Gambia: Mixed Reactions Over Reparations For HR Abuses Victims

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As Gambia is edging towards the launch of the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC), the issue of reparations for victims of human rights violations continues to draw mixed reactions. The debate left many Gambians divided as to whether legal justice should supercede social justice or vice versa.

The Executive Secretary of the TRRC, Dr. Baba Galleh Jallow said reparations may be financial compensation, rehabilitation, return of property and symbolic measures including apologies or the erection of memorials.
Dr. Jallow made these remarks Thursday at the just concluded three-day training session on conflict sensitive media coverage in transitional justice process, which was held at Kairaba Beach hotel, Kololi. Organised by the Ministry of Justice in partnership with International IDEA and ECOWAS, the training brought together media practitioners from various news outlets and members of civil society groups.
“In terms of the Gambian situation, the TRRC is empowered to grant reparations to people who are considered by the commission worthy of reparations,” he said.
He seized the opportunity to highlight the specificity of the Gambian model, saying  that commissions established in South Africa and other countries were only mandated to make recommendations for reparations.
The TRRC Executive Secretary further stated that unlike what has happened in other countries, they are not waiting the end of the commission works to start assisting victims.
“We are starting to work on aspects of reparations. We are not going to wait for the end of the truth commission process,” he reiterated.
As the process is unfolding, Dr.Jallow revealed that the TRRC is working with UNICEF and the Victims’ Centre to set up a scholarship fund so that children who lost their parents due to Yahya Jammeh’s two-decade long dictatorship can receive some form of support.
“We are also trying to indentify victims who are in need of urgent medical attention so that they can be treated.”
TRRC’s Jallow went on to say that they are planning to build a monument for the victims of the April 11 and 11 students massacre.
He urged the media to help sensitise the public over these critical issues. “Reparation is not all about money,” he emphasized.
However, the Adviser to the Ministry of Justice, Hussein Thomasi, warned against a repetition of Sierra Leonean transitional justice process  in The Gambia.
Thomasi said the United Nations invested almost $300 million to assist the country to navigate through the transition process.
“They had a Special Court and international judges. The building that was put up to house the Special Court is still there. After the process, the court ended up trying 9 people,” he remarked.
Years after the end of the United Nations Mission in Sierra Leone (UNAMSIL), he said some victims are still living in camps.
“Some of them are still crying for reparations. The minimum amount ranging from 300 to 500 dollars was never given,” he deplored.
Thomasi said a similar situation occurred in Rwanda, prompting some people to say they should not have brought the UN court.
“Many Rwandan victims are with the view that giving them the money would have served justice.”
For his part, Maurice Engueleguele, a senior program officer at International IDEA, said their Stockholm-based Scientific Analysis Unit did a mapping of all articles published in the country over these past three years and that were centered on the issue of reparations.
“The articles addressed the issue from a general perspective. There is no clarity about legal justice versus social justice,” he said.
In light of this situation, he said the recommendation that stands out is that there is an urgent need to do more civic education on the Gambian model.
“The issue will grow in importance when the first case of reparations comes out,” he warned.
Weighing in on the controversy surrounding the issue, the Victims’ Chair, Sheriff Kijera, who spoke to this medium acknowledged the fact that there are different forms reparations.
He made it clear that monetary compensation will based on need assessment.
Written by Abdoulie JOHN
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