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April 22, 2024

Navigating the Path of Transitional Justice: The Gambian Experience

In recent years, The Gambia has undergone a significant transformation, both politically and socially. With the departure of former President Yahya Jammeh in 2017, after 22 years of autocratic rule, the country embarked on a journey toward democracy and justice. Central to this journey is the concept of transitional justice, a process aimed at addressing past human rights abuses and ensuring accountability, while promoting reconciliation and healing within society. The American Bar Association Rule of Law Initiative (ABA ROLI) is proud to have been a part of this reconciliation and healing through the Promoting Rights and Justice (PRJ) Activity in The Gambia, a 5-year justice sector support project funded by USAID, and a complementary Rapid Response project, entitled Support to the Gambian Justice Sector to pursue Justice and Accountability, an intervention funded by the U.S. Department of State.

The transitional justice process in The Gambia has been multifaceted, encompassing various mechanisms, such as truth commissions, prosecutions, reparations, and institutional reforms. At the forefront of these efforts is the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), established in 2017 to investigate human rights violations committed during Jammeh's regime. The TRRC has played a pivotal role in uncovering the truth about past atrocities, providing a platform for victims to share their experiences, and holding perpetrators accountable. Through public hearings and testimonies, the commission shed light on the widespread torture, arbitrary detention, and extrajudicial killings that occurred under Jammeh's rule, bringing a sense of closure to many victims and their families. Throughout the past three years, ABA ROLI’s programs have been working to enhance technical capacity of the Ministry of Justice to fulfill its mandate for justice and accountability in the immediate post-TRRC period. 

In addition to truth-telling, the Gambian government has taken steps toward accountability by initiating prosecutions against individuals implicated in human rights abuses. Notably, in 2019, the Gambian police issued arrest warrants for former members of Jammeh’s hit squad and several more have been tried and convicted, marking significant milestones in the pursuit of justice for victims. In addition, the government has prioritized reparations for victims, recognizing the need to address the harm and suffering endured by individuals and communities. Through the establishment of a reparations fund and the implementation of support programs, efforts are underway to provide financial compensation, healthcare, and psychosocial support to those affected by past abuses. This accountability requires a judiciary that can appropriately adjudicate cases of past abuse, which is why ABA ROLI works closely with the Supreme Court and other elements of the Gambian Judiciary to expand their expertise to effectively handle cases on international crimes.

Despite progress, the transitional justice process in The Gambia faces challenges. Delays in prosecutions, resource constraints, and the complex nature of addressing systemic impunity pose significant obstacles to achieving comprehensive justice and reconciliation. Moreover, there is a delicate balance between accountability and national reconciliation, with some arguing that prosecutions may hinder the healing process and disrupt social cohesion. Finding ways to navigate this balance, while ensuring that victims' rights are upheld, remains a critical challenge for policymakers and civil society alike. 

An important development for transitional justice in The Gambia was the creation of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) which strives to uphold the principles of human dignity, equality, and justice for all Gambians. Established in accordance with the Gambia National Human Rights Commission Act of 2017, the commission operates independently, tasked with promoting, protecting, and enforcing human rights standards across all sectors of society. With a mandate to investigate human rights violations, offer redress to victims, and raise public awareness, the NHRC plays a crucial role in fostering a culture of respect for human rights and accountability within the Gambian state apparatus. The ABA is proud to stand with the NHRC as they seek to institutionalize the protection of Gambian human and civil rights.

The success of transitional justice in The Gambia will depend on sustained political will, institutional capacity-building, and meaningful engagement with all stakeholders, including victims, perpetrators, and the wider community. By addressing past injustices transparently and inclusively, The Gambia can build a more resilient and just society for future generations and serve as a beacon of hope for countries grappling with a legacy of human rights abuses and authoritarian rule. Through truth-telling, accountability, and reparations, the country is laying the groundwork for healing and reconciliation, fostering a culture of respect for human rights and the rule of law. The ABA is proud to stand alongside our Gambian counterparts as they navigate their transitional justice journey, which can inspire and inform similar efforts around the world.

Learn more about ABA ROLI’s work across Africa.