Gambia’s President Adama Barrow said justice will be served where necessary as the country prepares to hear from the victims of former President Yahya Jammeh’s regime.
Human rights groups, who have well-documented human rights abuses of the Jammeh era have urged Barrow’s government to ensure justice is delivered.
Many Gambians are seemingly impatient, demanding the arrest and detention of anyone suspected to be complicit of committing human rights violations.
But Attorney General Aboubacarr Baa Tambadou said: “it is a New Gambia and proper procedure will have to be followed.” Rights group agree, adding that the civil rights and liberties of those found wanting should be protected and respected.
“While I strongly believe in the healing power of reconciliation and forgiveness, it is important to underscore the reality that justice must not only be served but in fact be seen to be done where necessary,” President Barrow said.
The Gambia came from a painful past. The former regime frequently committed serious human rights violations including arbitrary detention, enforced disappearance, and torture against those who voiced opposition to the government.
The repression and abuses created a climate of fear within Gambia, generating increased attention from the international community.
However, President Adama Barrow says what is urgently required of is to unify the country around a transformative development agenda “so that we can move speedily with our bilateral and multilateral partners to bring about socio-economic development for our people.”
Government and opposition supporters clashed in southwestern Gambia, mostly in the Foni region. More than 54 people have been arrested and charged but authorities dropped charges in the spirit of reconciliation.
President Barrow is calling for citizens to take a moment to reflect “on the Gambia that we wish to see our children grow up in and to identify the changes in attitudes and behaviors that will be required to bring about the new Gambia” his administration promised.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission is set to start hearing from Jammeh’s victims. The government says it does not mean the absence of accountability for crimes committed by anyone under the ousted regime.
Despite widespread allegations of serious abuses committed by the security forces over the last two decades, no members of the state security or paramilitary groups are known to have been convicted or otherwise held to account for torture, killings, or other serious violations.
“A culture of accountability will be a crucial start so that national resources and those contributed by our partners are wisely invested,” Barrow said.
“The ability to collaborate for the sake of national interest even in the heat of political competition will be equally crucial.”
Two United Nations special rapporteurs conducted missions to Gambia in November 2014 to investigate allegations of torture and ill-treatment, in addition to extrajudicial and unlawful killings.
Both rapporteurs issued highly critical reports stating that Gambia is characterized by widespread disregard for the rule of law, infringements of civil liberties, and the existence of a repressive state apparatus.
They said they encountered an atmosphere of fear and were denied access to detention centers, including the security wing of Mile 2 Prison in Banjul.
President Barrow’s party leader, Ousainou Darboe has been held at the Mile 2 prison, where he was subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.
The victory of Adama Barrow in the December 2016 presidential election brought hope for improved respect for human rights and the rule of law. It marks the end of impunity in the country that has been one of the last strongholds of dictatorship.