As the Gambia’s Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) began its second session of hearings this week, the Chairman, Dr. Lamin J. Sise, warned against people talking to the press to counter witness testimony.
“We have noticed an emerging trend whereby persons who feel that they have been adversely mentioned or who possess some information about matters being testified about would go to the press to make statements that are aimed at contradicting the testimony made before the Commission,” he said in a statement.
“The TRRC’s Provisional Rules of Procedure mandate that persons who have been adversely mentioned be afforded the opportunity to state their own side of the story by way of a written statement or personal appearance.
“These persons are being directly contacted by the Commission, served with Notices of Adverse Mention and formally invited to respond to the allegations.
“It is therefore not necessary for such individuals to attempt to litigate the issues in the public media,” Dr. Sise added.
The Commission was a court of law – “it is also not a witch-hunting exercise against any individual or institution”.
“Members of the public and armed and security forces who have information or are victims of human rights violations during the mandate period…to come forward and submit complaints.”
During the first session of hearings, which began on January 7, it focused on the July 22, 1994 coup that brought the then Lieutenant Yahya Jammeh to power.
The TRRC heard testimonies from 13 witnesses, most of them serving or retired officers of the Gambian security forces.
“The evidence that came from these testimonies puts the Commission in a good position to establish a reasonably accurate historical record of how and why the coup of July 22nd 1994 happened, who the main players were, and how institutional failures and policy lapses contributed to its success,” Dr. Sise said.
“A good picture also emerges of the nature and extent of human rights violations that occurred during and immediately after the July 22nd 1994 coup,” he added.
But after the end of the first hearings, Gambians took to social media to question why those accused of human rights violations during testimonies had not been arrested.
Baba Galleh Jallow, the Executive Secretary, said in a statement: “We note that our announcement of the end of [the] 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 have been adversely mentioned remains part of the TRRC process.”
This second session of hearings is to focus on the events of November 11, 1994 when a number of soldiers were killed in an alleged attempt to overthrow the Jammeh regime.
However, the Commission is spending the next few days on hearing more testimonies relevant to the July 1994 coup.
This is the second of eight sessions scheduled for 2019, with each session lasting for three weeks.
One week of each month will be devoted to committee work and review of outreach activities that may not be possible during sittings, according to Dr. Sise.