(JollofNews) – In light of the recent overtures of the Attorney General, Baa Tambedou, and the lead counsel for the institution of transitional justice in The Gambia, the TRRC, about possible release and amnesty for some members of the Jammeh Jungulers – I find myself compelled to ask this question of what is a transitional justice. Something, I believe, many have been asking themselves of since the inception of the TRRC.
The International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) described it as a process in which: “countries emerging from periods of conflict and repression address large-scale or systematic human rights violations so numerous and so serious that the normal justice system will not be able to provide an adequate response.” Thus it is the approach adopted by our authorities to deal with our human rights violations perpetrated under the 22 years reign of former Gambian Dictator Yahya Jammeh!
However, contrary to my perception of what is being presented by our authorities about transitional justice, such processes are not just about forgiveness or amnesty, per se, but include prosecutions of those responsible for worst human rights violations! And the prosecution, ought not just be reserved for those most responsible for such crimes, but for anyone who perpetrated such crimes against humanity. The emphasis ought not to be placed on the worst offenders only but to anyone who committed such crimes. For there is nothing like a minor crime against humanity. Thus there ought to be no lesser offenders of crimes against humanity. They either perpetrated such crimes or they have not committed such crimes, but cannot be categorised into the superlatives of bad, worse and worst!
Whilst I concede each nation has the latitude to bespoke what it aims to achieve from its transitional justice. But such latitudes, ought not yield to a discretion for dictating its wishes on the victims in other to achieve reconciliation or a semblance of such! Thus any nation wishing to achieve any semblance of such a process must not aim to trek the easier route of forgiveness and amnesty principally, whilst disregarding prosecution. For it is internationally accepted that such process, being the transitional justice, is not a substitute for prosecution, but a process for prosecution.
In The Gambia, though I am being little postulatory here, for the TRRC is yet conclude their findings – but I could be forgiven for being such imaginative, due to the overtures of my readings of the aspirations of our authorities for our process – it seems our authorities mainly aimed to achieve forgiveness and amnesty for the perpetrators, rather than the prosecution of the same. This, in fact, not just my individual opinion but a belief shared with many that I have have discussed this issue with. If this is however not the official objective, then they are doing a terrible PR job at expressing their aims and objectives for our transitional justice.
The authorities even wish to present certain witnesses as truthful, who proved to be unreliable under the rigorous questioning of cross examination in the normal judicial proceedings. One example that comes to mind is Alhagie Kanyi in the Yankuba Touray case. Other witnesses who are praised for their candour, have presented testimonies that are later contradicted by other witnesses of similar candour. Yet we are expected to believe that most of them are all truthful in their accounts and thus worthy of our forgiveness, despite the apparent contradictions in their accounts. We further encouraged to accept forgiveness as moral equivalence of a pardon for perpetrators from prosecution and punishment for their heinous crimes.
Thus prompting our Attorney General to ponder on the release of the Jungulers! The few henchmen of Jammeh responsible for the most grotesque crimes against humanity committed against Gambians. This all due to what is being presented as their candour b
efore the TRRC, which assist the commission in unearthing the truth about what happened under Jammeh. The fear being that if we do not show mercy to those who volunteered the truth the rest may not volunteer the same, making the commission’s work futile. But that seems a lame excuse considering the testimonies of some of the witnesses, who claimed they refused to flee for they wanted to assist such forums with truth and nothing but the whole truth!
Thus the problem with ours seems to lie at the aspirations and objectives aimed to be achieved by our authorities, which seems to be achieving the truth than achieving redress for the plight of the victims. Such an approach runs contrary to the main objectives of transitional justices, as understood by the International Centre For Transitional Justice (ICTJ), who states that:
“Transitional justice is rooted in accountability and redress for victims. It recognizes their dignity as citizens and as human beings. Ignoring massive abuses is an easy way out but it destroys the values on which any decent society can be built. Transitional justice asks the most difficult questions imaginable about law and politics. By putting victims and their dignity first, it signals the way forward for a renewed commitment to make sure ordinary citizens are safe in their own countries – safe from the abuses of their own authorities and effectively protected from violations by others.”
What the ICTJ understand such approaches to mean is that they ought to give paramount considerations to the victims and not the truthfulness of the perpetrators. Thus our authorities should consider the interest of the victims first before contemplating on the release or awarding of freedom to such perpetrators, such as the Junglers of Yahya Jammeh. On the simple premise that they gave truthful account to the TRRC. Such an approach does not accord the victims with the due considerations deserved for their interest and welfare and dignity.
Our authorities are happy to release mass murderers back to the communities with their victims, without any assurances to the victims that the perpetrators have been rehabilitated, or received the due punishment deserved for their crimes. How do we assure the victims that such perpetrators will be deterred from repeating the same in the future?! Are we to just them at their words that they changed men now and would not readily willing to repeat the same if tempted or coerced to repeat!
At the outset of the establishment of the TRRC, there were people who argued that such transitional justice was not the ideal process for our situation in The Gambia. They contended that this was due to the fewer potential perpetrators that would be unearthed. Thus they reasoned a normal judicial process of prosecution would be ideal against those perpetrators. The truth being unearthed at the TRRC have proved that such critics were not presumptuous. In fact, some of the Jungulers, such as Omar A Jallow, have claimed that they refused to flee the country, as they wanted to assist The Gambia in unearthing the truth of Jammeh’s crimes in any forum.
In a normal judicial process they would have been found guilty of multiple murders and sentenced to imprisonment or remand. Their assistance to the prosecution could be rewarded in a reduction to their sentence, but their release into the communities would not be a subject for contemplation.
It is further my understanding that they are still willing to tell the truth in any prosecution. The difference is that in a normal judicial process, their incarceration would not present any dilemma to the Attorney General neither to the prosecutors. In the current process, it seems, such is the dilemma it presents. For the mantra seems to be, he who tells the truth, walks a free man. It is truth focused, as I alluded to above, and not victim focused, which such transitional justices aim to achieve. If truths sets the perpetrators free, it does not transcend to mean it frees the victims too. If anything it cages the victims. For they remained trapped in the pain and fear of their perpetrators.
Thus it is my belief that truth only frees the teller not the victim. Only justice sets the victims free.
To be continued…..,,