NewsWest AfricaGambia's bankrupt state risks failing families seeking justice


Posted on Wednesday, 19 April 2017 18:07

Gambia's bankrupt state risks failing families seeking justice

By Reuters

In this photo taken on Feb. 18, 2017, Gambia President Adama Barrow speaks during his inauguration ceremony in Banjul, Gambia. Photo: Kuku Marong/AP/SIPAA gutted court system and bankrupt state risks leaving those seeking justice for victims of the dictatorship out in the cold in the new democratic, Gambia.


From the outside, Gambia looked much the same on April 7 - the day after the first parliamentary elections since the end of Yahya Jammeh's dictatorship.


But inside the main market of the capital Banjul, away from the bustle of the traders, there was something radically different: the sound of people arguing about politics.


This never would have happened under Jammeh.


Ibrahima Manga, Pa Mundiaye and Alaji Baboucar Mane lived most of their lives under Jammeh's rule when people silently vanished and politicians, activists, journalists and ordinary people who disagreed with the government were jailed without trial for speaking their mind publicly.


Many were tortured and others died in detention, their bodies buried in secret locations which the new government has recently unearthed.


As the three men listened to the results of the election on the radio, they argued about where Jammeh should be tried.


But Jammeh has put himself out of the ICC's reach.

He fled to Equatorial Guinea which has not signed up to the court in the Hague.


In Gambia, the justice system is starved of funds, equipment and expertise and is buckling under a backlog of dozens of unsolved cases from the Jammeh era.


The case of Solo Sandeng illustrates the serious problems faced by Banjul's cash-strapped courts.


A prominent activist and member of one of Gambia's opposition parties, Sandeng was arrested during a peaceful demonstration in April last year.


He died in detention and his body was exhumed and returned to his family just last month.


The nine members of the notorious National Intelligence Agency (NIA) who arrested him, were charged for their involvement in Solo Sandeng's death and jailed.


But their case was postponed five times.

The judge said prosecutors must present more evidence.


Frozen state funding

Justice Minister Aboubacar Tambadou is confident the case against the NIA9 - as they are now known, will proceed, but urged patience.


The Finance Minister has said international donors, including the EU, the IMF and the World Bank, as well as experts from the commonwealth, will assist Gambia in dealing with all the court case arrears, finding lawyers and judges.


Meanwhile, the state has to prioritise with the little it has.

Gambia is expected to set up a Truth and Reconciliation Commission within six months, one of the pillars of President Adama Barrow's government.


But it is saddled with over $1 bn in debt and is struggling to function.


Fatoumatta Sandeng says there will be no reconciliation in Gambia until there is justice.


"There only can only be truth and reconciliation. Yes, I believe in it but it can only happen when there is justice and truth be told. We cannot be just left in bewilderedness and then you want us to accept reconciliation. We need truth, we need justice to be served, then we can reconcile," she said.


In March an association of victims and their relatives was up to seek reparations and demand Jammeh's assets be frozen.


But for the moment it is Gambia's own state funding that is frozen with little guarantee that once donors' money flows in it will be able to cope with a large influx of victims and their relatives demanding their day in court.


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