PRESS BRIEFING October 2017
Welcome to another press briefing of the Ministry of Justice. Again our objective is to provide the public with information about some of our key activities.
NIA 9 CASE
It is my understanding that the case will resume on Monday 16 October 2017. I have been informed by the Prosecutor, Mr Antouman Gaye, that he intends to file a motion to amend the indictment in order to increase the number of Counts to 26 from the initial number of 12 Counts.
TRUTH, RECONCILIATION & REPARATIONS COMMISSION
You will recall that the Ministry, under my personal leadership, together with representatives from civil society organizations, the National Youth Council, victims groups, The Gambia Press Union, and other government departments, went around the entire country in the month of August to engage in public consultations with communities about the TRRC. We held meetings in Kerewan, Janjanbureh, Basse, Mansa Konko, Bwiam, Brikama, Gunjur, Serrekunda East, Serrekunda West, Bakau, and finally Banjul. The objective of the consultations was to provide an opportunity for ordinary Gambians to express their concerns, opinions and views about the establishment of the TRRC and to take onboard their comments as we embark on designing a truth commission model that will suit the particular context of The Gambia.
During the consultations, we informed the communities about the fundamental objectives of the TRRC and solicited their input on all aspects of the process. The consultations provided us with an opportunity to guage the public mood and sentiment on several aspects of the work of the Commission. We received a lot of good ideas during these public consultations especially on the urgent need and appetite to provide a national forum to discuss the human rights violations of the Jammeh era. I am pleased to report that, over all, the idea of the TRRC received overwhelming support from all communities across the country.
We also conducted a study tour of the TRC process in South Africa in order to enrich our own understanding of the successes and challenges of the different truth commission models. The delegation included Ministry of Justice staff and representatives of the The Gambia Police Force and a victims’ group. Allow me to take this opportunity to extend our sincere gratitude to the UNDP country office in The Gambia for facilitating this study tour, and to the Foundation for Human Rights in South Africa for organizing our visit in such impressive manner with such short notice. Our experience gained from knowledge and experience shared by the South Africans gave us novel perspectives and enriched our own ideas.
We are now at the final review stage of the draft TRRC bill. We have spent a considerable amount of time on the bill working with experts in the area of transitional justice and truth commissions in particular. My team, including Ministry of Justice staff under the leadership of my Special Adviser Mr Hussein Thomasi, and the United Nations consultant on transitional justice at the Ministry, Mr Ibrahim Wani, have been working very closely with representatives of the International Center for Transitional Justice who were in the country and have last week concluded a review of the draft bill. I would like to extend special gratitude to the ICTJ, and particularly Mr Howard Varney and Mr Muhamed Suma for their invaluable contribution to our work. We have also received comments on the bill from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Africa Group for Accountability and Justice, and the United Nations. I take this opportunity to thank all of them for their guidance.
Based on the nationwide consultations and our interactions with experts in the area of truth commissions around the world, some of the key features of our Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission will include:
- That all members of the Commission shall be Gambian nationals of the highest standards of integrity
- That all regions in the country shall be represented
- That the Commission shall reflect the national character of The Gambia and shall be as representative of the different communities as possible including women, religious and youth groups
- That the Commission shall be established for an initial period of two years
The work of the TRRC Commission shall be accompanied by a very rigorous public information and outreach program to keep the people informed at all stages of the process. Radio and television discussions about the whole TRRC process, its objectives and rationale will continue in order to engender better understanding of the process for everyone including perpetrators, victims, witnesses and the public at large.
We continue to call on religious and community leaders, youth and women’s groups to engage the people in these discussions nationwide in a constructive manner.
In consultation with the office of the Chief Justice, the Ministry of Justice is now drafting a bill on the establishment of a Constitutional Review Commission which shall be presented before the National Assembly at the earliest opportunity. The establishment of the CRC by an Act of the National Assembly has many advantages including that the honourable members of the Assembly, who are representatives of the people, will be given an opportunity to participate in the constitutional review process from the very beginning.
Notwithstanding the public consultations that will be conducted by the CRC in drafting a new constitution, members of the National Assembly shall have an opportunity to discuss and debate on this important national project and express, through these debates, the concerns, views and opinions of the wider public. This approach will also engender greater legitimacy, transparency and accountability to the entire process.
Allow me to re-iterate, that the proposed new constitution of The Gambia shall be one that will reflect faithfully and accurately the views of the generality of Gambians both at home and abroad.
COMMISSIONS OF INQUIRY
You will recall that His Excellency, Adama Barrow, President of the Republic, established a Commission of Inquiry to look into the financial activities of public enterprises, bodies and offices as regards their dealings with the former President Yahya Jammeh and others on 12 July 2017 pursuant to Section 200 of the 1997 Constitution and Section 2 of the Commission of Inquiry Act, and appointed:
Mr Surahata Janneh as member and Chairman
Mr Bai Mass Saine as member
Ms Abiosseh George as member
Paragraph 8 of the Establishment Order of 12 July 2017 provided for the Commission to complete its inquiry within a period of three months of its first sitting which occurred on 10 August 2017. However, it also gave the power to the Commission to continue beyond that period if in its opinion it is necessary to do so. The Commission now deems it necessary to extend its mandate to an additional six months from the date of expiry of the first three months in view of the following:
- The emergence of new evidence, which warrants the calling of more witnesses to testify before the Commission;
- the nature and complexity of the evidence adduced by witnesses before the Commission, which will necessitate the procurement of the services of forensic accountants and auditors;
- the numerous public enterprises, bodies and offices that are the subject of this inquiry and are yet to be heard; and
- the nature, time and complexity of the investigations covering a period of over 22 years from 22 July 1994 to 21 January 2017.
Based on the extension of the duration of the Commission’s work for an additional six months, the Ministry sought and obtained from the National Assembly, approval for the increment of remuneration to an additional amount of D500, 000 (Five Hundred Thousand Dalasis) for each of the said Commissioners.
The Ministry will continue to monitor proceedings at the Commission.
In terms of strengthening capacity and enhancing resources within the Ministry, I am pleased to report that the Ministry has now received a significant amount of office material including desktop computers and printers. The UNDP has donated us with 25 computers. The Turkish Government through its embassy in The Gambia, has donated us with 10 additional computers. I am proud to say that every counsel at the Ministry of Justice now has a desktop computer connected to an internet service for their work.
We have also now secured funding to start our project of creating modern electronic case management systems, and electronic record keeping including the digitization of the registration of deeds and transfers under the Registrar General’s department of the Ministry. We hope to gradually phase out hard paper registration systems soon.
We remain fully committed to improving the working conditions of the staff of the Ministry.