The Gambia’s Truth Commission takes off

Banjul, Gambia, The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) that has been set up to look into alleged human rights violations during the 22 year rule of former President Yahya Jammeh in the Gambia is up and running.

At the Dunes Resort in Banjul, a former luxury beach hotel, said to among the over 180 properties that were owned by ex-President Jammeh, but now confiscated, urgent renovation works are being completed.

At the same time, over 70 members of staff, led by the Executive Secretary of the TRRC, Dr Baba Galleh Jallow, a journalist and academic, are busy putting things together for the hearings to begin.

Eleven commissioners are already in place following the official launch of the Commission on October 15.

Dr Jallow told the Ghana News Agency (GNA) that the plan was to start the hearings in December but with the chairman in the US until the end of November, and with December being a short month, the likelihood was that hearings would begin in January 2019.

But victims are already benefiting from the reparations aspect of the Commission.

A young girl named Bintou, who dropped out of school last year because her widowed mother could no longer afford her fees, is going back to school, courtesy of funding from the TRRC.

Her father was the only Gambian allegedly killed by a Gambian para-military unit alongside 44 Ghanaians and several Nigerian illegal immigrants in 2005.

Bintou’s mother was seven months pregnant with her when her father died, so she does not know him.

Now she is happy to return to school after the Commission, through its Victims Support Fund, decided to pay for her education to the tune of D15,000 a year.

What we are doing is that we are not waiting for the end of the process to start implementing some of the reparations, Dr Jallow told the GNA.

The TRRC Act allowed for this, he added.

Dr Jallow has also sent a letter to the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare calling for the setting up of a Medical Board to review the cases of victims of the past regime who suffered bodily harm and need urgent medical attention and to advise the Commission as to their present health status and needs.

The letter added: Taking into consideration the seriousness of the cases and the length of time that some of them have suffered, the TRRC requests that the Medical Board be set up as a matter of urgency to assess and review the cases and give advice on the way forward…

Dr Jallow said: We are doing everything possible to see that victims who need urgent medical attention get [it] at the earliest possible time.

In the meantime, potential witnesses are being lined up to appear before the TRRC after being identified by the Research and Investigations Unit in conjunction with the Lead Counsel.

These witnesses would be associated with the July 22, 1994 coup led by a then Lieutenant Jammeh.

That’s where we will start and then work through from year to year through to January 2017, Dr Jallow stated.

He said there would be various thematic hearings and these would focus on events involving human rights abuses during the Jammeh era.

Dr Jallow explained that atrocities began from the outset of the July 1994 coup.

Some of the former government ministers were arrested and subjected to extrajudicial treatment.

He said security officials who failed to cooperate with the coup were arrested and locked up for almost 1,000 days and some were tortured.

He pointed out that the focus would not be only on ex-President Jammeh during that period.

Who is going to be called before the Commission will depend on whose names come out of the testimonies that are to be given.

We are not presuming that anyone is guilty of anything as of now.

Everything will come out from the evidence that will be tendered before the Commission.

But during the investigations if people are named they will be called to appear before the Commission.

So, it’s not just Jammeh. Jammeh was the leader of the coup and he emerged as the president so we have to have a starting point.

The evidence gathering process involves 17 statement-takers who would talk to people already identified by the TRRC.

Once statements are taken, these would be passed on to the Research and Investigations Unit for validation and then sent to the Lead Counsel to present them to the Commission for determination of which witnesses to call.

We don’t want to rush this process. We have to get things right.

Dr Jallow himself suffered under the Jammeh regime as a journalist, with his newspaper fire-bombed.

He was eventually forced into exile in the US in 2000, returning only in 2017 after ex-President Jammeh left The Gambia.

Source: Ghana News Agency