On March 24, Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou announced the creation of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission for the purpose of investigating crimes committed under the rule of The Gambia’s recently departed dictator, Yahya Jammeh. Jammeh’s dramatic final weeks saw him briefly supporting the results of an election in which his government was defeated by a coalition of opposition parties, before reneging and attempting to reassert his power through a military crackdown. This crackdown forced newly elected President Adama Barrow to flee into neighboring Senegal, before ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) troops pushed the military into remission with the support of the United Nations, which allowed for Barrow to return on January 26, while Jammeh fled to Equatorial Guinea. Though Jammeh is gone, and the 58% vote share earned by Barrow gives him a strong mandate for leadership, the construction of a representative government and healthy civil society will require the continued dedication of the various opposition parties who have formed The Gambia’s new government.
Though Jammeh is gone, and the 58% vote share earned by Barrow gives him a strong mandate for leadership, the construction of a representative government and healthy civil society has begun. With that said, it will require the continued dedication of the various opposition parties who have formed The Gambia’s new government.
Under Jammeh, human rights abuses were widespread. A 2015 Human Rights Watch Report stated that The Gambian Government “frequently committed serious human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture against those who voiced opposition.” Jammeh’s government was known to have targeted its political opposition and members of the LGBT community. Though the secretive nature of the regimes enforced disappearances makes it impossible to know precisely how many individuals were killed or imprisoned, Gambians subsisted under a culture of widespread fear, and newly-appointed Interior Minister Mai Fatty has remarked that there are likely Gambians who are still imprisoned in Black Sites that the government has not yet located.
It is not yet known who or how many government representatives will appear before the commission. At the behest of President Barrow, the commission will act similarly to South Africa’s post-Apartheid TRC. Operatives of Jammeh’s regime will be encouraged to confess their crimes and the government intends to offer monetary compensation to the victims of these crimes. TRC’s rely on restorative justice, rather than punitive punishment in order to help rebuild post-dictatorship societies. Lingering support for departed regimes among members of the military and civil society can make widespread retributive justice dangerous in nations like The Gambia, particularly given the murky nature of individual culpability among singular members of the regime.
According to Justice Minister Tambadou, the government is currently reviewing past TRCs, attempting to craft a commission that will ultimately bring the representatives of Jammeh’s police state before it. Tambadou has also stated that hearings will likely have begun by the end of 2017. In the meantime, the government has asked the citizens of The Gambia to be patient and expect that the work of the TRC may not come to fruition as quickly as some would like.