The Gambia

The Gambia has embarked on a process to address the legacy of dictatorship, corruption, and the repression of dissent. ICTJ works with state actors, civil society, victims, and other sectors of Gambian society to increase their knowledge of transitional justice processes and their capacity to meaningfully participate in them. To help ensure the process promotes social and political inclusion, ICTJ supports national partners with a special focus on women’s groups, youth organizations, and victims.

Background: Transitional Justice in The Gambia

During the more than two decades former President Yahya Jammeh was in power, the regime perpetrated an unknown number of human rights violations against voices of dissent. Nearly anyone accused of criticizing the regime faced brutal if not deadly consequences. The media was especially targeted, and journalists went missing, were detained and tortured, or were killed. Scores of citizens had their land and properties seized or otherwise destroyed on the orders of the president. Overwhelming evidence indicates that sexual abuse and rape were widespread and potentially systematic in state institutions and the security apparatus. The dictatorship severely weakened Gambian institutions and plunged the country into financial crisis. Jammeh also left behind a legacy of corruption on a massive scale. He is estimated to have stolen upwards of $50 million from a country with few economic resources to spare.

The 2016 national election brought an end to the 22-yearlong dictatorship. As a key electoral promise, the new democratic government has made a commitment to establishing an effective transitional justice process. In 2017, it created the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission (TRRC) to investigate abuses committed during the dictatorship, determine the scope of future prosecutions and possible amnesties, pursue truth-seeking, advance community and national reconciliation, educate the public on peace and justice, and deliver individual and communal reparations. In addition, The Gambia is moving forward with a reform of the security sector and an ongoing national commission investigating state corruption. The country has also established a national Constitutional Review Commission that includes a judicial and legal review process and is launching a permanent Human Rights Commission address complaints of human right violations.

The Gambia now faces a unique window of opportunity in its history to identify and begin addressing the root sources of oppression in governance and society. Removing the dictatorship through a peaceful and democratic transition was an incredible victory achieved by the Gambian people. However, changing the head of state will not suffice to overcome the legacies of authoritarianism and establish a society based on democratic principles. Transitional justice in The Gambia therefore must reach beyond the official mechanisms and include civil society, youth, and local citizen initiatives for the country to fully democratize its social and political climate and come to terms with the past. 

During Jammeh’s rule, the country experienced an exodus of young Gambians fleeing repression. Now, many exiled Gambians are returning, and they along with the country’s youth, who comprise over 65 percent of the population, are clamoring for greater political inclusion. 

ICTJ's Role:

Within this context, ICTJ is working with a range of stakeholders to address the legacies of authoritarianism. It is helping to build capacity among government and civil society partners to develop a national strategy and implement transitional justice measures. ICTJ has provided the TRRC and other relevant stakeholders with strategic advice, trainings, ongoing technical assistance, and other outreach. ICTJ is also working to include all Gambians in the transitional justice process, with an emphasis on:

  • supporting the state in its commitment to a credible and inclusive transitional justice process. We are providing staff at the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparations Commission and other relevant stakeholders with trainings, ongoing technical assistance, and other outreach
  • working with civil society organizations and other citizens’ groups to ensure their voices are heard, their concerns are considered, and they are included in the transitional justice process. We are also helping them to carve out new and meaningful roles for them to play in public life. We especially support initiatives that advance civic education, youth empowerment, women’s rights, and community dialogue
  • working closely with victims and victims’ group in support of their demands for accountability and reparations
  • recognizing urgent needs, helping to establish a safe and effective psychosocial support program for victims of sexual and gender-based violence