BY Kebba AF Touray, reporting from Kairaba Beach Hotel

The ministry of Justice in collaboration with UNDP, and the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa and UNICEF Monday organized a National Stakeholders Conference on justice and human rights.

The workshop that begins on Monday will end on Wednesday. The theme of the three day conference is Addressing the past for a better Gambia.

In his welcoming statements, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Hon Abubacarr Tambadou said the conference is historic as it is the beginning of a new era and charting the future. He said that it is an indisputable fact that the  country has witnessed two decades of authoritarian and oppressive rule under the  former government and in these dark days of the country, arbitrary arrests and long pre-trial detention, enforced disappearance, abductions, torture, secret burials, sexual and gender based violence were perpetuated with impunity.

He said that the stakeholders conference among other objectives, seeks to provide a forum for the people to start the ambitious reform agenda to be undertaken by the Ministry. He said that in charting a way forward, a proper  balance must be struck between the need to build a robust state and non-state institutions that uphold the rule of law and respect for Human Rights of the people and the imperative to encourage justice and the documentation and establishment of an accurate historical record of the past based upon verifiable facts

Mr Tambadou challenged all to lead by example not just in utterances but especially in actions, and they must demonstrate commitment and leadership, if the country is to earn the right to be called the human rights capital of the African continent.

He finally lauded many including UNDP and European Union for supporting the nation’s transitional justice agenda and other institutional reforms in The Gambia and expressed his confidence that the conference will contribute greatly to the country’s ongoing reform efforts.

For her part, the UN Resident Coordinator, Mrs. Ade Lekoetje, said that the day is very important as it initiates the process of bringing the people of The Gambia together to determine what the transitional road map will look like and commended the new government for considering transitional justice as its high priority to improving quality dispensation of justice in The Gambia. She said good justice underpins effective governance overall and pointed out that where the government is accountable and responsive to its citizens, then rule of law is more likely to be realised, cycles of violence are prevented, ensuring the creation of a conducive  environment for rapid socio-economic progress. Madam Ade Lekoetje added that addressing human rights violations and violence through dialogue and reconciliation is crucial and can go a long way towards strengthening social cohesion in communities.

She finally averred that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, because what affects one, affects all directly and urged all to work together to ensure and assure JUSTICE FOR ALL. She expressed optimism that the the participants will come up with realistic recommendations that will enable The Gambia to lay strong foundations for an effective transitional justice system to address past violations, while ensuring that human rights are respected and upheld now and in the future.

The   Madam Andrea Ori, on behalf of the United Nations  High Commissioner for Human Rights,  said that after 22 years, the magnitude of change is huge and the walls of fear and silence has been broken and the desire and determination of people to claim their rights regardless of personal sacrifice and pains, is being proven on daily basis. She said that at the core of restoring the rights is redefining the relationship between the state and its people, which must now be built on rule of law and respect for human rights.

She stressed that transitional justice is a multitude dimensional process and consists of both judicial and non-judicial processes and mechanisms, which includes; truth seeking, prosecution initiatives, reparation to victims of human rights violations and institutional reforms to ensure the non recurrence of the type of grave violations of human rights that took place in the past. She added that for transitional justice measures to be legitimate and sustainable, they should be based on comprehensive consultations and promoting local ownership over the entirety of the process as in Article 25 of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights which guarantees the rights of every citizen to take part in the conduct of public affairs.

She finally reiterated their readiness to support and accompany the Gambia in this important and historical undertaking.

In his keynote address, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Hon Joseph Fitzgerald Kamara, CORSL said that if African countries and indeed all Africans are to prosper and its citizens live in dignity, then the issue of justice and Human Rights have to play a central role in their national development agenda. He stated that Africa’s human rights trajectory has been historically characterized by the tragedy of genocide, war and political instability, which are also major reasons for the massive exodus of African youths through the Mediterranean to Europe, leading to loss of lives at sea and depletion in their work force.

On Justice and Human Rights, he said across the continent, the experience of early post-colonial period illustrated a pattern in which the core attributes in the administration of justice were severely curtailed. He  said where they were expected to be impartial and independent, political imperatives in the past ensured they were compromised, through often dubious tactics of resource starvation, intimidations, victimizations, assassination and forced exiled, coupled with  systematic press censorship through draconian and repressive laws often targeted at dissent from civil society and political opponents.

On transitional Justice, he cited that there is the need to tread cautiously in search for justice, because the very objective of transitional justice policy is to end the culture of impunity and establish the rule of law in the context of democratic governance. He also said that strong institutions are produced by strong leadership and strong leadership need not be dictators, abusers or violators of fundamental rights.