The Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) has recommended restitution for victims of human rights abuses during the 22-year long rule of former Gambia president, Yahya Jammeh.
In a report titled “Documenting Dictatorship: Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation in the Gambia”, the centre said reparation is a critical area in Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) process.
Yahya Jammeh took control of The Gambia in a military coup in July 1994, aged 29.
He sought popular validation for his rule by holding, and winning, elections in 1996, 2001, 2006, and 2011, each time securing more than 50 per cent of the votes in polls that were described as ” tainted” and ” lacking legitimacy” by election observers.
But in December 2016, seeking a fifth popular mandate, Mr Jammeh could only muster 39.6 per cent of the votes and was defeated by the candidate of a coalition of opposition parties, Adama Barrow.
Having initially appeared to be willing to accept the results, Mr Jammeh then changed his mind, citing ‘abnormalities’ and called for the results to be cancelled and fresh elections held.
But after over a month of protracted negotiations with leaders from the Economic Community of West African States, and with the threat of regional military action looming, Mr Jammeh left The Gambia for exile in Equatorial Guinea on January 21, 2017.
During Mr Jammeh’s 22-year rule, human rights violation ranging from forced disappearances, unlawful arrests and killings, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, and persecution of real or perceived political opponents, characterised The Gambia.
A 2015 Human Rights Watch investigative report detailed how security services and guerrilla groups routinely used intimidation, violence, arson, and forced disappearances against three people who spoke out against those in power.
In the report released on Monday, the CDD said once reparation regulations are finalised, the details should also be simplified and communicated across media – print, radio, TV, social media – in local languages.
According to the CDD, dissemination of the report of the commission is to give Gambians detailed insight into the process of its application and timelines for the reparation process.
The report also said this can be done in partnership with media houses and organisations like the Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations.
It said there should be an approved process of building on the work that has been done by the TRRC in bringing the issue of Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV) into the public arena.
It also called on the Gambian human rights commission to make SGBV a key focus of its work in its first annual or strategic plan while community level reconciliation efforts should continue to be a key focus of the TRRC’s work in its final few months.
The centre called for the identification of community reconciliation champions who can support the commission’s work in other regions of the country, which will further improve Gambians’ sense of ownership of the process.
Another option recommended includes the consideration of community reparations especially for regions that were deprived of essential social services due to their resistance to the former regime.
“The TRRC must continue to ensure there is trauma counselling, healthcare and psycho-social support for victims. Create a Victims Support Fund tracker that will allow citizens to see how funds are being dispersed in a transparent and accountable way, but that still ensures individuals’ privacy is retained.
“Privately, the TRRC and development partners should apply pressure on the MoJ to release more funds to support the payment of reparations.
“In addition to using funds raised from the sale of Jammeh’s assets, other individuals and businesses that benefited from Jammeh’s rule should also pay for reparations, especially if they are explicitly mentioned by the TRRC.
“The TRRC should establish and communicate clear guidance on how the reparations fund will operate. If that timeframe extends beyond the life of the Commission, this should include clear direction on who will be responsible for managing the distribution of funds,” it said.