Coronavirus halts Gambian Truth Commission
April 8, 2020
AFTER reaching the halfway mark of its two-year mandate, the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in The Gambia has halted proceedings and outreach programmes because of the coronavirus.
With the TRRC’s planned Ramadan break in April, the Commission says it is expecting public hearings to resume around the first week of June, while outreach activities will re-start when it was considered safe.
Before this untimely break, the TRRC had been moving steadily with the business of investigating alleged human rights abuses under the government of former President Yahya Jammeh.
The Commission had completed its 12th three-week session on March 5 and on March 18, two day after it began the 13th session of public hearings, a halt was called to the proceedings because of COVID-19.
During the 12th session, which focused on the arbitrary arrest and detention of public servants and private persons, 14 witnesses appeared before the TRRC.
This brought the total number of witnesses since it began public hearings on January 7, 2019 to 217.
The witnesses included 54 women, 40, alleged perpetrators and adversely mentioned persons, as well as some expert witnesses, while 25 Gambians in the Diaspora testified via video link.
The 13th session would have heard evidence of unlawful attacks against road users by Jammeh’s convoys.
The remaining period would have started hearings on the prison system and the violation of the rights of inmates and detainees.
Before the premature closure of the work of the TRRC, the plan was to end its public hearings during the first week of October, with the rest of the year devoted to preparation of the Commission’s final report.
It had been a harrowing experience for Gambians as they listened to witnesses detailing the human rights abuses that they suffered under the Jammeh administration.
“The evidence adduced before the Commission during the above-mentioned public hearings shows gross human rights violations against the Gambian people,” noted Dr Lamin J. Sise, the Chairman of the TRRC.
“During the last session, we also heard the gruesome accounts of the decapitation and dismemberment of the bodies of detainees to be fed to crocodiles at Jammeh’s residence in Kanilai.
“These wanton acts of barbarity defied all standards of human decency and constituted gross violations of the rights of not just the victims, their families, but also those of all Gambians.”
He added: “Since the TRRC’s public hearings began, the conscience of the nation is being repeatedly shocked by the revelations of sheer brutality meted out to victims.
“The revelations have also sparked a serious national conversation and soul-searching that seeks to understand just how such acts of barbarity could happen in this country.
“As we journey further into this second and final year of our mandate, this Commission remains firmly committed to the pursuit of the truth without fear or favour, affection or ill will with regards to any individual or group of individuals,” Dr Sise added.
He said the TRRC remained committed to “the cause of the victims, to the welfare of our nation and to helping guarantee non-recurrence of the senseless violations and abuses that occurred in this country”.
Dr Sise urged “victims of human rights violations and all persons who have information that would be helpful to the Commission’s work to please come forward and share their stories”.
He added: “While not every witness that gives a statement is guaranteed to testify in a public hearing, every statement received is a valuable addition to the historical record the Commission is mandated to establish.
“For the work that we do here at the TRRC, every voice matters.”