By Lang Fafa Dampha 

A Truth and Reconciliation Commission, in the South African style, in the Gambia today, a nation getting out of the jaws of autocracy and terrible human rights violations might face a lot of criticism from advocates of retributive justice and will surely be rejected by them as the best possible option. These criticisms might be reasonable and I think in a conventional social and legal sense, especially under the eyes of advocates of punitive justice, and even that of some relative liberals moderately supporting healing justice, they are.

However, considering the enormous complications facing the nation now and its desire to promote peace and socio-economic stability and development, to not opt for reconciliation and forgiveness might lead us to some degree of social friction and other problems which, will most probably hamper the very important element of social justice. Reconciliation requires not only individual justice, but also social justice. Proponents of retributive justice adhere to punishment as a way to deter crime, but at the same time reasonable and genuine efforts to expose and recognise the truth can as well and probably more positively heal the nation and prevent human rights violations occurring in the future.

Nonetheless, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission should not automatically grant amnesty in the interest of socio-political stability without democratically consulting victims and motivating them to accept that forgiveness was a necessary step to their own wellbeing and to the wellbeing of the nation at large. This will have the tendency to illegitimately compel these victims to forgo their rights to justice and or compensation in exchange for truth, which is not a commodity, especially for the individual victims, because the violations and the perpetrators and the nature and extents of these abuses have almost already been known. In other words, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission should not granted amnesty to the authors of crimes and serious violations of human rights without imposing some conditions on the perpetrators; these conditions must not only be to merely tell all the truth for an almost unconditional forgiveness to be taken as an ingredient for the assurance of peaceful socio-economic stability.

Peace in general being a prerequisite of socio-political stability is what the new administrators logically want to promote to ensure politically sustainable reconciliation and to consolidate their power so as to be able to govern more effectively. For reconciliation and the granting of forgiveness to the perpetrators of the socio-political and economic crimes in the era of the last regime to be functional, and to be wholly and genuinely based on the desire and search for sustainable peace as a precondition of socio-economic stability, the victims must be involved in the process and be democratically consulted without forcing them indirectly to forego their rights to at least social justice for the broader social goals of reconciliation and stability.

Lang Fafa Dampha, the author of many books, is a senior research and programme officer at the African Union. Dampha,  who hails from Baddibbu Nokunda, formerly lectured in many universities in Europe.

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