President Adama Barrow today met with members of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances. The Group operates as part of the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva.
Chairperson and Rapporteur Houria Es-Slami said that the Group’s primary task was to assist families in determining the fate or whereabouts of their family members who were reportedly disappeared. She explained that they were in The Gambia to meet with stakeholders on a fact finding tour concerning the disappearances of individuals. The Group is meeting with non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations, government officials and families as part of their investigation.
Ms Es-Slami said that political support was important in such investigations, and she thanked President Barrow for the support and cooperation that her team was receiving. She stressed that it was important to pursue a consultative approach with families and civil society, where they are encouraged to feel ownership in the process.
Group Member Henrikas Mickevicius referred to the transitional justice bill before Parliament and urged that things not be done too fast with regard to the setting up of a truth and reconciliation commission. He said that if things were done too quickly, there was a risk they could backfire. Like Ms Es-Slami, he emphasized the value of a participatory approach in the process with civil society.
For efficiency, the Working Group is advocating a comprehensive one-stop shop that would address truth, reconciliation, reparations and guarantees for non-occurrence. They advised that criminal justice might be addressed separately.
Thanking the Working Group for their visit, President Barrow said: “We maintain an open-door policy and we are ready to cooperate. You can be sure that there is political will for your investigation. We welcome technical and/or financial support from groups like yourselves because we need all the help that we can get after 22 years of seeing the human rights of our people violated. We now have zero tolerance for human rights violations.”
President Barrow said his government’s approach was that of justice and security for all in the eyes of the law. “We believe in the rule of law and we will not compromise our democratic principles,” he added.
The Working Group officials told the President that the investigation was a lengthy process, which would lead to a report in 2018, but which would produce preliminary observations before then. They explained that this visit was just the beginning of that process.
Foreign Affairs Minister Ousainou Darboe said that these matters would certainly be on the agenda for discussion in the new legislative session in Parliament.
UN Resident Coordinator Ade Lekeoje accompanied the delegation on the visit to State House.
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