Today, Monday 25 January, 2021 the TRRC will begin its 20th session of public hearings. As at the end of the 19th session, the Commission had heard testimonies from a total of 321 witnesses. Of these, 251 were male and 72 were female. Out of the total number of witnesses appearing before the Commission so far, 208 were victims and 59 were self-confessed perpetrators and adversely mentioned persons. Twenty-nine witnesses have testified via video link from the Gambian Diaspora. These hearings also included several protected witnesses and closed-door testimonies.
As we continue our institutional hearings today, the focus remains the National Intelligence Agency (NIA). In this context, the Commission, since 22 October 2020, heard testimonies from 51 witnesses comprising 45 victims and six perpetrators. The perpetrators confessed to having meted out to their fellow citizens (sometimes with the involvement of the Junglers) various forms of torture and abuse. These citizens, some of whom committed no crime whatsoever, were arbitrarily arrested by NIA agents and illegally detained without trial. The tortures were carried out ostensibly to extract confessions, by coercion of course, from the detainees.
It was clear from the testimonies the Commission heard that the perpetrators weren’t the innocent and ignorant enablers of the dictatorship as some portrayed themselves to be. They were wicked torturers who willingly brutalized innocent Gambians for money or favour. Some perpetrators gave flimsy excuses that if they did not carry out the superior orders to torture a detainee, they would themselves be tortured. They claimed that they had no choice. But of course, they have a duty not to implement unlawful orders and no amount of explanation can excuse the cruel and inhumane treatment they inflicted on their victims.
These naked truths, albeit hard and painful, must be recorded! Indeed, the governing legislative mandate requires this Commission to investigate, among other things, the nature, causes, including antecedents, circumstances, motives and perspectives which led to the gross violations and abuses of the human rights of these detainees.
The TRRC was not established as a court of law or an inquisition but as a truth-seeking mechanism to create an impartial record of violations and abuses of human rights from July 1994 – January 2017 to, among other things, promote healing and reconciliation and prevent a repeat of the violations and abuses suffered by the victims. Slowly but surely the Commission is exposing the truth of the horrifying treatment the detainees endured at the hands of state agents both at NIA Headquarters and other secret torture centres across the country.
With regard to the implementation of the third component of the TRRC mandate, i.e., reparations, I wish to provide the following update: the TRRC Act, 2017 provides in Section 20 that “the Commission may grant reparations to an applicant who is a victim upon consideration of the evidence received or obtained… ”.
It further provides that “the Commission may make regulations for the granting of reparations under the Act.”
On 14th December 2020, the TRRC submitted to the Attorney General and Minister of Justice the text of the regulations approved by the Commission for publication in the Gazette. Pending such publication, the TRRC informed the Attorney General and Minister of Justice that it will provisionally apply the regulations, with a view to considering urgently the applications submitted by victims. The TRRC will shortly issue a call for the submission and consideration of such applications.
In conclusion, please allow me also to remind the public that in the light of Covid-19 disruptions of its public hearings, the Commission, on 18 November 2020, recommended to the President of the Republic to extend the time granted to TRRC until 30 June 2021. The Attorney General and Minister of Justice informed the Commission that the President, pursuant to Section (3), (2) of the TRRC Act, 2017, approved the said recommendation. The Commission is working hard to conclude its work by that date and submit its final report containing its findings and recommendations to the President during the first week of July 2021.
In the meantime, we invite you to join the TRRC in our ongoing national journey of discovery. The truth we discover together is not pretty and will not be pretty. But it is a truth that will set us all free from a horrendous past of wanton violations and abuses of human rights, and that discovery will cement our resolve to never again allow what happened here from July 1994 to January 2017 to ever happen again. We continue to seek the public’s kind understanding and support.
Thank you for your kind attention.