Statement by the Chair, Dr. Lamin J. Sise, at the opening of the Twelfth Session of the TRRC’s public hearings
February 17, 2020
On Thursday, February 6, 2020, the TRRC concluded its eleventh three-week session of public hearings. During that session, which focused on attacks on religious leaders of both the Muslim and Christian faiths, 15 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 203. These include 53 women, 38 perpetrators, alleged perpetrators and adversely mentioned persons, as well as three expert witnesses. Twenty four Gambian Diaspora witnesses also testified via video link.
The evidence adduced before the Commission so far indicates that the authoritarian tentacles of Yahya Jammeh reached practically every section of Gambian society. From political opponents to journalists, media houses, and ordinary civilians, the evidence shows that the oppressive regime of the former president infiltrated all segments of Gambian society and violated the rights of innocent and helpless citizens of this country. These heinous crimes included the evil, inhumane and degrading treatment citizens endured during the 2009 witch hunts sponsored by the Jammeh regime. The eleventh session heard from witnesses information regarding gross violations of the religious freedoms and brutal treatment of religious leaders and sects whose only crimes were to profess their own faiths.
Information provided to the Commission shows that Jammeh manipulated religious leaders to benefit his dictatorial rule. He neither recognized nor respected the different roles of the State and Religion in society. Jammeh seemed to have invented a pattern of co-opting and corrupting religious leaders until they fell out with him. And then he would turn around and violate their rights and freedoms with appalling impunity. He methodically used religious leaders from one faith to suppress other faiths with whose doctrines he disagreed.
Evidence provided to the Commission seems to be drawing us to the truth that Jammeh’s manipulation of religious leaders through attacks and intimidation created deep divisions within religious communities and Gambian society at large. Neighbors became hostile to neighbors, religious scholars to religious scholars. When religious leaders are compromised through co-optation or corruption by political leaders, they lose their legitimacy and credibility in the eyes of their followers.
The unlawful arrest, detention and in some cases torture of religious leaders inevitably bred resentment among their communities and followers. Attempts at demonizing other faiths, including the utterance of inflammatory remarks that ascribed less than human qualities to our fellow human beings just because they profess a faith different from ours, resulted in the commission of gross acts of injustice unbefitting any civilized society.
The twelfth session starts today and will end on March 5, 2020. The Commission’s public hearings will focus on attacks on road users by the presidential convoys of Yahya Jammeh and the arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention of civil servants. However, the session will start with hearing a couple of witnesses on the theme of attacks on religious freedoms who could not be heard during the last session.
As we begin this twelfth session of public hearings, we should steadfastly continue our national efforts to come to terms with the brutal history of 22 years of authoritarian rule in our country. The TRRC calls upon all Gambians to exercise a high level of tolerance, especially religious and ethnic tolerance towards their fellow human beings. Religious and ethnic differences should not at all be causes of conflict in our society. We should all be able to adhere to our faiths and allow others to freely adhere to their faiths. We should certainly be able to refrain from castigating other faiths and their adherents and instead endeavor to respect and bless all our fellow human beings. All the major faiths in this country teach tolerance and mutual love and respect for each other.
Finally, we wish to continue encouraging all victims of human rights violations, especially female victims, to please come forward and share your experiences with the Commission. The TRRC takes into account the voices of all who submit statements here, all statements are part of our body of evidence, and all statements will help the Commission fulfil its mandate of producing a true historical record of human rights violations that happened in this country during the period July 1994 to January 2017.
Please allow me, on behalf of the Commission, to invite you to join us in this new chapter of our collective exploration of our country’s recent past, and to seek your continued support and blessings for this national process.
Thank you for your kind attention.