Statement by the Chair, Dr. Lamin J. Sise, at the opening of the Fourteenth Sessionof the TRRC’s public hearings
June 8, 2020
On 29th April 2020, on behalf of the Commissioners, I presented to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice the Interim Report of the Commission for transmittal to the President. It would be recalled that pursuant to Section 14 (4) (a) of the TRRC Act 2017, the Commission is required, after one year of its establishment, to submit to the President of the Republic of The Gambia, an interim report detailing its activities. The Interim Report accordingly, focused only on the activities of the TRRC during the first twelve months of its existence. It did not contain any findings or recommendations. These could be made in the final report of the Commission.
On Tuesday, March 18, 2020, only two days into our 13th session, the TRRC suspended its public hearings. During that session, only two witnesses appeared before the Commission. The total number of witnesses appearing before the Commission since the commencement of the public hearings on January 7, 2019 is now 219. The witnesses included 54 women, 40 perpetrators, alleged perpetrators and adversely mentioned persons, as well as some expert witnesses. Twenty-five Gambian Diaspora witnesses had also testified via video link.
At the commencement of the 13th session on 16 March 2020, we had announced that the Commission will focus on hearing evidence of unlawful attacks against road users by Jammeh’s convoys. We indicated that the remaining period of the session will be used to start the institutional hearings on the prison system and the violations of the rights of inmates and detainees.
Alas, that session could not be completed! The outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic brought normal life to a grinding halt around the world. The Government of The Gambia, like other governments, instituted a lockdown and orderedobservance of measures relating to public gatherings, public health regulations and social distancing protocols. During the current session, we will pick up from where we stopped on the public hearings.
After nearly twelve weeks of observing the lockdown measures, and not knowing how long the state of emergency declared by the government would last, the Commission consulted and received guidance from the Minister of Justice with a view to exploring the possibility of the Commission resuming its public hearings.
We all agreed that the public hearings could resume with the understanding that the relevant public health regulations and social distancing norms will continue to be observed. As you can see looking around this hall, the TRRC has put in place such measures, and all staff have been instructed to adhere as much as possible to the required rules to ensure everyone’s safety.
While we self-isolated during the lockdown, the TRRC continued work, albeit in a limited way, on the interest of and matters relating to the victims of the Jammeh era. Our Victim Support and Research and Investigations units were particularly active during the lockdown, registering and collecting statements from witnesses, and offering continued support to those victims who need it. These victims could not and will not be forgotten! Some have come before the Commission to narrate their suffering at the hands of the agents of the State.
Their narratives symbolized the experience endured by many others who could not, for one reason or the other, come to testify before the Commission.
This is the unfortunate recent history of The Gambia that we all have had to come to terms with. The TRRC will remain a victim-centered institution. It would not have come into existence without the victims. We cannot betray their hopes and expectations for a new Gambia free from fear, injustice and the horrors inflicted on the Gambian people by the Jammeh regime.
We are aware that the public is keenly interested in the Commission’s work on reparations. As of now, the TRRC continues to offer interim reparations in the form of livelihood support, medical and educational assistance and employment opportunities to victims. The Victim Support Unit is also working closely with the Reparations Committee to offer continued support to the victims currently in Turkey for medical treatment. Meanwhile, the Commission is doing all it can to ensure that work on the reparations rules and regulations is expedited and that monetary reparations are rolled out as soon as possible.
As at this point, we wish to remind the public that the main themes remaining on the Commission’s work plan include the following:
(i) the former president’s HIV/AIDS and other diseases alternative treatment programme
(ii) enforced disappearances
(iii) the case of the 44 Ghanaians and other West African migrants who were killed in The Gambia in July 2005
(iv) the April 2016 incidents involving the NIA and resulting in the death in custody of UDP member Solo Sandeng
(v) institutional hearings on the National Intelligence Agency (NIA), the Judiciary, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA)
(vi) additional hearings on sexual and gender-based violence, and
(vii) The Junglers (part two)
In view of the loss of two weeks of public hearings as a result of the lockdown, the Commission intends to conclude its public hearings during the last,rather than the first week of October 2020. As and when required, occasional public hearings may be convened as work proceeds on the final report.
Finally, the TRRC continues to call upon all victims and all witnesses with important information to please come forward and share their stories. While not all witnesses who give statements can testify, every statement collected will assist us in producing a true historical record of human rights violations that occurred in this country between July 1994 and January 2017.
As usual, we begin this 14th session by seeking the continued blessings and support of the public.