In the best of times, human rights advocacy requires constant tactical innovation. The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in late 2019 generated huge additional challenges. In early 2020, the African Network against Extrajudicial Killings and Enforced Disappearances (ANEKED) in The Gambia was working on creating an in-person traveling memorialization exhibition of their “The Duty to Remember” project. They planned the launch as part of Human Rights Week 2020 organized by the University of Geneva in Switzerland. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, ANEKED found themselves in a position where they needed to re-think their advocacy tactic and quickly pivoted to a powerful, virtual 3D version of the memorialization exhibition.
The exhibition, “The Duty to Remember,” received over 1,000 visits in the first week it was launched online. It generated appreciative and encouraging feedback from victims, local and international partners and well-wishers. This exhibition provides families of those disappeared and extrajudicially killed during the authoritarian rule of ex-President Yahya Jammeh’s regime, a space to preserve their loved ones’ memory and pass their stories to the next generation and generations to come. ANEKED’s launch of the virtual exhibition made it possible to share this collective story far beyond The Gambia.
“The Duty to Remember,” was launched during Human Rights Week in Geneva, Switzerland which kicked off on the 23rd of November 2020. An online seminar introduced the exhibition on the topic “Impunity: The role of Switzerland in the usage of universal jurisdiction.” A second online seminar on “Memorialization and the Importance of Remembering” was also held during the week. ANEKED collaborated with Trial International, Universite Populaire Africaine Suisse (UPAF), and University of Geneva. The online content was created by a Swiss technology startup company specializing in 3D.
The shift to a virtual exhibition was stressful as months and resources were already spent on planning an in-person event. Another challenge for a small organization like ANEKED was preparing all the content in both French and English.
The process of engaging the families, having their photos taken for portraits, and collecting the personal items was an intense and emotionally-heavy process for both the families and ANEKED staff (some of whom are victims themselves). With prior consent obtained through introductions by the Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations (Victims’ Center), ANEKED visited families in their homes to document their stories. This allowed them to recount their stories while the contracted photographer took pictures. ANEKED also obtained consent to display the portraits and personal items for the purpose of the project.
This part of the project was both traumatic and empowering as the families felt remembered and more visible. They also felt that their pain was being recognized and their loved ones honored. Families were happy to share personal items of their loved ones for the exhibit. This was often the last item that families had remaining of their loved ones; and contributed the items for their names to be etched in the annals of Gambian history in recognition of their ultimate sacrifices.
As a result, this innovative 3D exhibition shares these stories told by family members left behind. It features the portraits and quotes from courageous family members and displays the personal items belonging to their loved ones who were disappeared and/or executed extrajudicially. The act of relinquishing precious items for the exhibit was a step in acknowledging that their loved one is truly gone, an important element in the healing process.
Virtual visitors have described the exhibition as a moving display of remembrance and that it creates a powerful feeling of being present in the exhibition space:
“A truly momentous project - very inspiring...” - Women Association for Victim Empowerment, WAVE, a victim-led CSO in the Gambia.
“…This is a great initiative to promote pictorial testimonies of victims of human rights violations.”- The Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations.
In the fall of 2019, ANEKED staff members participated in the New Tactics in Human Rights online course “Strategic Advocacy: Planning & Tracking Advocacy Campaigns.” In early 2020, ANEKED used the New Tactics Strategic Effectiveness Method and online Tactical Mapping Tool (TMT) at their annual organization retreat to help them put together their annual work plan. They used the method and tools to re-assess their resources, map the shift in terrain they operate in and re-imagine planned projects.
The shift from in-person to the virtual exhibition made it possible to increase the reach beyond a physical exhibition space to raise more awareness and share stories on behalf of victims, family members, friends, and the entire community to gain justice for the victims and their families. ANEKED is also continuing their plan to launch a permanent exhibition center in The Gambia called Memory House in late 2021.
This tactic is an example of how ANEKED is bringing a proactive approach to making voices heard in the fight against enforced disappearances and summary executions. For more information, see the 2018 report from the Human Rights Council mission to The Gambia. ANEKED is currently operating in The Gambia and Ghana with the long-term goal of expanding across the African continent.
 Report of the Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances on its mission to The Gambia, Human Rights Council, Thirty-ninth session, 10–28 September 2018, pg 5, #20.
New Tactics in Human Rights does not advocate for or endorse specific tactics, policies or issues.