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#National News

Bar Association Christmas Gift: Gongs for Urgent Reparations for Jammeh Victims

In November 2023, The Gambia passed the Victims Reparations Bill in an extraordinary session to establish a fund for the provision of reparations for Victims of human rights abuses and violations from July 1994 to January 2017. Within two months afterwards, the Gambia Bar Association elected Neneh Cham – a long term advocate for the hundreds of victims of the Yahya Jammeh dictatorship –  a decision seen by some as Christmas gift to the victims.

Neneh is the first woman to kead the female lawyers association of The Gambia (FLAG) and subsequently to lead the Gambia Bar Association. She stands out for her uncompromising principles on human rights violations even under the dictatorship. Among the many names of human rights lawyers in The Gambia, the Bar could not have made a better decision of electing her to the position of President.

Even in her statement following elections, Ms Cham gonged for the “urgency” of reparations for the victims of violations in the country’s transitional justice process. This further reinforces the believe among analysts, that she’d strongly champion the cause of the victims during her tenure as President.

Prosecution for Crimes

Her care for the victims of the painful past was well known. That’s why her new role sits well within the victims’ community. She had lamented how victims cannot understand the long process of justice and reparations for victims,. Yet assured them that there is hope that after the commission’s report, there will be justice.

In November 2021, Neneh MC Cham made strong argument for the prosecution of “persons who bear the greatest responsibilities” for the crimes and violations that have occurred during the past regime of Yahya Jammeh at an evet on post TRRC recommendations.

Upon assuming her new role, she described the the country’s transitional justice process to be at “a very critical juncture” – when as a nation, “Gambians are still coming to terms with our recent past.”

She therefore pledged her commitment to upholding the principles of the rule of law, justice and accountability.

“I must remind here that the provision of adequate reparation for victims of crimes is also ever more urgent,” she further argued, noting that in such a regard, the Bar’s keen interest and engagement in the transitional justice process will continue as it had been during her predecessor’s tenure.

Over 200 killings have been documented by the Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission during its two years of hearing sessions. Some 300 witnesses have testified before the Commission and dozens of confessions were obtained during testimonies. A government White Paper was released and the Justice Minister Mr Dawda Jallow had assured victims of justice for the crimes established by the TRRC. Government had announced plans ot establish a hybrid court to try perpetrators for crimes but had not formally implemented any.

Hence in the new role of the new Bar president, Ms Cham said the association’s relationship with the Judiciary, office of the Attorney General and Ministry of Justice and other justice sector institutions will be strengthened and the many partnership forged with sister Bar associations, civil society organisations as well as donor partners and others nurtured.

In Ms Cham’s 23-year career, she had obtained landmark decisions in the defence of human rights, women’s rights and media freedom. She was one of a group of four who filed an Amicus Brief in the Supreme Court of the Gambia, in The State Vs Yankuba Touray in November 2020, to assist the Court in determining the question of whether or not constitutional immunity could be successfully claimed in the case. The former minister was convicted as a result and he is currently serving a life sentence for his role in the murder of former Finance Minister, Ousman Koro Ceesay.

“Throughout my legal practice, I have consistently provided pro bono legal advice and representation to those who could not afford it, defended the rule of law, human rights and justice for all, particularly women, children and persons with disability, as well as conducted numerous advocacy programmes throughout the length and breadth of this country on same,” she said.

As former Vice Chairperson of the Faraba Banta Commission of Inquiry established in 2018 to probe the shooting of vilkagers protesting ssnd mining operations outside of Banjul, Neneh also served in several boards, especially dedicated to women and children rights and welfare.

She assured of her commitment to build on the successes of the past executive of the association, towards achieving an even stronger and more vibrant Bar.