By Baba Galleh Jallow
The general public is hereby informed that the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) has concluded its first session of hearings. This first session was dedicated to hearing cases arising out of the July 22nd military takeover that brought then Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh and his Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) to power.
Among the key objectives of the first session were to understand the context within which the coup happened including the circumstances surrounding the creation of the Gambian security services, the various roles played by key state institutions in creating underlying factors leading up to the coup, how and why the coup was planned, how the coup unfolded on July 22, 1994, how the coup leadership was constituted, and what happened to key players both within the military council and in the ousted PPP government and its supporters and sympathisers in the immediate aftermath of the coup. All these factors and others are indispensable to the reconstruction of a coherent historical narrative of human rights violations that occurred during the TRRC’s mandate period, July 22, 1994 to January 2017.
We note that our announcement of the end of this first session of hearings has generated some interesting questions and concerns from the general public, especially on Gambian social media circles. Some people wonder how on earth we could end the first session without having some of the alleged perpetrators named by witnesses appear before the commission. We wish to assure the general public that moving on to another session does not mean the TRRC will never deal with what happened during and immediately after July 22nd 1994 again. We may have passed the first session, but every individual who has testified or has been adversely mentioned remains part of the TRRC process. As per the provisions of the TRRC Act, the commission may invite, summon or subpoena any individual they wish to testify. These invitations, summons or subpoenas need not happen during any particular session of the hearings as outlined in our work plan.
In short, moving on to the next session and subsequent ones does not preclude the possibility of witnesses and victims from July 22nd 1994 and its immediate aftermath from testifying. It should also be noted that some of these alleged perpetrators will inevitably be mentioned in at least a few more future testimonies. The public can rest assured that at some point during this process, some of those who have been or will in future be adversely mentioned will be invited, summoned, or subpoenaed to appear before the commission. We do not rule out the possibility that some may voluntarily come forward to testify.
A second issue that has come out of the first session of hearings is the question of psychosocial support for victims and witnesses. There have even been suggestions that the entire country needs some form of psychosocial support. While there is no way that the TRRC can possibly provide psychosocial support for the entire country, we are doing and will continue doing our best to provide such support to witnesses who give statements or appear before the commission. Our Victims Support Unit now has two psychosocial support workers who, in collaboration with the Women’s Affairs and Research and Investigations units, talk to all witnesses who need it before, during and after their testimonies. This is an area of vital importance to our work and we will be doing all we can to improve the psychosocial support services available to witnesses moving forward. Other means of having therapeutic public conversations on dealing with trauma induced by witness testimonies are being actively explored.
According to the TRRC’s work plan, the second session of hearings focusing on the November 11, 1994 incident will begin on February 11, 2019. Already, our Research and Investigations Unit in collaboration with the Legal Team have some key witnesses lined up for this session. The TRRC strongly requests and encourages all witnesses and victims of human rights violations related to the November 11 incident to please come to the TRRC headquarters at Dunes Resort, Kololi and give their statements. The TRRC offers a modest reimbursement of transportation and other minor expenses to witnesses and victims travelling from other parts of the country to give their statements. Witnesses and victims unable to make the trip to Dunes Resort are encouraged to call 9348929 / 2949170 / 2590391 / 5086200 and arrangements will be made to take their statements. Anyone that has any helpful information on November 11, 1994 Human Rights Violations is also encouraged to come to our offices or call the above numbers.
Witnesses and victims who wish to provide statements or other information related to November 11, 1994 are advised to do so before the end of the second session on February 28, 2019. In the same vein, persons who have been mentioned or will in future be mentioned in witness testimonies are always welcome to give their statements. If they subsequently do not appear before the commission, their statements will still be included in the TRRC records.
Meanwhile, we intend to issue a separate update on our ongoing outreach activities and Never Again campaign in the near future.