On 7 January 2019, eight hundred and seventy-one days ago today, we Gambians, through the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission, 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 military dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh. The principal purpose of the Commission was very simple: to establish the truth of what happened during the twenty-two year 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
. (a) create an impartial historical record of violations and abuses of human rights from July 1994 to January 2017, in order to-(i) promote healing and reconciliation, (ii) respond to the needs of the victims, (iii) address impunity, and (iv) prevent a repeat of the violations and abuses suffered by making recommendations for the establishment of appropriate preventive mechanisms including institutional and legal reforms;
(b) establish and make known the fate or whereabouts of disappeared victims;
(c) provide victims an opportunity to relate their own accounts of the violations and abuses suffered; and
(d) grant reparations to victims in appropriate cases.
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. A land of peaceful coexistence! A society imbued with tolerance of the highest order! They could not believe that innocent and ordinary citizens and other nationals found in the territorial jurisdiction of The Gambia, many murdered in cold blood, would be victims of the atrocities narrated.
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.
Among the kinds of atrocities and other human rights violations detailed by witnesses during the public hearings are the following:
Sexual and Gender-based violence
Inhuman and degrading treatment
Fake HIV/AIDS treatment and
General and widespread abuse of public office
The phenomenon of leaders of military coups civilianizing themselves was rampant in the subregion of West Africa. These leaders rigged and held farce elections to perpetuate their rule. The Gambia became a collective victim of this phenomenon. 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.
Yes 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. The foundation stone for a stronger Gambia: the Draft Constitution, seems, however, for the moment to be stuck in a limbo. 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. This Commission could not have achieved the kind of success it did without the support and encouragement we got from everyone and the admirable cooperation of the victims, the victims’ families, and some of the perpetrators who volunteered invaluable evidence to the Commission.
We must say a special thank you to the management and staff of QTV, our media partner throughout this process who have done a phenomenal job of executing their part of our contract of recording and disseminating the public hearings and other activities of the TRRC. Our gratitude is also extended to our state broadcaster GRTS, whose staff have been with us from the very beginning, and who have also done a phenomenal job of educating the Gambian public on what transpired here in this hall and other areas of the TRRC’s work. We say thank you to EyeAfrica TV, Paradise TV, Kerr Fatou, JusticeInfo, and all the Gambian and international media who, through their various media, have contributed to the work of this Commission.
Finally, I can’t end this statement without thanking our own Commissioners and staff, including our indefatigable interpreters and sign language experts, for the wonderful job they have done. We recognize the invaluable contributions of our various units of the Secretariat, and of our team of dedicated medics from the Gambia Fire and Rescue Services. To the Gambia Police Force and especially the team of officers assigned to guard our premises and staff, thank you for keeping us all safe. Indeed, it is impossible to say thank you to everyone who has made a significant contribution to the success of this process. But whether we mention your name here or not, please note that we are eternally grateful for the services rendered to the TRRC.
Thank you all and goodbye from all of us. We will see again, albeit in a different format, when we present our final report containing our findings and recommendations to the President in just over a month.