The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in The Gambia, mandated to investigate human rights abuses perpetrated during the 22 years of the former regime, was expected to wind up its public sessions on May 27, in 2021, and release its report later in the year. Journalists for Justice (JFJ) spoke to several people about what they expected from the commission.
Adama Jallow, National Coordinator, Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations
“My organisation was formed by victims, who use the platform to advocate justice. We expect to see a positive outcome with regard to the victims that the commission has interviewed.
“We don’t expect a blanket decision. We know victims suffered different atrocities under the former regime. We expect to see a transparent outcome. We don’t want biases; we don’t want to see any white paper attached to it, like the ‘Jammeh Commission’. We want to see a very good outcome, a report that victims will not reject.
“We envisage a report that will represent the views of all the victims. The report should feature recommendations based on the various kinds of atrocities that we have seen in this country.
“We are watching and we will be working closely with the National Human Rights Commission to ensure that the outcome of the TRRC report is implemented.”
Isatou Jammeh, founding member and programme officer, The Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations
Isatou (also called Ayesha) envisages inclusive recommendations so that all the voices of the victims of human rights violations are captured. She also wants equitable redress, reparation, and support for all the victims.
“Stakeholders working on transitional justice must ensure that the slogan ‘Never Again’ is something that Gambians can live up to; to ensure that human rights violations stop and the rule of law governs all the citizens.
“Prosecution of the perpetrators is also important. So one of the recommendations I want to see is prosecution of those responsible for crimes such as torture, enforced disappearance, extra-judicial execution, and sexual violence. These heinous crimes were meted out to Gambians. The people who committed these crimes should not be allowed to go scot-free. We need to make an example of them to serve as a deterrent and prevent recurrence.”
She asked for a bigger role for women in the transitional justice processes. “Communities have broken up because of the violations that women suffered, for example the witch-hunts that targeted mostly women. As a result, women have suffered stigma and have been ostracised. These women deserve to be reintegrated into society. They need to be empowered to live in their communities.”
Lamin Jarju, an activist
“When Gambians ousted the authoritarian Yahya Jammeh on December 1, 2016, I was among those who celebrated the birth of a new nation,” Lamin said.
He remembers that expectations and emotions were high. He thought it was important to hold Jammeh to account for the atrocities he committed during his 22 years in power.
“I knew that at some point The Gambia must open a new page and make a fresh start. I also knew that this was not possible without healing the wounds from the past. Truth must be told, justice served, and we must reconcile. This was my expectation.
“The TRRC initiative gave me hope and confidence that Gambia was on track to correct the wrongs. I think accountability is key in enhancing sustainable development and governance, thus I see TRRC as an institution for holding perpetrators to account.”
He expects the government’s full commitment in supporting the TRRC process. He has keenly followed the proceedings and says he is getting concerned that the government is not as committed to the TRRC as it should be. And he is worried that this could pose a potential threat to the outcome of the process.
“I expect that at the end of the day, not only will Jammeh be made to face justice, his victims will receive justice and that eventually the country will heal.”
Abdou Aziz Barrow, Programme Officer, The Gambia Centre for Victims of Human Rights Violations
Abdou is also a victim. His father, Lieutenant Basiru Barrow, was killed during the alleged November 1994 coup attempt. He says he has questions about some of the cases the TRRC has reviewed.
“As a victim, I have many questions regarding my Dad’s case that are not answered, and I believe other victims feel the same way. I do not think my father’s case has been thoroughly investigated. I believe Essa Faal, the lead counsel at TRRC, could have done more by probing the perpetrator. Sanna Sabally mentioned that they found a notebook in my Dad’s pocket, outlining their alleged plans and the people to be killed. I find that hard to believe because my Dad was working with these people; he knew them and their families, so it does not make sense for him to write that they were to be executed together with their family members. I believe Essa Faal should have investigated further.”
Jabou Suso, teacher at Banjulinding Upper and Senior Secondary School and final year Bachelor of Arts student at the University of The Gambia.
“I expect the TRRC to facilitate national reconciliation and allow peace and justice to prevail. I want them to send strong recommendations to the government to ensure that crimes of the past do not recur.”
She urged the TRRC to ensure that all the victims and their relatives are assisted to help in the healing process.
She was concerned that the whole truth might not come out. “Most of the perpetrators of torture were senior officers who are still in the system and majority of them do not support this process. If the perpetrators are not held accountable, the human rights abuses that took place during those 22 years can recur. I expect TRRC to do everything possible to make sure that those who tortured and raped face the full force of the law so that justice can prevail.”
She was adamant that everything should be done to ensure that Gambians never again suffer arbitrary arrest, torture, killing, and witch-hunt. She wants TRRC to put an end to sexual and gender-based violence, like what happened in April 2000 during student demonstrations. Security forces killed 14 students as they protested the rape and killing of two young people by government officers.
“I expect TRRC to deliver peace, reconciliation, justice, and forgiveness, and compensate those affected. I also urge them to have a mechanism in place to protect women who testify. Several of them have been attacked by the perpetrators. I did not expect confessed killers to be released from custody. This may not augur well for the victims.”
Ndey Yassin Secka, chairperson of the Gambia Organisation for the Visually Impaired, a board member of the Gambia Federation of the Disabled, and Nominated Member of Parliament
“I would like to see the victims, especially the visually impairment, compensated vigorously. The former regime used to arrest people with disability because of begging. It said there should not be any loitering by people with disabilities; that if they wanted to beg they should go to churches or mosques. As a result, they were deprived of freedom of movement. They were arrested, thrown into trucks like cattle, and taken to court as if they had committed a crime.”
She said she once thought she would be arrested because she used to take food to the detainees. She often complained about discrimination against people with disabilities because it was assumed they were begging even when they were not. “In fact, what is wrong with begging? Is it unlawful? Where in the constitution does it say that begging is unlawful?” she asked.
“I am expecting justice for every victim, especially people with disabilities. I don’t want this country to be in a political impasse and everyone in a dilemma since we are still in transition and the draft constitution has been thrown out. I don’t want the TRRC to be like that.”
Ndey told the Gambian government to be committed to the process and to implement the commission’s recommendations.
Matida Komma, Coordinator of The Girls’ Agenda (TGA)
She said she expects the TRRC to help the victims, especially those that had suffered gender-based violence, to heal.
She said this was important because the patriarchal Gambian society usually blamed the victim. “I think it is important for TRRC to help these victims through the whole healing process, not just letting them come out to speak about the violence and the abuse, but also give them psychosocial support.
“One of the key things that I expect from the TRRC is helping these victims to seek justice. Yes, we are looking for the truth; we want to reconcile; we are healing; but justice has to be served regardless of whom the perpetrator is. There is no point favouring one person. I think everyone should be treated fairly. Justice for the victims means helping them to bring the perpetrators to book.
“It is one thing to get reconciliation, to get the truth, but will justice be served? This is what is lingering in the mind of every Gambian. I hope the TRRC will take that into consideration.
“Personally, after the TRRC, I am expecting strong recommendations from the government of The Gambia with regard to issues of gender-based violence and how best the TRRC can recommend to the government to ensure that we have strong policies, strong laws which are not just there on paper but are enforced, because it is one thing to have a law, but it is quite another to enforce it.”
She called for strong institutions governed by principles and policies so that a perpetrator faces justice. “The state has a duty to care for its citizens, especially women and girls; to ensure that they live in a safe environment free from all forms of abuse and exploitation.”
In addition, she wants the TRRC to have a package to help victims –psychosocial, healing, even economic and financial assistance – to enable them to reintegrate into their societies.
“In essence, what we expect from the TRRC is help to strengthen our institutions; support women victims’ healing process through psychosocial support; and help all victims seek justice by bringing perpetrators to book.”
Muhammed Lamin AK Darboe, nursing officer at the Kanifing General Hospital
“My first expectation is that the TRRC will get to the bottom of the truth, not only from what people are saying but by thoroughly investigating what happened. That way, we will all be satisfied with their findings. They should make their findings available to the public so that we all know and learn from it.
“We have never gone through something like this. I am hoping that the TRRC will give us the background of what led to the atrocities of the past 22 years. I hope this will guide us in future, as well as the government and other institutions, especially those that were involved in the violations.
“Justice has to be served because there is no point in finding out the truth if justice will not be served. So the perpetrators need to be prosecuted. They should also seek forgiveness from the victims through the reconciliation sessions. These people have made many Gambians to suffer and should not go scot-free. They should face the consequences of their actions and the families of the victims should be compensated.”
Muhammed added that the TRRC was meant to encourage national healing and unity, as well as guide the transition process and help Gambians become better citizens.
Momodou Jallow, vendor, Foroyaa newspaper
“TRRC should be very strict in its recommendations so that justice can be served. Justice delayed is justice denied. We don’t want a scenario where people will come, talk, apologise, and walk away without facing any consequences. When we say ‘Never Again’, the government should set an example by punishing the perpetrators.
“I am from Foni village. Some of the children there do not go to school as their parents can’t pay tuition fees, all because the former president had their farms and cattle seized. The new government should consider returning the property to the rightful owners,” said Momodou.
He stressed the need for the Gambian government to strictly implement the TRRC recommendations and prosecute former President Yahya Jammeh to deter other people abusing power.
Ndey Ceesay, food vendor at Albert Market in Banjul
“Some of the perpetrators have confessed to their crimes, including extra-judicial killings, before the TRRC. They claimed they were ordered to do so. The TRCC should organise reconciliation sessions between the victims and the perpetrators. If they are not forgiven, the state should ensure that justice is served and that the victims are compensated.”
Morro Colley, trader at Albert Market in Banjul
He observed that when TRRC started its sessions, everyone, especially victims, was happy because they envisaged that there would be justice and compensation.
“Now I see perpetrators going around mocking their victims, telling them that nothing will come out of the TRRC. It is my fervent belief that the TRRC’s recommendations should be implemented. Justice must prevail and victims compensated.”
Morro expressed dissatisfaction with the fact that some perpetrators were still holding senior positions in government and walking free. He thinks this will encourage them to repeat their mistakes.
To stop this, he insists that the commission’s recommendations should be implemented to ensure that victims get the justice and compensation they deserve.
The Victims’ Bantaba is a virtual platform that will serve as a memorial site of record to events and experiences from The Gambia’s difficult years during the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh.
It seeks to document the impact of the violations of human rights and atrocity crimes over the 22 years of that regime, particularly on the victims, and explore their continuing significance on the society.