Truth, Reconciliation, Justice and Forgiveness

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Part 2

If other Nations Can do it; Darboe pardoned Jammeh; ‘Yes We Can’ forgive & Reconcile Gambia!

Alagi Yorro Jallow

Truth and Reconciliation is turning toward the good, the hopeful; it is owning our past to transform our future and restore our human dignity. Truth and reconciliation can be very churchy words. It’s the kind of words that people use in high-minded ways and anyone who isn’t in a high-minded mood often just switches off.

The Gambia is in desperate need of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to shift in ways that will provide leadership for a healing, and a healthier nation. Let us understand that the horrors of Yahya Jammeh’s brutal dictatorship and human sufferings continued decades after the settlement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights which provided for the equality of treatment for all human beings.

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is the high road taken by the leadership of President Barrow – not by his political office but by dint of his moral courage and his commitment to reflect by his living up to which he believed. The grace that he showed in this aspect of his leadership will truly be his greatest legacy and one that is unmatched among contemporary leaders.

If Rwanda could achieve not only peace but unity of its people (no tribalism but peace & progress in Rwanda today) after the 1994 Genocide, why not the Gambia! We can do it, for example, the United Democratic Party leader and Foreign minister Ousainou Darboe said, he has personally forgiven former President Yahya Jammeh, after a court in Banjul granted him bail (December6, 2016, Sam Phatey). Lawyer Ousainou Darboe’s magnanimity to pardon Yahya Jammeh is a tremendous opportunity to accept the darkness of our collective history and to proceed, without delay, with réconciliation and rebuilding our relationships as one Gambian, one people, and one nation.

Ousainou’s exceptional ability to forgive was matched by his clear understanding that the process of acknowledging wrong is the first step to repairing the damage and injury perpetrated. He recognized that if the Gambian people were to focus on building a future, they could not live in the past.

Let’s not let it slip away. This is one of the most spiritual things one can do to embrace humanity.

Given the scale of trauma caused by the genocide, Rwanda has indicated that however thin the hope of a community can be, a hero always emerges. Although no one can dare claim that it is now a perfect state, and that no more work is needed, Rwanda has risen from the ashes as a model of truth and reconciliation.

The Gambia, which is one of the smaller independent states in Africa, must be regarded as a model of how great human trauma can be transformed to commence true reconciliation and rehabilitation of a people. Human trauma can lead to stunted growth and mass withdrawal.

The reconciliation process in Rwanda focuses on reconstructing the Rwandan identity, as well as balancing justice, truth, peace and security. The Constitution now states that all Rwandans share equal rights. Laws have been passed to fight discrimination and divisive genocide ideology. Primary responsibility for reconciliation efforts in Rwanda rests with the National Unity and Reconciliation Commission, established in 1999. Rwandans have overcome one of the most horrendous genocides of all times; the 1994 Rwanda genocide with up to 800,000 people died, 250,000 women raped, leaving the country’s population traumatized and its infrastructure decimated. Since then, Rwanda has embarked on a holistic justice and reconciliation process with the aim of all Rwandans once again living side by side in peace. If Rwanda could do it, so could The Gambia, like it has demonstrated in toppling an entrenched dictatorship of twenty years without violence and bloodshed.

But to deal and overcome such a magnitude of human tragedy, Rwanda had to come up certain workable and genuine long lasting scheme for justice after the Genocide. It operated on three levels, namely:

the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda,
the national court system, and
the Gacaca courts.

The International Criminal Tribunal (ICTR) for Rwanda: this was established by the United Nations Security Council in 1994 with a mandate to prosecute persons bearing great responsibility for genocide and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Rwanda between 1 January and 31 December 1994. Though it took several years, but it was worth it.

The Gacaca court system: To address the fact that there were thousands of accused still awaiting trial in the national court system, and to bring about justice and reconciliation at the grassroots level, the Rwandan government in 2005 re-established the traditional community court system called “Gacaca”, where communities at the local level elected judges to hear the trials of genocide suspects accused of all crimes except planning of genocide. The courts gave lower sentences if the person was repentant and sought reconciliation with the community. Often, confessing prisoners returned home without further penalty or received community service orders. More than 12,000 community-based courts tried more than1.2 million cases throughout the country. The Gacaca trials also served to promote reconciliation by providing a means for victims to learn the truth about the death of their family members and relatives. They also gave perpetrators the opportunity to confess their crimes, show remorse and ask for forgiveness in front of their community. The Gacaca courts officially closed on 4 May 2012.

After twenty-two years of dictatorship, Gambians should remember that out of suffering, healing is possible. Out of darkness, light shines brighter, and without sounding too much about it, Gambian people cannot have one without the other. Gambians can reconcile and rebuild our great country with this ethos and empathy.

This is an opportunity to dig deeper into our imaginations and collective intelligence for solutions, to make great art, to forge stronger human connections, to plant deeper community roots, to try to listen to each other and reconcile our differences.

The ball is in our court. The Gambia can choose to embrace life and peaceful co-existence through national dialogue, reconciliation and healing as we identify local base, international and other mechanisms to address justice issues or wallow in cycles of wars & violence.

TRC will be a tremendous opportunity to accept the darkness of our collective history and to proceed, without delay, with réconciliation and rebuilding our relationships as one Gambian peoples. Let’s not let it slip away. We can have a great nation with when we reconcile and forgiveness.

 

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