At long last, a tentative date for the launching of the TRRC has been set. Following the end of the calls for nominations in the Greater Banjul Area and the Diaspora and the regional selection process, 11 names have been identified for final appointment as Commissioners of the TRRC. The names were submitted for vetting by the Technical Committee on Transitional Justice on the morning of Tuesday, August 14. Having passed this stage, the names will soon be published in the media with a call for public objections to any person on the list. Guidelines for the submission of objections will be included in the announcement. Once this process is over, the names will be submitted to the President for appointment after consultations with key civil society organizations as per the provisions of Section 5 (1) of the TRRC. The date set for the launching of the TRRC is October 15, 2018. The launching ceremony is expected to take place at the headquarters of the TRRC at Dunes Resort, behind Palma Rima, where renovation works are well underway. It is expected that the main hall and other areas of the headquarters if not all renovation works will be completed before the launch date. Efforts are underway to place signposts at strategic approaches to Dunes as well as place TRRC billboards in strategic locations across the country.
Meanwhile, recruitment of TRRC secretariat staff is also well underway. Following our first call for applications, several candidates for the various advertised positions were shortlisted and interviewed. Of these some very offered positions. The interview panel consists of four persons: the Executive and Deputy Executive secretary of the TRRC, a lawyer attached to the Transitional Justice working group at the Ministry of Justice, and the country representative of the International Center for Transitional Justice. After every interview and before the next candidate is called in, the panel exchanged views on the merits and demerits of every candidate and a decision is made whether to consider hiring or not, pending upcoming interviews for that position. At the end of the interview process for the day, the panel again exchanged views on which candidate is most suitable for the job. All decisions of the panel have been by consensus.
So far appointments have been made to the positions of Director of Research and Investigations, Director of Communications, Outreach and Media, and Deputy Director of Research and Investigations (an upcoming media advisory will announce this person’s appointment). We have also appointed some investigators, research assistants, and a communications officer. Appointment letters for the first batch of statement takers – 10 in total – will be issued in the next few days. Calls for applications for investigators (both male and female) and statement takers (females only and male speakers of Jola, Manjago, Karoninka and Sarahuleh) have been re-issued, as well as calls for applications for several other secretariat staff. Shortlisting and interviews for this second batch of positions will be conducted as soon as possible after the Tobaski holiday. Terms of reference for a women’s affairs coordinator are being drafted and the position will be advertised as soon as possible.
Meanwhile, our outreach activities and Never Again campaign has been gathering steam over the past few months. Since our last update we have held two workshops for journalists: the first on reporting truth commissions jointly sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, the Peacebuilding Support Office of the United Nations (through UNDP Gambia) and the Institute for Integrated Transitions who sent an expert to conduct the training. The second, also sponsored by the Ministry of Justice and the UN PBSO brought a world-renowned expert in transitional justice to train representatives of civil society organizations and media on the roles of CSOs and media in transitional justice. At least one more workshop for journalists is planned for the period before the TRRC launch date, as are trainings for the commissioners and secretariat staff.
Since June we have had a series of meetings with important stakeholders in Gambian society. We have had consultative meetings and engagements with Imams from several parts of the country, Executive members of the Gambia Christian Council, school principals across the country on how to develop and expand the Children’s Network on Transitional Justice, members of the IFIT Brain Trust – The Gambia, and members of the newly formed Civil Society Organizations Transitional Justice Working Group. More recently, we co-sponsored a highly successful two-day sensitization workshop for religious and traditional community leaders. Co-sponsored by the Ministry of Justice, the PBSO through the UNDP Gambia Office and the TRRC, this workshop brought together chiefs, imams, pastors, traditional communicators, youths, and representatives of NGOs and CSOs, including women’s organizations to discuss the whats, hows and whys of the TRRC and map out strategies for effective engagement going forward. Our most recent engagement was with representatives of the Transitional Justice Gender Action Network one of whose primary objectives is to ensure the mainstreaming and active involvement and participation of women in the TRRC process. In this regard, we are pleased to report that four out of the seven appointees to the TRRC secretariat so far are women: the Deputy Executive Secretary, the Director of Communications, Outreach and Media, and two research assistants.
Our community outreach activities will continue as the TRRC moves forward. We believe that having robust and meaningful engagement and conversations with and among all sectors of Gambian society on the systemic and cultural causes and consequences of dictatorship and human rights violations of all forms is the best way to prevent recurrence. Transitional justice processes offer societies a chance to actively revisit the past with a view to discovering the truth about past violations in all their various manifestations, identifying the root causes of such violations in all their various manifestations, and figuring out how to transform mindsets and attitudes to the extent that such violations will simply become inconceivable in the future. That is the primary objective of our Never Again campaign.
The tricky question of reparations has been a prominent feature of all conversations we have had with many of the stakeholders above and others. Suffice it to say that the Ministry of Justice and the TRRC remain resolutely committed to the issue of reparations. Active steps are being taken by the Ministry to ensure that funds are secured for reparations as soon as possible. Meanwhile, the TRRC Secretariat is working closely with UNICEF and the Victims Center to start a scholarship scheme for children who lost their parents to the dictatorship. The Victim’s Center is coordinating the process of identifying child beneficiaries and we hope that by the start of the new school year, some children will benefit from the scholarship scheme. The TRRC intends to set up a Victims Support Fund as soon as possible to make sure that as much assistance as possible is offered to victims either as formal reparations, or as interim support measures while reparations are considered. The position of Victim Support Coordinator has been created specifically to ensure that victims receive the attention and the support they need during the TRRC process.
Finally, we are happy to report that members of the international community have being extremely supportive of the TRRC and the transitional justice process in general. We have and are receiving invaluable support and encouragement from the United Nations Peace Building Support Office through UNDP-Gambia, the Embassies of the United Kingdom, the United States, Holland, Belgium, France, Canada and the European Union, the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (International IDEA), and the Institute for Integrated Transitions (IFIT). The State of Qatar is the latest member of the international community to express strong support for the TRRC and Gambia’s transitional justice program. We are also working on support from Justice Rapid Response (JRR) mainly to train social on and psycho-social support workers, and from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on work related to missing persons and exhumations.
We are also in contact with the Victims and Witnesses Section of the International Criminal Court on developing a witness protection program for the TRRC. A senior policy adviser at the U.S. State Department’s Office of Global Criminal Justice has offered to help facilitate the TRRC’s engagement with the Gambian Diaspora in that country. We will continue exploring that offer. Our intention is to have engagements with Gambian Diaspora communities everywhere.
In the meantime, watch out for the list of 11 commissioners nominated for appointment to the TRRC and our launching event slated for October 15, 2018.