By Amadou Jallow
Gambia’s truth-seeking process kicked off this week with the swearing in of 11 commissioners as the International Criminal Court pledged to keep a watchful eye on the examination of human rights abuses during the 22-year tenure of former dictator Yahya Jammeh.
Fatou Bensouda, the Gambian born Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), reminded authorities that as the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission begins operations, she would be keeping a watchful eye on the process. Although truth commissions are not part of the mandate of the ICC, they have a nexus with Rome Statute crimes such as genocide and systematic crimes against humanity committed as part of state or organizational policy such as murder, torture, rape, displacement of populations
Bensouda was among several dignitaries who were on hand to witness President Adama Barrow preside over the swearing-in TRRC commissioners and the inauguration of the truth-seeking process at Kairaba Hotel in Kanifing, the country’s most populated municipality.
“My office will be following the developments [at] the commission with great interest. ICC is prepared to undertake its independent and impartial mandate under the Rome statue with conviction and dedication as it does in all situations where we have jurisdiction with full respect for the principles of complementarity,” Bensouda said.
She said those responsible for serious criminal acts during the Jammeh regime must face justice in a properly constituted court of law that abides by and applies the highest standards of judicial administration.
“When confronted with atrocity crimes that shock the consent of humanity, there is no justifiable reason to look the other way or to entertain immunities,” she said.
The truth process could be a likely first step in seeking accountability for violations that occurred in the 22 years that Jammeh was in power. Jammeh presided over an authoritarian regime that was marked by widespread human rights violations. For decades, there were no effective investigations into violations and perpetrators have not been brought to justice. The National Assembly passed the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRC) Act on December 13, 2017, and the President assented to it on January 13, 2018. It is lining up a few witnesses to commence public hearings soon after the launch event. The secretariat says it would soon announce the exact commencement date.
The truth commission is one of President Barrow’s foremost commitments since his coalition came to power following Jammeh’s defeat in the December 2016 elections.
Bensouda’s presence at this week’s launch was itself a remarkable statement of how much things have changed in the Gambia. Jammeh had made tentative steps to pull the Gambia out of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding treaty. Shortly after taking power in early 2017, President Barrow recommitted Gambia to the ICC.
It is a testament of how close-knit Gambian society is that Bensouda once served as Attorney General and Justice minister under Jammeh before resigning in 2000 on principle.
This piece was originally published by The Point Newspaper and is republished here as part of our ongoing partnership on reporting on the transitional justice process in The Gambia.
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