The Gambian National Assembly passed the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Act on 13 December 2017 and the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) was established on 13 January 2018. The commission was mandated to investigate and establish an impartial historical record of the human rights violations committed from July 1994 to January 2017 under former President Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, as well as consider reparations for victims of human rights abuses.
Sexual violence was a priority for the TRRC, with sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), torture, and inhumane and degrading treatment listed as human rights violations in Section 2(a) of the TRRC Act. The commission dedicated the 10th volume of its final report to examining and exposing the scale, context, nature and impact of sexual violence committed during the mandated period. In an effort to neither exclude “any class of victims” nor re-victimise victims/survivors by dismissing their experiences, the report documents sexual violence against women, girls, men and boys. The commission lists 13 perpetrators of acts of sexual violence under Jammeh’s rule and offers up to 19 recommendations on conflict-related sexual violence (CRSV) and 34 CRSV-related sub-recommendations.
Conflict and Prevalence of Sexual Violence
On 22 July 1994, Jammeh and a group of young army officers led a ‘bloodless’ coup d’état against the first democratically elected President Dawda Kairaba Jawara. With Jawara exiled to London, military leaders assumed power and banned all other political activity until August 1996. Following the lifting of the ban, elections for the National Assembly occurred in early 1997. Jammeh became Jawara’s successor within the Alliance for Patriotic Reorientation and Construction (APRC) political party. After a new constitution was approved in the same year, Jammeh went on to rule for 22 years until his defeat in the 2016 election by current President Adama Barrow.
Jammeh’s rule was authoritarian. He governed through state-sanctioned violence and his presidency was characterised by extrajudicial killings, SGBV, torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, and other gross human rights violations that were carried out by his military junta, personal ‘hit squad’ known as ‘the Junglers,’ and armed group ‘the Green Boys’ (Salvioli, 2019; TRRC, 2021a; AG & MoJ, 2022b). Jammeh preached sermons and claimed that he was “mandated by God” to cure HIV/AIDS and cancer, which resulted in the creation of the Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme (AG & MoJ, 2022b). Despite The Gambia being a democratic country and enshrining local, regional and international law, Jammeh, the National Intelligence Agency and his other enablers disregarded the rule of law (Salvioli, 2019; AG & MoJ, 2022b). As a direct consequence of Jammeh’s leadership, approximately 240 persons were murdered (Darboe, 2022).
The regime’s violence was not limited to Gambian civilians but also affected migrants. During the process of the commission, survivors and witnesses gave testimony on the 2005 execution of up to 59 West African migrants by the Junglers. These migrants are assumed to have come from nine different countries and were enroute to Europe (HRW, 2021).
SGBV was widespread and often a performance of power, with sexual violence specifically identified by the TRRC as an instrument of repression, torture, punishment and humiliation (TRRC, 2021b). Like other human rights violations, sexual violations such as rape, sexual torture and forced nudity were state-sanctioned and carried out systematically according to state policy (AG & MoJ, 2022b, p. 65). From the commission’s investigations, the alleged perpetrators primarily followed a top-down approach, as Jammeh and senior government ministers and security officials subjected women and girls and men and boys to a range of sexual violations, including rape, sexual assault, sexual exploitation, sexual harassment, sexual torture, forced nudity and, in the case of people living with HIV, depriving access to appropriate treatment (TRRC, 2021b).
The acts and context of SGBV varied under Jammeh’s regime. Jammeh personally ordered suspected witches to be arrested and detained in Kanilai, a village in southern Gambia, where they were subjected to torture and multiple forms of sexual violation. SGBV was also enacted during forced labour that occurred on Jammeh’s property, the Kanilai Family Farms. Some of the labourers on the farms were women enrolled in the Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme, which targeted women who were HIV positive. Through the programme, Jammeh would procure women whom he would sexually abuse. Some of the women detained during the witch hunts were also forced to work on the farms. Much of the sexual violence, including rape and sexual harassment, experienced by the women on the farms was perpetrated by soldiers. In some cases, government officials would visit the farms and sexually exploit the women by coercing sex in exchange for money.
Additionally, sexual violence occurred in detention centres. Both women and men were victims of sexual abuse during their arrest and detainment. Acts of sexual abuse in these cases included sexual torture, castration, forced nudity and rape (ibid).
While the commission focused primarily on political elites, sexual violence is widespread across the country and is common practice in households, with violations perpetrated by family members. One in five women in The Gambia report having experienced intimate partner violence and one in three women report having experienced either sexual or physical violence in their lifetime, which matches the global prevalence rate (Helfrich, 2019; The Commonwealth, 2020; TRRC, 2021b). While female genital mutilation (FGM) was banned by the Women’s (Amendment) Act of 2015 and child marriage was banned by the Children’s (Amendment) Act of 2016, both are common practice across The Gambia, with up to 75% of girls between the ages 15 and 19 having undergone FGM (OHCHR, 2010; IHRDA & Gambia Center, 2020, p. 5). Additionally, rape, sexual exploitation and sexual violence against children is still said to be prevalent after the Jammeh regime (Voice Gambia, 2021). Like in other countries, victims/survivors of sexual violence in the Gambia are disproportionately female.
Contributing Factors around Sexual Violence
The TRRC established that sexual violence against women is strongly motivated by social, religious and cultural factors and values that are deeply rooted in perceived male superiority (TRRC, 2021b, pp. 13-14). Haddy Mboge Barrow, former national coordinator of the Network against Gender-Based Violence, notes that gender in The Gambia is conditioned within a normative framework of roles and responsibilities that socialises an unequal power dynamic between females and males. She argues that “patriarchy is everything that surrounds power and position, and this is the society that exists in The Gambia. It is about the power relations, power dynamics, who has power over what and that power plays in different angles” (TRRC, 2021b, p. 13).
Despite women making up more than half of the Gambian population, they are poorly represented in positions of power politically, socially and economically (Nabaneh, 2022). Only six out of 58 National Assembly members are women and merely three of these are elected (Nabaneh, 2022). As of February 2021, only 8.6% of seats in parliament were held by women (UN Women, n.d.). In addition, women’s unemployment rate was 12.4%, in comparison to men who were at 8.9% (UN Women, n.d.).
Men are considered as “leaders and women as supporters” (TRRC, 2021b; Nabaneh, 2022). Women are positioned in the private sphere as wives, mothers and daughters, while men are given the authority to dominate the public domain, which gives them economic, social and political currency. This context, Barrow attests, makes it difficult for women to say ‘no’ to men (TRRC, 2021b). It contributes to the nature and prevalence of sexual violence in The Gambia, as such violations against women are widespread and to an extent normalised as well as greatly underreported (ICTJ, 2021). For example, during workshops documenting SGBV, women testified that they did not think their experiences of sexual violence were violations, as they are a norm and the perpetrators were men in power (ICTJ, 2021; TRRC, 2021b, p. 14).
These conditions and attitudes also impact on men and boys. Similar to the experiences of women, sexual violence against men and boys is an act to disempower, embarrass and dominate them (TRRC, 2021b). As a result of the socialisation of men around their sexual organs and physical strength, sexual violence is said to challenge their social standing in both the public and the private domain. For example, male detainees subjected to sexual violence said they felt emasculated and impotent in their sexual performance, which translated to them questioning their position in society (TRRC, 2021b, p. 38). Hence, the underreporting of sexual crimes against men and boys.
Multiple vulnerabilities in The Gambia increase a person’s potential exposure to sexual violence, including poverty, illiteracy, marital status, and urban or rural location. Additionally, persons living with HIV as well as female sex workers are identified as vulnerable groups with increased exposure to sexual violence (Sherwood et al., 2015; TRRC, 2021b).
Despite laws like the Sexual Offences Act of 2013 and the Women’s Act of 2010 and its adoption of international conventions and protocols like the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, The Gambia lacks mechanisms to ensure women and girls realise their full social, cultural, economic, political and civic rights (TRRC, 2021b).
Transition and Establishment of the Truth Commission
On 1 December 2016, Jammeh was defeated by Barrow in presidential elections. After initially accepting his defeat and even congratulating Barrow, on 9 December Jammeh refused to accept the result of the election, citing electoral abnormalities, and called for a new election, which triggered a constitutional crisis. Moreover, Jammeh called on his supporters to surround the elections commission and requested the intervention of the Supreme Court. In reaction, leaders from Nigeria, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ghana travelled to The Gambia to negotiate the transition of power from Jammeh to Barrow. Additionally, military intervention was threatened by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), granted authority by the African Union and West African leaders, to force the transition.
With the country at a standstill, Barrow fled to Senegal, where he was inaugurated at the Gambian embassy and became the internationally recognised president of The Gambia on 19 January 2017. Despite diplomatic efforts by regional leaders and national protests that included Gambian youth taking to the streets and online under the hashtag #GambiaHasDecided, an ECOWAS military intervention took place and ultimately ended the 2016-2017 constitutional crisis. While the transition resulted in few casualties, up to 45,000 people were forced to flee to Senegal and another 800 to Guinea-Bissau. On 21 January, according to the negotiated ECOWAS peace pact, Jammeh officially stepped down and went into exile to Equatorial Guinea. Following his return to The Gambia, Barrow promised to adopt transitional justice measures to address gross human rights violations committed under Jammeh (Salvioli, 2019).
On 13 December 2017, the TRRC was established. The commissioners were sworn into office on 15 October 2018 (TRRC Act, 2017; OHCHR, 2019; TRRC, 2021a). The commission was granted two years to investigate and capture evidence to establish an impartial historical record of gross human rights violations and abuses committed from July 1994 to January 2017. Additionally, the commission was required to grant reparations to victims (TRRC Act, 2017).
In 2017, the minister of justice in partnership with international, regional and local stakeholders such as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ) organised a national consultation to discuss transitional justice processes in the country (Salvioli, 2019). With an agenda of gender mainstreaming within the TRRC as well as adopting a more victim-centred approach, the commission relied on civil society organisations to mediate between the TRRC and victims/survivors. For example, the nationwide statement-taking process, particularly with SGBV victims, organised women’s ‘listening circles’ with the support of the ICTJ (Jow & Gbery, 2021).
The TRRC acknowledges significant technical and material support from international and regional partners like TRIAL International, the Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, the African Union Commission and ECOWAS. With the support of the private and public sector, interim reparations for medical services were distributed to victims with urgent cases, specifically victims of the witch hunts (TRRC, 2021a; TRRC, 2021b). The conditions of these individuals varied, but included chronic body pain, anaemia, ulcers and reproductive issues, among other problems (TRRC, 2021b, p. 45). The commission’s local partners included the Gambia Centre for Human Rights Violations, the African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances, the Association of Non-Governmental Organisations, Abiding Word Ministries, Women in Leadership and Liberation, the Transitional Justice Gender Action Network, the Young Men’s Christian Association, and the Women’s Association for Victim Empowerment (TRRC, 2021a). Significantly, Gambians from the diaspora, particularly in the United States and Britain, provided financial support to the commission (TRRC, 2021c).
The government provided a budget of D200 million ($4 million) to the TRRC and an additional D13 million ($260,000) to assist the completion of the final report (Gainako, 2021; TRRC, 2021a). This is inclusive of interim reparations that cost D37 million ($595,000) (TRRC, 2021c). The United Nations Peacebuilding Fund, through UNDP Gambia’s Transitional Justice Project, also assisted with resources. Core resources and support included nation-wide consultations, advisory services to the government, and technical input on the bills establishing the TRRC and the National Human Rights Commission (TRRC, 2021a; UNDP, 2021).
Mandate and Scope in Respect of CRSV
With respect to CRSV, the TRRC mandate acknowledged crimes of sexual violence under the umbrella term of human rights violations/abuses.
The list of human rights violations included acts of torture, unlawful killings, SGBV, enforced disappearance, inhumane and degrading treatment, arbitrary arrest, and detention without trial (whether committed in isolation or as part of a crime against humanity), in collaboration with others or individually (TRRC Act, 2017, p. 3).
According to the mandate, the functions and objectives of the commission were to investigate:
- violations and abuses of human rights;
- the nature, causes and extent of violations and abuses of human rights including the circumstances, factors, context, motives and perspectives that led to the violations and abuses;
- the identity of all persons, authorities, institutions and organisations involved in these violations;
- question whether the violations were the result of deliberate planning on the part of the State, its organs or other groups or an individual;
- the gathering of information and the receiving of evidence from any person, which establish the identity of victims of these violations, their fate or present whereabouts and the nature and extent of the harm suffered by alleged victims (p. 9).
The mandate stipulated that the TRRC would “adopt a child and gender sensitive approach in conducting its investigations in cases of children and women” (p. 10). As a measure of witness protection, the mandate encouraged the commission to give the option to conduct victim testimonies in public or in camera (p. 12).
Under Article 20 of the mandate, the commission could:
- grant reparations to an applicant who is a victim upon consideration of the evidence received or obtained, in order to restore the human and civil dignity of the victim;
- make regulations for the granting of reparations under the Act.
With respect to trials and amnesties, the mandate made no mention of prosecutions but did stipulate that the commission could recommend amnesty,
- under the terms and conditions established by the commission on the application by a person who makes full disclosure of his/her involvement in human rights violations or abuses and expresses remorse for their acts or conduct;
- Unless acts form part of a crime against humanity.
Accordingly, amnesty could not be granted to those who committed “grave sexual violence” crimes.
Truth Commission Operations
From 7 January 2019 to 28 May 2021, the TRRC conducted public hearings (Manneh, 2021). These were broadcast with the help of the commission’s media partner QTV and different media platforms, including Facebook and YouTube (TRRC, 2021a; UN, 2022). It is estimated that a total of 393 witnesses, including 69 women, testified before the commission about their experiences of human rights violations (Bittaye-Jobe, 2021; Manneh, 2021; Darboe, 2022).
The 9th session of the public hearings focused on SGBV that occurred during the mandated period. As a result of reported social barriers such as stigma, victim-blaming and fears of retaliation for testimonies related to sexual violence, the commission made provisions for victims to testify in closed hearings or provide written statements. Despite these provisions, victims/survivors and witnesses of SGBV were often harassed after giving testimony, which led to the commission issuing a statement criticising this behaviour (TRRC, 2021b).
In the 2018 Investigative Plan under Theme R titled “systematic rape of girls and women and other SGBV,” the TRRC committed to examining the scale, context, nature, gravity and impact of sexual violence committed from 1994 to 2017 (p. 8). The investigative priorities of the TRRC related to CRSV included:
- July 22 Scholarship Pageant;
- recruitment of State House Protocol Officers;
- SGBV by other senior state officials and persons holding positions of authority;
- sexual violence, rape and other forms of SGBV by state security agents during arrest, interrogation and detention;
- sexual violence committed during the Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme;
- sexual violence committed during ‘witch-hunts’; and
- SGBV during forced labour in Kanilai (p. 12).
The TRRC had a detailed Strategic Plan for the Investigation and Presentation of Evidence during the Commission Thematic Hearings on SGBV that addressed key areas such as:
- creation of an SGBV Task Force with centralised expertise (comprised of lawyers, investigators, researchers, statement-takers and psychosocial support officers whose expertise lay in their previous experience working with victims of sexual violence);
- an overview of the scope of SGBV incidents within the commission’s mandate;
- identifying potential investigative leads;
- options on different types of SGBV hearings; and,
- public sensitisation on SGBV matters through public hearings (including expert testimony) and targeted public messaging (p. 8).
The TRRC did not want to exclude “any class of victims” or re-victimise victims by dismissing any class of victims (p. 9). Its strategic plan emphasised the significance of addressing sexual violence against men and boys by looking beyond sexual torture to include rape and other acts of sexual violence by the former regime. Additionally, it established the commission’s policy on gender mainstreaming, with an emphasis on sensitive, inclusive and effective approaches to investigating and conducting hearings with victims/survivors of sexual violence.
Moreover, members of the SGBV Task Force were trained on basic concepts of SGBV that involved building of long-term rapport and trust with communities of victims/survivors and witnesses; interviewing techniques and questioning; appropriate locations for statement-taking; methods to avoid re-traumatisation/re-victimisation; the value of psychosocial support; and explaining TRRC processes as they relate to SGBV (TRRC, 2021b).
The TRRC created the Women’s Affairs Unit (WAU) to reach local women and mainstream their voices in the commission’s processes. The WAU held ‘listening circles’ with women across The Gambia to share their experiences in safe, monitored and protected spaces. From its engagements with communities, the WAU published two separate analytical reports, with recommendations, for the commission that informed its processes on SGBV (ibid). The WAU engaged with the media to sensitise the public to women’s involvement in the truth-seeking process of the TRRC. Furthermore, the commission collaborated with various women’s organisations to take testimonies and provide evidence to the TRRC on sexual crimes.
The TRRC also established the Victims’ Support Unit (VSU) as per Section 13(a)(ii) of the TRRC Act, which required the commission to “respond to the needs of victims” (p. 11). Provisions were made for victims/survivors and witnesses to participate in the TRRC with minimal risk to their psychological health. Hence, a Psycho-Social Unit (PSU) was established within the VSU to provide victim/survivor-centred support services, including medical support for male and female participants in the TRRC process and emotional preparation, participation and coping during their testimonies before the commission. Support was prioritised for victims/survivors but also included accompanying statement-givers, witnesses and other informants, and alleged perpetrators. In line with Section 14(2) of the TRRC Act, the commission put in place measures to address the specific needs of victims/survivors of SGBV and the impact of the violations they suffered (TRRC, 2021b).
The state offered interim reparations to victims/survivors. The government, with the support of the Ministry of Justice, contributed an initial D50 million ($837,893) for reparations in October 2019 and pledged an additional D50 million ($837,893), which was never provided to the TRRC. The commission, in compliance with the financial provisions of the TRRC Act, undertook fundraising with The Diaspora Engagement, raising more than D895,141 ($15,000) for reparations from Gambians abroad.
The commission granted the last interim reparations to victims in June 2021, with 1,009 victims/survivors, including West African migrants, qualifying for them. Of these persons, 198 received <D50,000 and were paid in full, while 757 received >D50,000 and were paid on a pro-rata basis, except the 54 West African migrants, who were paid D32,400,000 through their respective governments (TRRC, 2021c).
With reference to victims/survivors of sexual violence, urgent interim reparations through the VSU were afforded to those with an array of ailments that included anaemia, pneumonia and reproductive health issues, among other reasons as a result of the abuses suffered during the ‘witch-hunt’ exercises ordered by Jammeh (TRRC, 2021b, pp. 44-45). These interim reparations were supported by the Medical Board set by the government in 2018, which offered urgent medical care to victims/survivors, including women affected by SGBV (TRRC, 2021a). Other forms of reparations such as rehabilitation have been offered. Also, safe-housing with psychosocial support services as well as livelihoods was provided for victims/survivors of SGBV under the Irish Aid Programme of the Peacebuilding Fund (TRRC, 2021c).
Truth Commission Final Report
In its final report, the TRRC defines sexual violence as “any non-consensual sexual act, a threat or attempt to perform such an act, or compelling someone else to perform such an act on or with a third person” (TRRC, 2021b, p. 3). Non-consensual acts are defined as either forceful or coercive in nature, wherein the victim is subjected to psychological pressure, undue influence, detention, abuse of power or someone taking advantage of a coercive environment, or the inability of an individual to freely consent. Consent is defined as ongoing permission irrespective of the relationship between victims and perpetrators as well as the longevity of a relationship.
The commission acknowledges and documents women, men, girls and boys as victims of sexual violence. It identifies sexual abuse based on “perceived sexual orientation, gender identity, sexual performance, sexual reputation, sexual choices, sexual activity (or lack thereof), or sexual body parts (TRRC, 2021c, p. 4). With reference to the Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme, the TRRC adopts the Hague Principles on Sexual Violence, which established that depriving someone of access to treatment or medicine related to HIV or other sexually transmitted infections can be regarded as an act of sexual violence.
Based on the totality of evidence discovered during its hearings and investigations, the commission finds sexual violence to have been widespread and, in many scenarios, systematic and an institutional programme of the Jammeh regime. Violations included rape, sexual exploitation, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexualised torture and forced nudity. The commission documents sexual violence as both a primary violation and an accompaniment to other human rights violations, such as forced labour, designed to repress, instil fear, punish and humiliate (TRRC, 2021b).
The commission identifies perpetrators as mainly political elites, including Jammeh, who took advantage of their positions of power to prey on victims’ vulnerabilities, particularly among women and girls. Men were often victims in detention settings and exposed to forced nudity, castration and genital mutilation. The report acknowledges that while women experienced violence directly, they were also secondary victims of the violence experienced by men. For example, widows were vulnerable to poverty as a result of the loss of their breadwinner husbands, with poverty being an indicator of high risk exposure to sexual violence. Additionally, in some cases, women whose husbands were sexually violated were denied sexual relations with their partner, which also impacted on their reproductive rights, for reasons such as trauma, shame and, in some cases, physical disability as a result of castration and other violations inflicted on males’ genitalia (ibid).
The report states that participants in the Presidential Alternative Treatment Programme were forced to stop conventional HIV/AIDS medications such as ARVs and instead consume the herbal concoctions prescribed by either Jammeh or Dr. Tamsir Mbowe. Additionally, participants testified that they experienced sexual violence such as forced nudity, forced touching and prevention of adult participants from engaging in sexual intercourse with their partners, which to an extent can be considered forced sterilisation (TRRC, 2021i; TRRC, 2021b). Also, participants were filmed partially naked, and in some cases naked, with footage distributed online and on national television without their consent (TRRC, 2021b).
The commission notes that women and girls experienced systemic discriminatory policies in public and private. Sexual violations took place at various government institutions, such as the presidential residence, the farms in Kanilai village belonging to Jammeh, the premises of the National Intelligence Agency, the State Central Prison Mile 11, the Fajara Army Barracks and in private homes and vehicles (TRRC, 2021b). With the normalisation of sexual violence, victims were often shamed, which resulted in underreporting of sexual crimes and the “silence” culture.
The TRRC highlights that The Gambia ratified the Rome Statute in 2004 and is a state party to the International Criminal Court, which captures a broad range of SGBV as crimes against humanity in Article 7(1)(g) (TRRC, 2021b, p. 8). In its reporting on CRSV, the commission adopts local, regional and international legal frameworks, including: Sexual Offences Act of 2013; Women’s Act of 2010; Children’s Act of 2005; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women; African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights; African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa; Convention on the Rights of the Child; Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights; International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; and Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
In documenting the experiences of women in The Gambia, the International Center for Transitional Justice collaborated with three local women’s groups in the rural districts of Sintet, Janjanbureh and Basse to develop a report that was submitted to the TRRC in December 2019 by representatives of the women’s groups. Also, in collaboration with international organisations, several local women’s groups produced a position paper on the political inclusion of women that was submitted to the Ministry of Justice, the National Human Rights Commission and the TRRC (ICTJ, 2019).
Gambian civil society organisations have written shadow reports to capture experiences beyond the TRRC process and report. These include Women in Liberation and Leadership, which launched a shadow report on SGBV (Jawo, 2022), and Fantanka, which launched a shadow report on the experiences of women and youth under Jammeh (Taylor, 2022).
Truth Commission Recommendations
In the volume titled “Sexual and Gender-Based Violence,” the TRRC makes 19 recommendations relating to sexual violence. Five of the recommendations (broken down into eight sub-recommendations) are for the prosecution of perpetrators: Yahya Jammeh, Ousman Sonko, General Solo Bojang, Captain Saihou Jallow, Badjie (an officer), Foday Barry, Baba Saho, Kawsu Camara (Bombardier), Alagie Martin, Solo Bojang and Sheikh Omar Jeng (TRRC, 2021b, p. 53).
The commission recommends that Yankuba Colley, Lang Tombong Tamba and Momodou Hydara not be prosecuted for their involvement in sexual violations as they had no direct control over the crimes they are accused of. It also recommends that former Director General of Prisons David Colley, who is accused of sexual harassment and sexual exploitation of female prison officers in the Gambia Prison Services in 2007, be banned from taking up a government-appointed position for at least five years (pp. 30-32, 53). There are no recommendations for violations committed by Daba Marena, Sainey Manneh and Manlafi Corr, as they are deceased.
The commission recommends that the National Human Rights Commission “take the responsibility to monitor the implementation of the TRRC recommendations and in that capacity reports on the status of implementation and provides an annual report to National Assembly” (TRRC, 2021a, p. 154).
The remainder of the recommendations (and sub-recommendations) related to addressing CRSV are split into restitution (8), rehabilitation (12), satisfaction (16), legal reform (3), judicial reform (15), criminal reform (11), institutional reform (26), and educational reforms (5) that are identified under “other measures.”
The TRRC final report states that the Gambian government should take full responsibility for the recommendations as well as their implementation. This includes funding the Child Protection Unit to enable capacity building of staff and hiring of experts such as psychologists and social workers, as well as procurement of vehicles and fuel to enable the unit to embark on sensitisation tours for the future prevention of SGBV crimes. It recommends support for key and strategic units of law enforcement agencies to ensure timely response and investigation of reported cases, as well as for key civil society organisations working in the area of sexual violence (TRRC, 2021b, pp. 53-54).
Additionally, the commission recommends that the government establish a mechanism to implement a Victim Support Fund and make it mandatory for all institutions, including in the private sector and civil society, to put in place sexual abuse and harassment policies as required by the Women’s Act and the National Women’s Policy. These laws are meant to protect the rights of women and ensure non-recurrence.
The TRRC suggests collaboration with relevant government institutions, such as the Department of Social Welfare, to provide adequate resources and run facilities such as one-stop centres to assist SGBV victims. It suggests security sector reform, thorough education of law enforcement officials in dealing with SGBV cases, and provision of friendly spaces in police stations for persons who have suffered SGBV. Furthermore, it is expected that police stations take the initiative to build capacity though training, funding, standard operating procedures, policies and special diaries to ensure confidentiality (p. 54).
Additionally, the commission recommends that the University of The Gambia and its relevant organs do research on SGBV, establish a programme in social work for students to become licensed clinical social workers, and engender a special focus on research, education and training in building capacity to support communities affected by violations.
The commission further suggests that civil society organisations, in collaboration with the government, educate and sensitise all relevant government institutions as well as the broader Gambian nation about their rights and responsibilities, while educating communities on SGBV through community outreach activities, civic education and women’s empowerment initiatives.
In consideration of Article 20 of the TRRC Act, the commission recognises that reparations for SGBV victims/survivors must include “individual and collective measures, including restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and guarantees of non-repetition” (TRRC, 2021a, p. 141). However, there are no specific reparations allocated to SGBV victims.
Implementation of the Truth Commission Recommendations
Since the conclusion of the TRRC in December 2021, there has been no reported implementation of the commission’s recommendations. However, there is significant progress towards implementation.
The Attorney General’s Chambers and Ministry of Justice organised a three-day national discussion to dispel misconceptions about the TRRC’s implementation process (Saho, 2022). Moreover, the ministry sent out invitations for position papers from all victims, victim-led organisations, civil society organisations, public and private institutions, educational institutions, religious institutions, regional and international bodies, and other stakeholders to provide input on implementation (AG & MoJ, 2022a). In collaboration with civil society organisations, it also launched the Ministry of Justice-CSO Platform on TRRC Recommendations that involves consulting, exchanging ideas and managing the coordination of implementation processes (Jallow, 2022).
On 5 May 2022, a coalition of organisations in The Gambia submitted a shadow white paper that encourages all actors to commit to the full and fair implementation of the TRRC recommendations (Manneh, 2022). Moreover, a coalition of organisations issued a public letter to the government and the Ministry of Justice on 11 May 2022 demanding their full commitment to the TRRC recommendations (HRW, 2022). Some of these organisations included Amnesty International, Female Lawyers Association-Gambia, the Gender Platform, Human Rights Watch, Think Young Women, the Toufah Foundation, Women’s Association for Victims’ Empowerment, Women in Liberation and Leadership, and the Association of Non-Governmental Organisations. The Association of Non-Governmental Organisations is credited with establishing a road map on mechanisms to support the government with the successful undertaking of post-TRRC transitional justice processes (Chronicle, 2021).
Civil society organisations have called for the inclusion of victims in consultations, decision-making and the prioritisation and designing of measures related to implementation of the TRRC recommendations. Moreover, the shadow white paper acknowledges victims, particularly of SGBV, who did not participate in the TRRC hearings and recommends that the government address their demands during the period of implementation (HRW, 2022). The government has collaborated with international and national partners to draft legislation for a victim’s fund and a peace commission (Afrobarometer, 2023).
Later in May 2022, the government published a white paper in which it renewed its commitment to fulfilling the commission’s recommendations. Of the 265 recommendations, the government has accepted 263, only rejecting the granting of amnesty to one accused perpetrator, Sana Sabally, and the characterisation of foreign judges as “mercenary Judges” who should be banned from holding public office in The Gambia (Jallow, 2022; AG & MoJ, 2022b, pp. 140, 172).
With regards to SGBV, the white paper states that the government will prioritise the strengthening of “holistic measures and strategies to enable timely and effective response and investigation of reported cases of all violations of human rights and especially SGBV by providing financial resources, developing policies, protocols and SOPs and raising awareness” (p. 90). In addition, it will prioritise the implementation of the National Action Plan on SGBV.
In 2023, the government published an implementation plan for 2023-2027, which has an estimated budget of USD 4,040,000. The implementation plan was developed in collaboration with civil society organisations, agencies, government and international partners (Republic of Gambia, 2023). The plan organises a strategy for implementation of the TRRC recommendations specific to addressing human rights violations committed under Jammeh. It draws out a long-term strategy to encourage stability and sustainable development towards implementing recommendations within the target budget and timeline.
Implementation for recommendations related to sexual violence falls under the broader theme of SGBV. It includes: “(1). Accountability for SGBV violations perpetrated between 1994 and 2017; (2). The establishment of new, and enhancement of existing, support systems for SGBV victims; (3). The existence of safe spaces for victims of SGBV; (4). Existence of laws, policies and manuals that protect and prevent SGBV; (5). Increased capacity of public institutions and actors on SGBV matters; (6). Increased public education, training and access to information on SGBV related matters; and (7). Increased public awareness on rights and responsibilities within the context of SGBV” (ibid).
The plan includes a table with the implementation stages of the SGBV recommendations across the four years according to: an expected outcome; category of recommendations (justice and accountability, legal reform, institutional reform, guarantees of non-repetition, and capacity building); planned activities (recommendation); timeline (2023-2027); leading implementing entities; and a budget that is broken down into budget description, funding source and amount in USD. This table establishes the many national actors responsible for each recommendation.
In May 2023, the Gambian government with United Nations partners held a Stakeholder Conference and Donor Roundtable to discuss the implementation of the TRRC recommendations (Touray & MSS, 2023). Participants included government officials, victims of human rights violations and their families, local civil society, international organisations, development partners and the media. The aim of this event was to garner political will for the implementation process, target funding opportunities and partnerships, and for civil society and victims’ groups to be involved in decision-making with regard to implementation (UNDP, 2023).
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