(Tuesday 15th October 2019 Issue)
Thursday, October 3, 2019, the TRRC completed its 8th three-week session of
public hearings. During that session, 25 witnesses appeared before the
Commission, bringing the total number of witnesses to testify so far to 129.
Thirty-one of these 129 witnesses were perpetrators and alleged perpetrators;
the rest were mostly victims, including 21 women, two of whom were alleged
perpetrators. The 8th session focused entirely on the April 10 and 11, 2000
student demonstrations in which at least 14 students and one Red Cross
volunteer were killed by security forces. And two innocent children
accidentally lost their lives through this tragic event. Many more are still
suffering from the injuries sustained and need urgent medical attention.
During this 9th session, that starts today and ends on October 31, 2019 the Commission intends to hear testimonies surrounding issues of sexual and gender-based violations that occurred during our mandate period. Over the past several weeks, our Research and Investigations Unit in collaboration with other unit of the Secretariat and the Legal team have been in touch with and obtained statements from witnesses connected to this highly sensitive topic. These witnesses include both direct and indirect victims, security officers, civil servants, private civilians, and politicians who were in one way or the other involved in the events under investigation. It is anticipated that hearings on sexual and gender-based violations will dominate the hearings of the Commission during this entire 9th session. However, we also expect to hear testimony from witnesses dealing with other topics that have been only partially covered in past hearings. Meanwhile, our teams continue to visit different parts of the country to engage communities and obtain statements from victims on the subject of this session, the 2009 witch hunts and other violations. They have collected a good number of statements that are being processed in readiness for the Commission’s hearings in the near future.
As we begin this 9th session focusing mostly on the sensitive topic of sexual and gender-based violence, we wish to encourage all victims and all persons who may have valuable information regaining this subject to please come forward and share their stories with the TRRC and hopefully with the general public. The TRRC guarantees absolute confidentiality and protection of integrity for all witnesses. We also wish to repeat that witnesses who would like to testify have a choice to either appear in public, appear as protected witnesses, or testify behind closed doors. Even if witnesses do not wish to testify, their statements will make a significant contribution to the true historical record the Commission is mandated to produce for this country.
Last week Monday, October 7, the Government of the Gambia, through the Ministry of Justice, announced a contribution of D50 million to the TRRC’s Victim Support Fund. This was a significant development. Allow me, on behalf of the Commissioners and staff of the TRRC, and on behalf of the victim community of The Gambia to thank the Government for this significant contribution to our reparations fund. Because victims are at the centre of the TRRC process, the capacity to pay reparations to them and their families will significantly assist this Commission in successfully executing its mandate. Many truth commissions attain less than desired results because reparations are not paid to victims. With this fifty million dalasi contribution and with assurances of further contributions by the Government of The Gambia, the Gambian TRRC is poised to be an exception to the rule of failure in the tricky area of reparations.
Understandably, the Government’s D50 million contribution to our reparations fund has further heightened expectations from both the victim community and the general public. Since the TRRC has now been given this amount, the Commission is expected to proceed with payments to some of the victims who deserve reparations. I am happy to report that we are working very hard to do just that. As of now, the Commission has finalized and adopted the TRRC’s Policy on Reparations and is working hard to finalize the rules and regulations governing the payment of reparations. We expect that work on this document will be completed by the end of November 2019 so that we can proceed to execute this aspect of our mandate in an equitable, efficient, effective, and transparent manner. In the meantime, the TRRC plans to engage victims on issues of reparations even as we continue implementing the Commission’s Interim Reparations Programme with various types of support to victims, ranging from medical attention to assistance with further education. The TRRC thanks all Gambians in the country and the Diaspora who have supported the Victims Reparations Fund.
At this point, we wish to reassure the general public of our commitment to the pursuance of the objectives of our mandate without fear or favour, affection or ill will. The TRRC is here for all Gambians and embodies the spirit of a united Gambia; a Gambia united especially by its boundaries, its history, its religions, its love of humanity and its determination to promote human rights and the rule of law and to prevent the recurrence of dictatorship and gross human rights violations. The various narratives coming out of our public hearings are enabling a national conversation from which we must learn lessons, and in which we should continue to engage in a spirit of tolerance and mutual respect as we seek to find common ground in our collective love for only what is the very best for The Gambia. This way, we can usefully learn the lessons of the past and contribute to the emergence of a better, brighter, more peaceful Gambia and make the determination that Never Again will The Gambia allow a dictatorship to take hold in our beloved country.
Finally, as we start this 9th session of public hearings on this highly sensitive topic, we crave perhaps more than ever before, the continued support and prayers and collaboration of all Gambians and other members of the general public to be considerate in their comments and avoid being judgmental so as not to stigmatize the witnesses even further..
Thank you for your kind attention.