements within his teams, at both the board and secretariat levels.

When pushed to elaborate on these claims, Mr Jawo said, “Honestly, I just did not fit in. I tried to adjust to the style of administration that I found there but it did not work. Therefore, I thought it is futile to remain there just like a lame duck not being able to deliver.”

“Most of the board members of Jawo’s board are operating their own victims-led organisations and competing to access funds from same donors that would support the VC,” said the insider who wishes to remain anonymous.

With over 1,400 to 1,500 registered members, VC was purposely established to advocate and represent the agenda of victims of the Jammeh dictatorship.

“Hence the establishment of an alliance for victims-led CSOs is really conflicting with the work of the VC. They are seeking to duplicate the work of the VC, only this time they are enjoying the backing of the MoJ better than the backing given to VC”

Dr Amadou Scattred Janneh, a founding member of the victims center, explained: “We knew that forming a well-organized, united, and formidable front was necessary to accomplish these goals. I offered my premises at Kotu to serve as the Center’s headquarters for a year and played a leading role in getting it off the ground.”

However, that original mission is now mixed up in series of complaints about its focus, direction and modus operandi, moving from being a pressure group for example, in demanding a speedy establishment of the special court for Jammeh and other perpetrators, to paying full reparations to victims and ensuring a full implementation of the TRRC recommendations by the state – to an ally of the state in the transitional justice process.

“The objectives were to form a pressure group to ensure that there is a full accounting of the 22 years of repressive rule and to strive for justice to be done in all the cases of egregious violations,” Janneh said.

Insiders there raised frustrations with the operations of the victims center, accusing the Ministry of Justice of directing efforts to take over the narrative through encouraging another “rival” group, called Alliance for Victims Led Associations (AVLO). One of the officials whose name came out prominently in this endeavour was Kimbeng Tah, Head of Civil Litigations Division at the Ministry of Justice.

“The Ministry received a request for support from a group of victim led organisations in the formation of an alliance. Consistent with the Ministry's mandate, logistics and technical assistance was provided to these organisations just as the Ministry has and continues to provide for many organisations and initiatives,” Tah said in response to us yesterday.

Regarding "people's" beliefs, the Alliance for Victims Led Organisations (AVLO) Mr Tah declined to comment, rather, referring us to the alliance leaders.

“The AVLO is in a better position to speak to the purpose of their formation. However logic dictates that anyone who has an interests in controlling the narrative will seek to divide rather than unite,” he argued.

Board Secretary of the Victims Center, Mr Lamin Sey was not available for immediate comments, just as the vice chairman, Muhammed Sandeng.

We’ve also reached out to the chairwoman of the AVLO, Sirra Ndow who was not also available for comments as we went to press yesterday.

The national coordinator of victims center, Mr Adama Jallow, said the by-laws require the Chairman writes to the Board Secretary on such matters.

“It was during Eid break, so we are waiting to convene an emergency meeting before informing the victims community,” Jallow said, he, however, attributed the resignation of Demba Jawo to personal reasons.

International Coalition for Sites of Conscience, NED, the EU, German government, and ATJLF were among the traditional partners of the VC. However, donor confidence has dwindled over the years due to what insiders blame on the victims-led CSOs competing with the centre for funding. Now, all the donors have left, and very few are wrapping up their funding activities...