Truth and Reconciliation Commission to be set up within 6 months

By Kebba Jeffang

The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Aboubacarr Tambadou informed journalists that government will set up the most awaited Truth and Reconciliation Commission within 6 months in order to look into the crimes allegedly committed by public officials of the former APRC government.

He said his ministry was not consulted by either the Interior ministry or the police when the NIA 9 officials were arrested and vowed that there will be no more criminal case prosecution without the matter passing through a comprehensive and thorough investigation.

Baa Tamdadou as fondly called was addressing a press conference convened by his ministry on Thursday, March 23rd at the Attorney General’s Chambers.

“Criminal investigations must never be rushed. They require a careful planning and strategising and will often involve specialised investigation techniques which may not be readily available in this country. Otherwise, there is a real risk of missing or losing crucial evidence which can lead to collapse of an entire case at trial. This is why it is preferable that criminal investigations and evidence collection be guided by the justice ministry from the start,” he said.

He said it must be recognised that the Gambia is now operating under a new and different judicial climate and that the judiciary will be expected to assert their judicial independence and will vigorously scrutinise every piece of evidence presented by the prosecution as required in any normal proceeding. According to him, this is why due process must be adhered to.

“Anyone familiar with serious criminal prosecutions will understand and appreciate the challenge of proving beyond reasonable doubt every element of a crime charged and the modes of liability alleged. Hence the importance of thinking through certain matters and taking great care before acting,” said the AG.

He continued: “A Truth and Reconciliation Commission with appropriate reparations for victims will be set up within the next six months and public hearings are expected to commence by the end of the year. We will need to adapt the lessons learnt from other TRCs to our particular context in the Gambia.”

He said the Justice ministry must therefore be in state of full preparedness to handle the demands of our criminal justice system in all respects, and frankly speaking, the ministry of Justice did not need to be put in this position with the case of the NIA 9.

“It is rather unfortunate that the ministry of Justice was not consulted by the ministry of Interior or the police before any action was taken in this case especially in view of the fact that the Justice ministry was going to be ultimately responsible for the case when it is presented before our courts. Hopefully, we will all draw appropriate lessons from this experience and adopt a more inclusive, consultative and coordinated approach in the future,” Tambadou expressed.

He warned that care must be taken so as not to undermine the President’s desire to move this country forward by encouraging open discussions about the past and fostering national reconciliation through the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

“Any action, particularly in these early days, must be geared towards achieving that objective. Any other action must run contrary to this spirit at this moment in time is both unwise and potentially dangerous,” he said.

According to Mr. Tambadou, his ministry has requested the police to conduct a more thorough investigation into the case of NIA 9 which include the former Director General of the defunct National Intelligence Agency.

“I wish to state for the record, that this is in no way a reflection of the work of the police. They too have come under a lot of pressure to conduct a complex investigation within a very short time. This is why we must always endeavour to investigate before arrest rather than arrest and then investigate,” he advised.

He added, “The ministry of Justice takes very seriously the case of the unfortunate death in custody of Solo Sandeng and all other similar unfortunate incidents over the past 22 years of the former government and that is why we must adopt a comprehensive and holistic approach to addressing these justice related challenges rather than approaching it piecemeal”.

However, he said the priority at the moment is to rebuild the judicial system of the country and strengthen capacity of the ministry of Justice in this process. He considered that they must put necessary legal processes and mechanisms in place to ensure not only prosecutions in the short term but also safeguarding the fair trial rights of the accused so that the Gambian people and generation yet to come can live safe in the knowledge that the criminal justice system will dispense justice in a fair, impartial and dispassionate manner.

“We must focus on building a strong, robust and independent justice system to march the aspirations of the people of this country so that no one in this country will ever be dragged before our courts for a crime that they did not commit. That is the primary objective of our reform agenda,” he said.

He informed that: “Consequently, no new criminal cases involving crimes allegedly committed by the former government will be handled by the ministry unless they are thoroughly and comprehensively investigated, and until the ministry of justice is also ready in terms of its capacity, resources, and logistical needs, and only after the approval of cabinet. As at this moment, we are a long way from that state of trial readiness. The working conditions of the ministry must be improved first before we can engage in such highly complex and demanding exercise.”

Meanwhile, the AG and Minister of Justice said consultations are currently taking place to identify appropriate persons of high moral character and integrity from a cross section of social, cultural and religious communities for appointment as commissioners to the TRC. He said an appropriate location for the public hearings will also be identified and public information and awareness campaign shall also be launched soon to start discussions on national television and private radio stations throughout the country about the purpose and objective of a TRC.

He also informed that his ministry has developed and it will almost finalise its transitional strategic paper which details the policy and operational roadmap of the ministry during the transition period. He pointed out that the success of the strategic plan will ultimately depend on the extent of nature and support from their key partners both within and outside the country.