Almost 23,000 people responded to a UN-funded survey that is the first step in establishing what will be the country’s first truth and reconciliation commission. They were asked how to design a truth and reconciliation commission capable of confronting culprits who brutalised tens of thousands into exile.
Security crackdowns during the deadly 2005 presidential poll that elected President Faure Gnassingbe to power forced 40,000 to flee into neighbouring Ghana and Benin, according to the UN.
A 2006 peace deal recommended setting up a truth and reconciliation commission to look into 2005 crimes, as well as earlier human rights abuses.
Election monitors declared the mostly peaceful October 2007 legislative election to be free and fair, paving the way for donors to unfreeze aid money, and for leaders to start planning the country’s road to reconciliation.
Moving forward, looking back
The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in Togo took the lead in administering 30,000 surveys in April 2008, which had a 76 percent response rate. More than 16,000 men, 6,865 women and about 2,000 youths under the age of 20 responded. Youths as young as 12 years old were allowed to participate.
Interviewers combed cities and the countryside, holding focus groups with priests and pastors, union leaders and university students, high-ranking officials and former political prisoners, among others to elicit their views.
More than half of those surveyed agreed the government should create one commission to investigate past crimes and another to pardon them in order to “minimise the risks of corruption,” according to the UN report submitted to the government on 11 September.
The Togolese government has not yet officially responded.
Eight out of 10 respondents said anyone who wanted to speak should be welcomed by the commissions; 70 percent wanted the commissions to set any necessary punishments for offenders; and almost 75 percent said the commissions should have investigative powers.
Up for discussion is the period the commissions will consider. While some chose to start with 1990, Togo’s violent transition to democracy rule, almost nine out of 10 people suggested going back to 1958, two years before Togo won independence from France when it held its first election.
About 77 percent of the respondents want a religious or civil society leader to head the commission, while less than 40 percent want a military or political leader at the helm.
But for Adjete Tobi, who says he lived through a military beating in 2005, he would be happy just to have the commission in place. “I always go over in my mind that scene from April 2005. I live in an area known as the heart of the [political] opposition. My house was locked, but the military still entered under the pretext they were chasing a bandit. We were all beaten until we were bloody. This is why from the bottom of my heart I am pushing to have these commissions. May the young [President] Faure [Gnassingbe] decide quickly.”
For more than 40 years, one family has ruled the country. Current President Faure Gnassingbe took over when his father, Eyadema Gnassingbe, who had been in power since 1967, died in February 2005.
Protesters disputed 2005 election results that gave the young Gnassingbe an overwhelming victory. Deadly poll violence drove tens of thousands to neighbouring Benin and Ghana, and killed at least 100 people, according to independent media reports.
Almost 7,000 refugees have still not returned home, according to UN refugee offices in Benin and Ghana. A man in Benin who gave IRIN his name as Dodzi and age as 30, said he has no plan to return to Togo.
“Benin is a welcoming country. It is peaceful here. I don’t know what there is to find in Togo. Just because things are calm for the moment is no guarantee that will last. At any moment, fighting can break out. Politicians are capable of anything. I will stay here until the situation is more clear; how many more years I will wait? I don’t know.”