By Nelson Manneh
The chairman of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), Dr. Lamin Sise, said the truth about the 22-year-rule of exiled and former President Yahya Jammeh ought to be recorded, though it may be hard and painful.
In his own words, Sise said: “The naked truths, albeit hard and painful, must be recorded!”
Dr. Sise made these remarks on Monday as his-led commission begun its 20th public session hearings.
The chairman said the governing legislative mandate requires TRRC to investigate, among other things, the nature, causes, including antecedents, circumstances, motives and perspectives which led to the gross violations and abuses of the human rights of these detainees.
Sise said as they continue the institutional hearings, the focus remains on the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), saying the Commission, since 22 October 2020, heard testimonies from fifty-one witnesses comprising forty-five victims and six perpetrators.
“The perpetrators confessed to having meted out to their fellow citizens (sometimes with the involvement of the Junglers) various forms of torture and abuse. These citizens, some of whom committed no crime whatsoever, were arbitrarily arrested by NIA agents and illegally detained without trial,” he said.
TRRC chairman said the tortures were carried out ostensibly to extract confessions, by coercion of course, from the detainees. He said it was clear from the testimonies the Commission heard that the perpetrators weren’t the innocent and ignorant enablers of the dictatorship as some portrayed themselves to be.
“They were wicked torturers who willingly brutalized innocent Gambians for money or favour. Some perpetrators gave flimsy excuses that if they did not carry out the superior orders to torture a detainee, they would themselves be tortured. They claimed that they had no choice. But of course they have a duty not to implement unlawful orders and no amount of explanation can excuse the cruel and inhumane treatment they inflicted on their victims,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Sise said TRRC was not established as a court of law or an inquisition, but as a truth-seeking mechanism to create an impartial record of violations and abuses of human rights from July 1994 – January 2017 to, among other things, promote healing and reconciliation and prevent a repeat of the violations and abuses suffered by the victims.
“Slowly but surely the Commission is exposing the truth of the horrifying treatment the detainees endured at the hands of state agents both at NIA Headquarters and other secret torture centres across the country,” he said.
With regard to the implementation of the third component of the TRRC mandate- reparations, Chairman Sise said TRRC Act, 2017 provides in Section 20 that they may grant reparations to an applicant who is a victim upon consideration of the evidence received or obtained.
“The Commission may make regulations for the granting of reparations under the Act,” he added.
Dr. Sise said on 14th December, 2020, the TRRC submitted to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice the text of the regulations approved by the Commission for publication in the Gazette.
Pending such publication, he said, the TRRC informed the Attorney General and Minister of Justice that it will provisionally apply the regulations, with a view to considering urgently the applications submitted by victims. He said the TRRC will shortly issue a call for the submission and consideration of such applications.
“The Commission is working hard to conclude its work by that date and submit its final report containing its findings and recommendations to the President during the first week of July 2021,” he said.
In the meantime, he said they invite everybody to join the TRRC in their ongoing national journey of discovery.
“The truth we discover together is not pretty and will not be pretty. But it is a truth that will set us all free from a horrendous past of wanton violations and abuses of human rights, and that discovery will cement our resolve to never again allow what happened here from July 1994 to January 2017 to ever happen again. We continue to seek the public’s kind understanding and support,” he said.
Meanwhile, Dr. Sise said at the end of the 19th session, the Commission heard testimonies from a total of three hundred and twenty-one witnesses. Of these, two hundred and fifty-one were male and seventy-two were female.
He said out of the total number of witnesses appearing before the Commission so far, two hundred and eight were victims and fifty-nine were self-confessed perpetrators and adversely mentioned persons.
“Twenty-nine witnesses have testified via video link from the Gambian Diaspora. These hearings also included several protected witnesses and closed door testimonies” he said.