By Nelson Manneh
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) has on Friday 28th May 2021 concluded its public hearings.
Three hundred and ninety-two witnesses testified before the Truth Commission to give evidence of the human rights violations that took place during the reign of former President Yahya Jammeh.
TRRC Chairperson, Dr. Lamin J. Sise, said on 7 January 2019, eight hundred and seventy-one days ago, they began a unique process of holding live public hearings of the testimonies of the victims as well as those of self-confessed perpetrators of human rights violations and abuses that occurred in The Gambia during the twenty-two-year rule of Yahya Jammeh. He said the principal purpose of the Commission was to establish the truth of what happened during the 22 years reign.
The National Assembly of the Republic of The Gambia enacted a law (TRRC Act, 2017) which established the TRRC. The main objectives of the Commission are, inter alia, to create an impartial historical record of violations and abuses of human rights from July 1994 to January 2017, in order to promote healing and reconciliation, respond to the needs of the victims, address impunity, and prevent a repeat of the violations and abuses suffered by making recommendations for the establishment of appropriate preventive mechanisms including institutional and legal reforms.
The Commission objective was also to establish and make known the fate or whereabouts of disappeared victims; provide victims an opportunity to relate their own accounts of the violations and abuses suffered; and grant reparations to victims in appropriate cases.
Sise said when the Commission began its work, it decided that its public hearings will be transparent and broadcast live for all to see and hear the truth in real time.
“There is nothing better than telling the truth in the open. During the 871 days, The Gambia and indeed the world heard from 392 witnesses, the majority of whom were victims of atrocities meted out to innocent civilians by the State, its agents or individuals sponsored by both. The witnesses appearing before the Commission also included self-confessed perpetrators. The testimonies heard during the 871 days of public hearings brought pain and bewilderment to the population. They could not believe that the atrocities they were hearing from witnesses could occur in their country,” he said.
“The commission of these atrocities by Jammeh and his cohorts achieved the desired effect of instilling fear among the Gambian population. It also gave them time and space to pillage the resources of the country.”
Dr. Sise said among the kinds of atrocities and other human rights violations detailed by witnesses during the public hearings included arbitrary arrests, unlawful detention, unlawful killings, torture, enforced disappearances, sexual and gender-based violence, inhuman and degrading treatment, witch hunting, fake HIV/AIDS treatment and general and widespread abuse of public office.
Sise said the phenomenon of leaders of military coups civilianizing themselves was rampant in the subregion of West Africa and the leaders at the time rigged and held farce elections to perpetuate their rule. The Gambia became a collective victim of this phenomenon, he added.
“Witnesses have testified before this Commission that structures that underpin good governance, e.g. respect for the rule of law and independence of the judiciary were virtually non-existent during the twenty-two-year Jammeh rule,” he said.
Sise said Jammeh is gone; the killings by state agents have stopped; torture is no longer sanctioned by the state; Junglers have dispersed, some in foreign lands while others stayed to confess their misdeeds.
“The folly of ruling The Gambia for a billion years abruptly and ignominiously ended in twenty-two years. The crocodiles in Kanilai lay submerged in a dirty pond while the peacocks in Jammeh’s palatial grounds cry out ceaselessly and purportedly for their departed master. The chaos we recently saw at these grounds in Kanilai must not be the chaos in our country in the wake of the demise of the Jammeh regime. Our collective effort to build a new and better Gambia must not and I earnestly believe will not be squandered,” he said.
“We must confront our recent difficult history in order to establish a new governance and sustainable structure to move the country forward to take its rightful place among developed societies. As we close this important chapter of the Commission’s work, i.e. the public hearings, I take this opportunity on behalf of the Commissioners, the Legal Team and all staff of the TRRC to express our most sincere gratitude to all Gambians and members of the international community – especially the UN Peace Building Support Office, UNDP-Gambia, the OHCHR, ICTJ, the Institute for Integrated Transitions and International Idea – for their unflinching support over the past three years,” he added.