The draft bill for the establishment of The Gambia Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission is ready according to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice Abubakar Tambadou.

He said the bill will be presented to the National Assembly as soon as it is finalized by the Ministry and approved by Cabinet.

Minister Tambadou made the revelation on Monday during a press briefing at the Ministry’s head office in Banjul.

He said the Ministry hopes to have the necessary support structures in place so that the Commission will start hearings by the end of the year.

“Appointment of commissioners and recruitment of support staff shall be guided by The Gambia Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission Act after it is passed by the National Assembly” he said.

Study tour to Sierra Leone

He further reported their recently concluded successful study tour of the transitional justice processes in Sierra Leone with special interest on their version of a truth and reconciliation commission.

“The study tour team which was led by me was composed of Mr Hussein Thomasi, my Special Adviser; Ms Kanni Touray Senior State Counsel; Mr Bubacarr Sarr of The Gambia Police Force; Imam Baba Leigh as a representative of the victims; Ms Fatoumatta Camara as the designated communications strategist/outreach officer; and Mr Bashirou Jahumpa as the representative of the UNDP who sponsored the trip”. Minister Tambadou said

He added that a report of the study tour with recommendations has now been submitted to him for review.

“Following the completion of the study tour and after careful consideration based on several factors including recommendations made by the study tour team, we now wish to establish in The Gambia a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission whose principal objectives will be to give the victims of abuses a voice by allowing them to share their stories; give perpetrators the opportunity to tell the truth about these abuses in a manner that normal criminal proceedings will not permit; and to give appropriate compensation to the victims for loss or injury suffered as a result of the abuses. It is hoped that this process will lead to a healing on the part of victims and ultimately reconciliation across a broad spectrum of Gambian society who have been affected, either directly or indirectly by the events of the past 22 years. As a Government, we have a responsibility to actively forster social cohesion and encourage national reconciliation” he said.

According to Tambadou, it is crucial that they strongly encourage truth-telling about past abuses saying they want to ensure documentation of an accurate historical record of past abuses so that appropriate lessons can be learned in order to put in place mechanisms to prevent recurrence.

“We must remind ourselves at all times that the people of this country wanted this change because they strongly disapproved of the manner of governance by the previous government. If we want to avoid going back to that kind of governance environment in future, we must conduct a post-mortem of the past starting from 22 July 1994 in order to understand how we got to this point in the first place. We would like to know how the infrastructure of terror was created during the past 22 years in this country, how it operated at various times, its membership, structure and other vital information” he noted.

He added: “That is why perpetrators must tell the whole truth. In order to encourage them do so, there will have to be some kind of benefit for them. This may take many forms including guarantees against future prosecution in appropriate cases. Similarly, perpetrators who do not come forward to share their experiences before the Commission would face prosecution should there be credible evidence of their involvement in any abuses. We will therefore strongly encourage anyone with information, especially those who were used as tools to perpetrate abuses against their fellow citizens, to come forward and share their stories with the Gambian people. That’s the least the perpetrators could do for the victims and their loved ones. They owe it to themselves and their own families too. It will provide some form of closure for the perpetrators themselves as well as the victims. We will therefore reach out to religious and community leaders, youth and women’s groups across the country through various means so that they can encourage members of their congregations and communities to tell the truth about past abuses as a pathway to our collective healing, peace and justice”.

Notwithstanding, Minister Tambadou reminded that not everyone may be fully satisfied with the outcome of the process, but it is a process tried and tested in many parts of the world and is generally regarded as the best possible outcome for sustainable peace in an extremely challenging situation such as ours. He assured that the Gambia’s one will be a credible and transparent exercise.

He also made it clear that there will be justice for everyone but justice can come in many different forms. He said justice it is not only about punitive sanctions against perpetrators but includes restoring, to the extent possible, the shattered lives of victims and their loved ones.

“The simple reality is that we may not be able to prosecute everyone who was involved in alleged State sanctioned crimes over the past 22 years since July 1994. There have been many unfortunate incidents during this period and too many people have been affected based on reports so far. Hard choices and difficult decisions will have to be made” he said.

Minister Tambadou then reminded Gambians that the country and its people earned the respect and goodwill of the entire world by the sensible, peaceful and mature manner in which we have conducted ourselves as a people before and during the last elections. He said Gambia is a small nation with a big role to play in the sub-region and the world, saying we have a unique historical opportunity to show the world that our conduct before, during and after the presidential elections in December and January, especially during the political crisis, is a true representation of our national character as a peace-loving and progressive people.

He called on every Gambian to continue to demonstrate maturity particularly in the quest for justice.