Barely three months after Adama Barrow took the presidential oath of office, Gambia is still seeking ways to build greater unity in spite of the massive calls for justice. Barrow's accession to power provides an opportunity to unveil numerous crimes committed by former longtime ruler as horrors continue to grip the mind of every people.
"It is an indisputable fact that The Gambia has witnessed two decades of authoritarian and repressive rule under the former government," said Gambia Minister of Justice Aboubacarr Tambadou while addressing participants at a three-day national stakeholders conference on justice and human rights that ended on Thursday.
Hundreds of local and international delegates gathered in Gambia to chart the way forward for the tiny West African nation confronted with huge challenges. Two decades of 'rule of fear' have plunged the country info the abyss of injustice and hopelessness. Organized by the Ministry of Justice in partnership with the United Nations and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa (IHRDA), the confab brought government officials together with prosecutors, judicial officers, law enforcement agencies civil society groups and media organizations.
Minister Tambadou reminded the gathering about the dark days of Yahya Jammeh regime often marked by arbitrary arrests and long pre-trial detention, enforced disappearance, abductions, torture, secret burials, sexual and gender based violence as the perpetrators enjoyed complete impunity.
All these these events took place against the background of anexisting Constitution and other protective laws, a judiciary, and a
legislature, he said."We are left as nation distressed and traumatized."
The scale of the horrors revealed by Justice Minister Tambadou highlights the full reality endured by Gambians during these past
years. But many people continue to wonder how could the entire country let Yahya Jammeh to subject them to two decades of authoritarian rule. A situation that seems to render irrelevant the issue of reconciliation as calls intensify for the indictment of perpetrators of heinous crimes.
In an attempt to shed light on this paradoxical reality Sierra Leonean Justice Minister Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara described Africa's human rights trajectory as being 'historically characterized by the tragedy of genocide, war and political instability'.
"In countries that have witnessed violent conflict and gross human rights violations, the conundrum becomes wide and deep. It then becomes imperative and critical that the past be dealt with for a society to move forward towards a unified and harmonious future and avoid a relapse into conflict or the resurgence of gross human rights violations or even the rise of modern day dictatorships," he said.
Sierra Leone went through a wrong path in its political history that dragged the country into civil war and chaos. He then went further to indicate that our people aspire to democracy and rule of law, saying that there is nothing about Africans that does not coexist with freedom and justice.
Minister Kamara said the wind of change is blowing across Africa. "A new breed of democratic leaders, civil society groups and freedom lovers are emerging. From Ghana to Nigeria, la Côte d'Ivoire to Sierra Leone, the message of our people is clear, we want accountable leadership that has the highest standards of respects for rule of law, justice and human rights," he reiterated.
Kamara made it clear that this aspiration has to be backed by a constant dialogue, interaction and determination. "We must begin this conversation by looking at how we put the building blocks in place to prevent the tendencies of dictatorship and tyranny from emerging. We must also begin this dialogue by ensuring that we put an end to the trend of impunity that has made it easier to erode democratic rights and freedoms and allow injustice to to thrive," he stated.
It is in the light of these imperatives that the Representative of United Nations Human Rights High Commissioner in West Africa Andrea Ori said the transitional justice process will be clearly spearheaded by Gambians, and organized in a way that is specific to the country's circumstances. "This leads me to the importance of working from the bottom up and holding meaningful national consultations to design and implement transitional justice processes," he added.
However, Andrea Ori warned against a rushed process that could undermine the efforts to unite the population around a common agenda. For transitional justice measures to be legitimate and sustainable, they should be based on comprehensive consultations and promote local ownership over the entirety of the process, he said.
President Barrow has vowed to right the wrongs of the past as his government has responded to victims' families demands for justice by taking high profile case up with courts. Last week, the Justice Ministry succeeded to secure arrest warrants against two former army officers who are reportedly linked with the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara. The ability of Gambian authorities to cope with these issues could have a positive impact in the country's push for justice and reconciliation...