PRESS BRIEFING October 2018
I am pleased to announce that the TRRC will now be launched on 15 October following identification of the 11 Commissioners including the designated Chairperson Mr Lamin J. Sise, and the Deputy Chairperson Ms Adelaide Sosseh. All the Commissioners will be sworn-in on the day of the launch ceremony on 15 October as part of the launch events.
As at today, we have not yet received any objections relating to the fitness or suitability of any of the nominees as Commissioners. The 11 Commissioners identified include representatives from all the regions of the country including the diaspora, all the five major ethnic groups,ie, Wolof, Mandinka, Fula, Jola, and Sarahulay, the two main religions in the country, and four women including the Deputy Chairperson. Their names and relevant identifying information were published so I need not repeat them here.
As you know, I had appointed Lead Counsel to the TRRC in the person of Mr Essa Faal. He will be assisted by a small team of lawyers including a Deputy Counsel in the person of Ms Horejah Bala-Gaye. Ms Bala-Gaye also comes with a lot of experience in dealing with witnesses of serious human rights violations. She is a trial lawyer who has worked in the Prosecution Division of the Office of The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for 11 years. She has considerable experience in investigating international crimes, as well as specific expertise in sexual and gender-based crimes. Ms. Bala-Gaye was part of a team of international prosecutors who provided advocacy training to lawyers from the Ministry and the police. She lectured the summer course on Public International Law at the Law Faculty of the University of The Gambia.
The TRRC is lining up a few witnesses to commence public hearings soon after the launch event. The Secretariat will announce to the public the exact commencement date.
I am pleased that we are here now following very intense and extensive preparatory activities undertaken by the Ministry in collaboration with our local and international partners including The Gambia Press Union, TANGO, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), the Institute for Integrated Transitions (IFIT), and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA). We successfully conducted the regional selection processes for the purpose of identifying suitable regional representatives as Commissioners; conducted training on truth commission related matters including reporting on truth commission proceedings for over 50 media personnel since June 2018, and organized workshops for civil society organizations.
From 10 – 14 September 2018, the UN TJ PMU, together with the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) assisted the Ministry of Justice and the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in the organization of a Training Workshop on Managing a Truth and Reconciliation Process.
The Workshop aimed at strengthening the capacity of the identified Commissioners and initial technical staff of the TRRC to manage the TRRC and discharge their functions in a professional manner, by exposing them to some of the established principles that can help a truth commission become rapidly successful, by allowing them to learn from the experience of other countries with similar background as The Gambia and by providing them with expert guidance and equipping them with appropriate tools that will help them develop their internal rules and regulations and organize their work in an effective manner.
More recently on 19 September 2018, the TRRC in partnership with Think Young Women, the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) and the UN Transitional Justice Project (TJ PMU) organized a Listening Circle for Women. The initiative provided an opportunity for women to discuss sensitive issues such as sexual and gender-based violence as well as other human rights violations that had serious consequences on women (e.g. economic and social effects such as losing the main or only breadwinner in the family, reputation being tarnished) during the previous regime.
It is hoped that increased participation of women in the TRRC early on will lead to increased participation throughout the truth-seeking and reconciliation process.
Investigators are also currently being given training as we speak, and the statement takers had already received some training.
The United Nations Transitional Justice Project Management Unit has reviewed and approved a $25,000 grant to two NGOs: Victim’s Centre to receive 18,000 USD; and FLAG to receive 7,000 USD). It is expected that the grant will be disbursed to them soon.
These are some of the progress reports I wanted to share with the public regarding the TRRC
COMMISSION OF INQUIRY
We are now approaching the end of the Janneh Commission’s inquiry. They have already started working on a draft report. We are hopeful that their final report will be submitted to the President by year’s end.
We are still awaiting confirmation of the forensic examination tests on the presumed bodies of Solo Sandeng, Njagga Jagne, Lamin Sanneh, and Alhaji Jaja Nyass. We expect that these results will be received soon so that we can return the bodies to the families for decent burial.
Following the shortlisting of nine candidates by the Selection Panel comprising TANGO, the Gambia Bar Association, Gambia Federation of the Disabled, National Youth Council, Female Lawyers Association of The Gambia, and the Gambia Press Union, I have now published in the gazette the names of the nine shortlisted candidates for objections by the public. After 14 days, and barring any objections with reasons in writing, the names will be forwarded to the National Assembly for their consideration and approval of five of the candidates before appointment by the President as commissioners to the National Human Rights Commission. We expect the NHRC to be fully operational by year’s end.
There is now a draft anti-corruption bill that is being reviewed for submission to Cabinet. We hope that the review process will be concluded in time to present the bill before the National Assembly for enactment before the end of this year.
MEDIA LAW REFORM
The media law reform is currently underway with the drafting team at the Ministry working closely with The Gambia Press Union, Article 19, and the Ministry of Information and Communication Infrastructure. I will provide more updates on my next briefing with you.
2019 WORK PLAN
The Ministry has already started working on its major projects for next year 2019. A major focus of the Ministry will be on three key areas:
Prison Reform in collaboration with the Ministry of Interior
Electoral Reform in collaboration with the Independent Electoral Commission
Criminal Justice legislative Reform
Finally, allow me to say a few words in closing. Recently, we have noticed a worrisome trend in the country and this must be addressed. While we want to encourage a culture of tolerance and the freedom of expression like in any democracy, this must not be equated with chaos or be used as an opportunity to tarnish the reputation of or smear innocent people.
The tendency is that once an allegation is made against someone, many people rush to judgment and condemn them even when there is no evidence to support the allegation. We cannot accuse, try, and condemn people all in one scoop. It amounts to mob justice. Everyone is entitled to the presumption of innocence until they are found otherwise by law.
Let me also take this opportunity to remind everyone that the publication of false news is still a criminal offence in this country as upheld recently by the Supreme Court and we will not hesitate to apply the law. I therefore encourage everyone to exercise and enjoy their right to freedom of expression without committing a crime because if they do, they will be held accountable. We must not push the boundaries of our new found freedoms to irresponsible or unacceptable limits, because when we do, we hurt others and their families in the process. The law is here to protect everyone including the accuser and the accused.
Now I know that when I make this comment, your minds are running at a thousand miles an hour towards the most recent events so allow me to also clarify that my comments are not intended to address any specific events as there has been too many such events in the country recently.
I thank you all.