FORMER ATTORNEY GENERAL & MINISTER OF JUSTICE'S FAREWELL PRESS STATEMENT JUNE 2020
I wish to read a statement to you and unfortunately I will not be taking any questions after that today unlike previous occasions. I apologize for that. This is my statement: Based on personal reasons, I had since 1 June 2020, submitted my resignation as Attorney General and Minister of Justice to His Excellency President Adama Barrow. My resignation will take effect from 30 June 2020. While it saddens me to leave office at this critical juncture of our transition, I am consoled by the fact that I leave behind a capable team of committed and dedicated personnel who have been working very closely with me on all our processes from the beginning. Their institutional knowledge and experiences will ensure that these ongoing activities remain on course and on the right track.
It has been an honour and unique privilege for me to serve my country in such high office under His Excellency President Barrow. I owe him immense gratitude for the privileged opportunity given to me to contribute, even if modestly, to rebuilding our country after 22 years of unquantifiable damage. I am grateful for the trust and confidence he had shown in me by my appointment as the first Attorney General and Minister of Justice in a post-dictatorship new democratic Gambia. I thank him for his constant and continuous support to me and the Ministry of Justice throughout my tenure as AG over the last three and half years. I owe him an eternal debt of gratitude.
What happened in this country on 1 December 2016 was a revolution by any standards, a political revolution to match any other in world history. We removed a dictator by democratic means, through the ballot box, and peacefully. We should all be proud of this historical achievement. At a personal level, it would have been enough for me to just witness this historic moment, let alone be asked to play an active part in the ensuing process of change. Since then, a lot has happened over the past three and half years. On my part, I have initiated and delivered on the key pillars of our transitional justice process which has now achieved global recognition by experts as being among the best models in the world particularly for its inclusiveness and originality.
Some other milestones include the successful gazetting of a new draft constitution without amendment, the establishment of a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission process which is currently underway, the establishment of The Gambia’s first National Human Rights Commission, and the establishment of the Janneh Commission to inquire into the financial corruption of former President Jammeh, and as a result of which the Government has been able to recover over 1.1 billion dalasis so far. And in all of these processes, we were able to put together a team of talented and credible Gambians, and I wish to thank them for their service to country. I led efforts to rebuild a hitherto weakened judiciary and I’m glad that we now have a respectable, robust and independent organ of State. Immediately after my appointment, I established a Criminal Case and Detention Review Panel which reviewed a total of 241 ongoing criminal cases involving 304 accused persons.
I discontinued prosecutions in 36 cases involving 86 accused persons on the basis of insufficient evidence. Reported incidents of arbitrary arrests, detention without trial or torture by State agents, which were a hallmark of the Jammeh days, have substantially reduced. Freedom of expression which was a luxury in the past is now taken for granted. In sum, The Gambia is no longer in a state of fear. On legislative reform, between 2017 and 2020, the Ministry has introduced and/or revised a total of 47 different pieces of legislation affecting different sectors of Government. 26 of these have become law, and 23 are now before the National Assembly for consideration.
Also, during my tenure, the Government’s commitment to international law has strengthened. We rescinded the decision by the Jammeh administration to withdraw The Gambia from the International Criminal Court, paving the way for our continued membership to the ICC. We signed and/or ratified a number of international treaties including the UN Convention Against Torture, the UN Optional Protocol on the Abolition of the Death Penalty, the UN Convention Against Enforced and Involuntary Disappearance, and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance. We successfully submitted our combined periodic reports for the first time since 1985 to the UN Human Rights Council on the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and our combined periodic report for the first time since 1994 to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
More significantly, we became one of only nine countries in Africa to make a Declaration pursuant to Article 34(6) of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the establishment of an African Court to allow individuals to have direct access to the Court. But a lot still remains to be done. In this regard, I have now introduced a number of bills to the National Assembly as part of the Government’s legislative reform agenda. These include comprehensive amendments to the criminal code and criminal procedure code for a radical transformation of our criminal justice system to bring it in line with modern criminal justice norms and practices. In particular, the amendments will introduce non-custodial sentences such as community service, suspended sentences, probation, plea bargaining, and greater flexibility for bail. 8
Other new bills include a prohibition of torture bill which will criminalize acts of torture for the first time in The Gambia; an international crimes bill to cover mass atrocity crimes like genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity; an access to information bill, an anti-corruption bill, and various other amendments to remove discriminatory laws against women in our society. In anticipation of the next electoral cycle from next year, I have commissioned a review of our electoral laws and the Elections Act in particular following consultations with the Independent Electoral Commission and all the registered political parties at a seminar that I had recently organized with support from the UNDP and IDEA. Based on ongoing consultations with the IEC, it is expected that a new voter registration exercise and a constitutional referendum will be conducted at least six months before next year’s Presidential elections. Indeed, some things could have been done differently. In fact, some things can always be done differently, and there is always room for improvement. But those who are constantly looking for mistakes by this government will always find faults because of the unique circumstances in which we find ourselves as a country in transition. We inherited a system of governance where State institutions from the Presidency to the lowest levels were systematically dismantled over a two decade period; and where we found no culture or practice of State protocol in consonance with democratic practice.
In many instances, we have had to rely on conventional wisdom. Given these circumstances, there are bound to be mistakes. But when mistakes occur, point them out in a constructive manner and make suggestions on how to avoid them in future. Do not just sit back and moan and blame. You can surely do much better that! And lest we forget, those countries that currently do better than us in governance have had their own fair shares of trials and tribulations for centuries before getting to their current levels of development and democratic evolution. Ours will come too, but only with time and maturity. During my first engagement with the media immediately after I was sworn in as Attorney General and Minister of Justice, I announced that my principal objective as Attorney General was to restore public confidence in the administration of 11 justice system in the country. This of course was not going to be an easy task given that we were just emerging from a governance environment characterized by direct political interference in the judiciary by the previous executive, the unlawful summary dismissal of judicial officers who dared to make decisions against the State or sometimes for unknown reasons, and the hiring of private mercenary judges who sent innocent Gambians to prison on the dictates of one man. Today, only three and a half short years later, I am proud of our achievements in this endeavor. No one can now deny that public confidence in the administration of justice system in this country hasn’t substantially increased. Indeed, as a lawyer, I am heartened to finally see the law in action even if I don’t agree with the outcomes at times.
More broadly, peace, stability and reconciliation must be the preoccupation of any post-conflict or post-dictatorship society, and our decisions at the Ministry of Justice over the past three and half years have largely been guided by these objectives. There is good reason why the Secretary General of the United Nations included our country in his Sustaining Peace Agenda. There is good reason why the United Nations and other bilateral and multi-lateral partners such as the African Union, ECOWAS and the European Union deployed their resources to this country soon after the change and continue to do so. Societies like ours that have been brutalized and traumatized for decades are very fragile and must be handled with care. Ensuring peace, democracy, development, and stability, in that order, cannot be achieved overnight in a post-conflict or postdictatorship society like ours. It will take a generation or more to turn this country into a stable and institutionalized democracy, and even then, no Government can do it alone. It will require a deliberate effort, individually and collectively, on the part of each and every one of us. There are still many who do not fully understand or appreciate the challenges of re-constructing a post-conflict or postdictatorship society like ours. It requires a delicate balance across a range of competing political, social, and economic interests. More importantly, doing the right thing at the wrong time, as we have learned from other countries, can unravel all the good work invested in these processes. In the end, painful decisions and sacrifices will have to be made for the greater good. This is a reality that we must all try to live with if we truly want to turn a fresh page in our country.
The best thing that has happened to us as a country is the freedom that we all enjoy today. There is simply no price tag to this freedom! The new Gambia is therefore not about winners and losers. We either succeed together or we fail together because as a nation we are bound together by a common destiny. But failure is not an option and that is why we must persist and we must persevere especially in the face of adversity. This is the burden of responsibility that we carry as pioneers of this change. Every country on earth has its own set of challenges and so does ours. Yes we cannot change this country through the wave of a magic wand, but we can start somewhere, we can start with what we have and preserve it, and that is the peace in this country. It is a national treasure that we must guard jealously, for without peace, there cannot be democracy or 15 development or justice. Our challenge, going forward, is to make this peace sustainable and turn it into stability for our people. And yes the choice is ours, each and every one of us. We can either choose to live in peace or not. And we all have a role to play in this, but especially the media. The biggest threat to our peace and fledgling democracy is misinformation. I implore the media to be mindful of your critical role in a fragile democracy such as ours. Do not turn your supporters in Government against you by your actions. Do not, under the guise of freedom of expression, ruin the lives and reputations of others simply because you can. In small communities like ours in this country, the consequences of publishing false information can be 16 devastating. The people you write about have families too, their kids go to school with other kids, their spouses interact with others at work and other public places. By all means expose corruption and corrupt practices in Government, but I encourage you do so with facts, and to be fair some of you do to your credit. It will only enhance your credibility. Do not allow those with a partisan political or narrow personal agenda to use you to smear others because when you do, you will also discourage honest and hardworking Gambians from accepting to serve in public office and consequently deprive this country of the best human resource talent that we need to develop our country. Government is a microcosm of society and I believe that there are more honest people in society than we care to acknowledge.
Notwithstanding, it is refreshing to see a vibrant media and an active press corps in the country nowadays, and I in particular, wish to take this opportunity to say well done. But in your hands lie the stability of this country. Be responsible about it. To the victims of human rights violations and abuses during 22 years of Jammeh’s rule, you will get justice. I have always had you in mind at every stage of our transitional justice process and I have been committed and dedicated to your cause since the first day I was appointed. I know that there have been difficult moments for you and your families in this process and I can only assure you that it will not have been in vain. I am aware that my principled position on former President Jammeh has not endeared me to his supporters and sympathisers, and to them I say, Jammeh belongs to the past, so wake up from your dreams of a Jammeh political comeback and move on with your lives. He has caused too much pain and suffering to the people of this country throughout his 22 year reign of terror as the TRRC keeps revealing. He has during this period destroyed the innocence and soul of Gambian society with the sheer brutality of his crimes, and for this, he will be brought to account someday here or abroad. He will surely have his day in court. I wish to conclude by thanking many: to my Cabinet colleagues for their esprit de corps and solidarity particularly in times of adversity. I wish to thank each and every one of you for your support at all times. To the President and members of The Gambia Bar Association and my colleagues at the Bar, for their cooperation and partnership with me and my Ministry. Our interactions were truly cordial and collaborative. To my critics, and yes there were quite a few, I thank you too for keeping me on my toes all the time even if I felt that some of the criticisms were unreasonable or unjustified or unfair at times. But I will choose this life any day over life in bondage under a dictatorship. To representatives of the international community and our regional and international development partners in the country, the African Union, ECOWAS, and the European Union, thank you for standing by the Gambian people at their hour of most need. I particularly wish to thank the entire United Nations system here in The Gambia especially the UNDP and the TJPMU; to the UN Peace Building Commission and the Peace Building Support Office under Assistant Secretary General Oscar Fernandez Taranco who has been an exceptional supporter of The Gambia’s transitional justice process and peace building initiatives; to SRSG Chambas for his dedication to peace in our country, as well as to IDEA, JRR, ICTJ, and the Commonwealth. Please continue to support our country’s transition and transformation. The Gambia and her people need you, so do not abandon us. Help us complete this beautiful and inspiring story of a country that rose from the ashes of tyranny and became a modern democracy through peaceful means. The pride will be as much yours as it will be ours.
To my family, friends and loved ones who constantly encouraged me throughout the emotional rollercoaster ride of the past three and half years. I simply cannot thank you enough. Being Attorney General at this time in our country is perhaps the most challenging job of this post-dictatorship administration but you have been my rock to lean on. I couldn’t have survived on this job for this long without your enduring support and encouragement. There were times when the pressures of being in public office caused too much pain for you, and I am sorry for making you go through these painful moments. I hope that you can forgive me. And to my staff at the Ministry of Justice. I have said previously that I have never worked with a more committed and dedicated team than the men and women of the Ministry of Justice. I could not be prouder calling them my staff. Over the past three and half years, they have been pushed to their limits to ensure that we deliver on our reform promises to the people of this country and they have been equal to the challenge. I salute their efforts and determination despite the difficult conditions and the many constraints. There is so much unexplored talent at this Ministry and I can only encourage you to go forth and let fly. Don’t allow anyone to make you believe otherwise. When I walked through these doors the first time three and half years ago, ¾ of professional staff did not have a desktop computer on their tables. They were still drafting legal opinions with pens and paper as I did here back in 1997 as a public prosecutor. There was no office internet to facilitate online research for the lawyers, and even stationeries and vehicles to attend court proceedings was a constant daily struggle. Basic as they seem, it served as an early indication of the acute human and material resource challenges I was to confront as Attorney General in the years ahead. Today, I am glad that I will be leaving a Ministry of Justice in much better shape than I found it as Attorney General. I have turned the Ministry into a truly professional environment, and into a modern State Law Office that now, among other things, undertakes criminal prosecution without political motivation. But one of my proudest moments as Attorney General was when I was able to improve your conditions of service. I will repeat what I had said in my most recent memo to you about this: the improvement in your conditions of service is recognition of your unique position not only as professionals in the civil service, but also as the bearers of the torch of justice 24 that should shine across the country. It is a heavy responsibility indeed but I have no doubt in my mind about your abilities, dedication and commitment to meet, and perhaps even exceed, the expectations of the people of this country. As the old adage goes, to whom much is given, much is expected. To the Solicitor General Mr Cherno Marenah, thank you for your loyalty. I surely would have been lost in the complex web of Government machinery and bureaucracy without your steady guidance. To my Special Adviser, Mr Hussein Thomasi, I will miss your wisdom, your calm composure, your maturity and 25 professionalism. Thank you too for pulling me back from the brink on many occasions. It has been a pleasure working with both of you! To my secretaries, the general staff at the Ministry including the clerks, the drivers, the cleaners, and my designated successive personal assistants, Ms Mam Jobe, Ms Amie Fadera, and Ms Fatou Njie, thank you all for your invaluable support to me. I know that I have demanded too much at times particularly with my frequent calls and messages at late hours of the night and I thank you and your families for showing understanding and patience. Lastly, while my determination to make a difference as Attorney General was as dogged as the challenge was daunting, and while I might also have, on occasion, failed to meet everyone’s expectations, I am comforted by the fact that I gave my best for my country against many odds, at a most 26 critical period, and at great personal sacrifice. The rest of the story I will leave to the students of history. Our country needs all of us, all its sons and daughters, all our different strengths, our collective will power, and above all, our unquestionable patriotism, to join hands and work together to bring about meaningful change in the lives of our people. This is what our country expects and demands of us at this moment in history. Anything less from us will be a betrayal of that sacred trust bestowed on us since December 1st 2016. So I call upon everyone, especially the political class, civil society organizations, youth organizations, women’s groups, and the media fraternity to re-focus and re-dedicate ourselves to the noble cause of the common good. People have died for this cause and we must never lose sight of that reality in our dealings with each other. For when we stand together shoulder to shoulder, it is The Gambia that wins. Finally, I don’t even know if I should congratulate or commiserate with my successor Mr Dawda Jallow because this is a very hot seat, but I will remain optimistic and extend my hearty congratulations to him. I wish him well and a successful tenure as AG. I wish to conclude with the touching and sober words of Saikou Jammeh of the GPU back in January 2017 when he posted this comment: “the sun is shining on Gambia not because Jammeh has gone or that Barrow is coming, but because Gambia has decided that never again”.
Thank you and goodbye!