As rightly outlined in this piece, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) cannot be the substitute for conventional justice for atrocities committed by the former president and heads of state apparatus. We know who they are; they do not represent any ethnic, religious or racial group. Hence a punitive justice is called for. Punitive justice will sent home the fundamental cornerstone of justice, as practiced in any given country irrespective of the place and cultures in which abuses take place.
Firstly, at the Centre of the concept for justice is that he who abuses another deserves a corrective response from the society in order to re-instate the society’s rules of engagement. From this precept, I think restorative justice is only possible where the crime is negligent or involuntary. In Rwanda, this is probably the case for the ordinary man and woman, where a central government used state resources like radio and TV to incite one ethnic against one another or in sierra Leone where the rebel forces inducted child soldiers and with drug inducement, sent them on a rampage. But for the masterminds of the genocide in Rwanda, a punitive justice remedy was chosen as the appropriate avenue to redeem the injustices perpetrated and to restore society’s rules of engagement. The Nuremberg trials earlier were also instituted on the same principle that those with provable and obvious evidences (in some cases self-evident acknowledged by Jammeh himself is convinced that nothing will come out of it) of masterminding the genocide must face punitive justice. The precarious situation of the immediate post-war Germany didn’t prevent the institution of the court to try Hitler’s top echelons with charges of crimes against humanity. The call by certain quarters for reconciliation was dismissed because it would have set a wrong pretext for future transgressors in believing that you can mastermind genocide and go scot-free in the name of “reconciliation”.
Secondly, punitive or restorative justice is also about the values we want to set for different set of situations. The Nuremberg trial and the punishment lashed out to the perpetrators of the Holocaust, paved the way for the modern Germany we know today. Future imitators were warned and they understand what is to be encountered for such actions! Some even argue that the reconciliatory tone towards Germany and the ONLY monetary liability for Germany as transgressor in the First World War is the reason why the same country became the transgressor all over again 20 years later. LINCOLN was also faced with the Gretchenfrage: To pursue peace with the south states at the expense of poor black slaves, to save the union with the continuance of slavery or declare “freedom for all slaves” and risk civil war. He chooses the later with profound consequence. Posterity is here to judge whether he was on the right or wrong path of history. That he would lose his life in that value setting process is a consequence of what we, as people, set as universally indisputable principle of man’s dignity.
Thirdly, reconciliation is not gained in the absence of justice. On the contrary, retributive punishment – as far as this is in line with human right standards and in line with country’s law and under the auspices of due process — is prerequisite for a lasting reconciliation. Our TRC should supposedly be a copy mix of the Sierra Leonean and South African types. The fundamental question, in addition to the distinctive characterization of these cases to ours already stated by Foday Samateh, is whether these countries gained reconciliation and a settled forgiveness? I doubt this.
There are still victims in South Africa who deplore the concept of TRC in their country and still harbor deep anger towards apartheid architects, their offspring’s and the state as the protector of these delinquents. Not only the individuals but a sizable people within the black community are still questioning the achieved settlement – in the interest of peace and reconciliation. Are we sure that these discontents will eventually die out and a more united country men and women will ensue? Or will we be disappointed to learn that the discontent had not subdued after all and it’s breeding new fatalistic subversive means of revenge? As for Sierra Leone, I would bet to say that the country is so traumatized by the experience of civil war that TRC is basically a byword for FORGETTING. We must not mix-up the urge for forgetting with TRC or restorative justice. The lack of justice in Sierra Leone is wanted! As Foday Samateh rightly said Gambia hasn’t arrived at that stage. This is not to say that set of people were not responsible for the havoc, but Sierra Leone had a total war that eventually had not explicit source of central control. All warring parties were at par. That was the reason why Charles Taylor was denied the same settlement because there was a clear-cut command and control provable link between the architects and the effective killers on the rampage, in Liberia’s case! A compelling reason why Charles Taylor had to answer to the crimes against humanity committed under his watch.
In Gambia case, there is a clear-cut command and control provable link between the architects and the effective killers of people. Yahya Jammeh and his key assassin teams must answer to the crimes committed through punitive means. The reconciliation being sought through TRC is ambiguous and to lend a meaning from the aforementioned piece, an activity liken to “to search for a needle in haystack”. Legitimate question remain: to reconcile who with whom? The masterminds and their ardent criminals are less than 200 figures. Hence, the gov’t can pursue a Prosecution process for: crime against humanity, manslaughter, active disappearance, illegal command and execution etc., against these more or less 200 figures. This is the most realistic, effective and efficient approach than a TRC.
Finally, from what I hear the proponents are touting as arguments for TRC, I haven’t heard the question answered which is: to reconcile who with whom? At onset, the crimes committed were not committed – officially –on behalf of an ethnic group, religion against an adversary ethnic or religious group. What we have, was a bunch of rotten souls who acted with impunity and brought untold calamity on individual Gambians. Consideration must therefore not only be given to what the coalition pledged, but also what the law stipulated for such crimes and whether the victims prefer the law to take its fullest course or whether they would rather prefer the path of truth and forgiveness!