The special session of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission on Friday, 28 May 2021, was the culmination of the 872-day public hearings of the commission.
It was a period of overwhelming emotions of the Gambian people who endured gross violations of human rights for 22 years in a country whose people describe it as the ??Smiling Coast of Africa”.
In reality, this country suffered and bled in silence during this dark era of its contemporary history. Tears rolled down my cheeks listening to commission lead counsel Essa Faal deliver his closing speech.
At least 392 witnesses appeared before the committee and Gambians heard horrific narratives about torture, illegal detention, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, rape and illegal layoffs among other violations.
People were amazed when they heard testimonies given by witnesses during public hearings.
Because of his lust for power and paranoia, Jammeh chased after his perceived and real enemies and in the process committed the worst crimes against the people he swore to serve and protect. In the last public hearing of the committee, witness, Saikou Jallow, revealed that the former president, who once promised to rule for a billion years, wrote a list containing about 40 names in his handwriting for them to be killed or muzzled spiritually. This indicates that the former leader had gone above and beyond to cling to power, even if it meant eliminating his opponents by every means possible.
During his authoritarian rule, no one was safe from his cruelty, including his relatives, close friends, associates, members of the clergy, intellectuals, students, journalists, military, women, and the elderly.
Jammeh couldn’t have done what he did if it wasn’t for the complicity of enablers in the judiciary, security services, especially the National Intelligence Agency, who were served as the tools to prosecute, humiliate, torture, expose and prosecute his opponents.
The commission did a great job by demystifying Jammeh. It also established the fact that Gambians are not as meek and mild as we would want to believe we are. Many of the atrocities committed against Gambians were committed by Gambians not foreigners or mercenaries. These acts were committed by our brothers, cousins, friends and neighbours.
The chairman of the commission used his vast experience to adjust the commission’s rhythm and calm nerves when things heat up. The lead counsel Essa Faal, spared no effort to dig and unearth the truth in a uniquely professional and competent way. Lawyers, commissioners, and other support staff also did well and proved worthy. The interpreters, especially Alhaji Musa Manneh, delivered the voice of the commission to every house and hut throughout the country.
Important lessons must be drawn from the TRRC, especially the urgent need to build strong institutions to avoid the tyranny of the executive. Our leaders are not our kings, rather, we must look at them as our servants who receive their salaries and feed from public funds. The army should be limited to the barracks and not interfere in politics. We must be honest with ourselves and our leaders. The draft constitution must be revived to ensure the president does not remain in power forever.
The government is set to receive the commission’s final report in July. Its recommendations should be implemented literally without fear, favour, ill intent, or affection. The executive branch must ensure justice is done to end the suffering of Gambians. There are real fears that the report may receive the fate of the Janneh Commission or the draft constitution. But failure to implement the recommendations of the TRRC could lead to trouble. Justice must prevail.
By Basidia Drammeh
Well done TRCC, but…
I thank the TRRC for having done a good job during the public hearings. Unlike most people I think they did a good job overall but it could have been better.
First of all, the TRRC employed in its secretariat and at the level of commissioners people who were heavily conflicted or politically biased.
As a result, the narrative was totally skewed. It would have been to the credit of the commission to have non-conflicted and politically neutral people as commissioners or secretariat staff.
How could you have a person investigating a president against whom he committed high treason by illegally taking up arms and wanting to kill and overthrow?
How could you have a senior member of an opposition political party which has been battling with the APRC for 22 years serving as deputy chairman in a commission to probe President Jammeh? Former Justice minister Tambadou should have known that justice must not only be served but must be seen to be served. Optics are important. We thought he would have learnt a lesson in the Janneh Commission after the hue and cry following the appointment of somebody severely conflicted as the lead counsel, but he did not.
In addition, the TRRC refused to call key witnesses like former GNA commander Samsudeen Sarr but went on to give hundreds of hours of hearing time to pompous lawyers and so-called human rights defenders.
However despite these lapses, the commission proved that Yahya Jammeh did terrible things in The Gambia and he must pay for them. He must be brought to book as soon as possible.