By Amie Sanneh
Hussein Thomasi, Special Adviser to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice has warned media practitioners against using hate speech that has the tendency to undermine the peace and reconciliation process.
He further stated: “The use of the internet and other social media platforms as a vehicle to spread and incite hate against one another is unacceptable and should be condemned,”
The Special Adviser to the Justice Minister was speaking yesterday, while opening a two day multi stakeholder consultative meeting towards consolidating efforts on “Rethinking Reconciliation and Rebuilding Strategies in The Gambia” held at a hotel in Kololi. The meeting was organized by the West African Network for Peace Building – The Gambia (WANEP) in collaboration with its Regional Secretariat in Ghana, Friedrich Ebert Stiftung Foundation and other partners.
Mr. Thomasi used the opportunity to also urge all media houses to support and familiarise themselves with the mandate of the Commission when established.
He also called on all religious leaders and traditional authorities throughout the country to embrace the concept of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) when it starts its operations. He said one of the objectives of the TRC is reconciliation and unity.
He told participants that a draft bill will soon be presented to the National Assembly as soon as it is finalized by the Ministry and approved by Cabinet. “Thereafter, we hope to have the necessary support structures in place so that the Commission will start hearings by the end of the year. Appointment of commissioners and recruitment of support staff shall be guided by The Gambia Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission Act after it is passed by the National Assembly,” he said.
He stated that the establishment of the Truth and Reconciliation Commissions must not be seen as just following the trend but based on the present needs and realities of The Gambia at this crucial point of peace-building, reconciling the nation and consolidating democracy. “Our nation is left divided and traumatised. There are still wounds to be healed. It is imperative to say that where there is hostility, distrust, misunderstanding and suspicion; national reconciliation will be a precondition for lasting peace and building the nation,” he said.
As a responsible government, he noted that they have the responsibility to promote peace, foster social cohesion and national reconciliation.
Mr. Thomasi added that a national consultative process would be launched by next month to conduct consultations nationwide on the TRC, sensitize the general public on the concepts and issues and to obtain views and opinions on the design and implementation of the TRC.
On institutional reforms, he said there was no respect for the constitution and the rule of law was non-existent. “Our constitution was only one on paper and could be amended anytime at the whims of the executive,” he said. Malicious and political motivated prosecutions were the order of the day and executive interference in the Judiciary was common he added. He noted, “Widespread abuse of rights, illegal detention, unlawful arrests, sexual and gender based violence, unlawful killings, secret burials etc. All these massive abuses and rights violations have signaled the urgent need for us to critically examine our constitution, legal, political and administrative institutions as well as our security services”.
He expressed hope that the TRC will serve as an important platform for them to carry out these reforms. He added that they will soon establish a National Constitution Review Commission to carry out extensive consultations on constitutional review.
Ms. Maria Dacosta, Board Chairperson, WANEP, in her welcoming remarks recalled that the political impasse almost brought the country to a complete standstill and thus the timeliness of this meeting.
She stressed that they need to embark on a frank and critical analysis of the issues at hand, the gaps and possible factors that may impede the process She added that they should come up with realistic and achievable strategies that will enhance reconciliation and facilitate the rebuilding of a fully democratic New Gambia where all citizens are equal with no room for favouritism, nepotism, tribalism, religious intolerance.
Holger Grimm, Director Peace and Security Centre of Competence, sub Saharan Africa spoke on behalf of Friedrich Ebert Stiftung foundation and said after more than twenty years of autocracy it left the nation in a certain way that is comparable to zero. He explains that Germany has experienced three times similar situation during the last century. Commenting on the meeting, he said the topics set for discussion during the meeting are right to the point. Mr. Grimm added that the discussion will be centered on rethinking, reconciliation and building strategies in the Gambia from consolidated autocracy to consolidated democracy which is vital for the future of the Gambia.
Also speaking, the Deputy Executive Director, WANEP Regional office in Ghana, Levinia Addae Mensah described this period as critical as it has brought in lots of opportunities and challenges and believes that The Gambia should be in the lead of the process. “What we have seen in the past and in history and the transition process that Gambians are going through there is lot to learn and there are lots of roles to be played by different actors,” she said.