Statement by the Chair, Dr. Lamin J. Sise, at the opening of the 8th Session of the TRRC’s public hearings
Sept. 16, 2019
On August 22, 2019, the TRRC completed its seventh three-week session of public hearings. During that session, eleven witnesses appeared before the Commission, bringing the total number of witnesses to testify so far to 104. Twenty-one of these 104 witnesses were perpetrators and alleged perpetrators; the rest were mostly victims, including 16 women. The seventh session started off with the completion of testimony by the first batch of Junglers to appear before the Commission, and continued with a focus 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.
The atrocities the Junglers testified to shocked the conscience of the nation and indeed the world. While these atrocities were painful to hear, the truth of the brutalities under the twenty-two years of dictatorship, needs to be told and recorded with a view to avoiding their recurrence.
During this eighth session, that starts today and ends on October 3, 2019 the Commission will continue hearing testimony on events surrounding the April 2000 student demonstrations. Our Research and Investigations Unit have been in touch with, and / or obtained statements from at least twenty witnesses connected to the April 2000 incident. These witnesses include both direct and indirect victims, security officers, civil servants, and politicians who were in one way or the other involved in the tragic events. It is anticipated that testimonies on April 10 and 11, 2000 will dominate the public hearings of the Commission during this eighth session. Advance work in preparation for hearings on other themes is also ongoing.
Between July 6 and 14, 2019 teams from the Research and Investigations Unit visited Brikama, Sintet, Gunjur, Jambur and Busumbala in the West Coast Region to engage communities and obtain statements from victims of the 2009 witch hunts and other violations. They collected over 140 statements that are being processed in readiness for the Commission’s hearings on the witch hunts and other violations in the near future.
Among other outreach activities, two teams composed of TRRC Commissioners and Secretariat staff went on Diaspora engagement tours in the United States and Europe. These engagements are in line with the Commission’s mandate as stipulated in Sections 14 and 15 of the TRRC Act. Funded by the UNDP, the engagements are also in line with the provisions of the African Union policy on transitional justice. More specifically, the engagements provided the TRRC with an opportunity to have face to face conversations with members of the Gambian Diaspora, a segment of our population that played a crucial role in the fight against dictatorship under the previous regime, and that continues to play a significant role in the developmental trajectory of our country. We are happy to say that both legs of the Diaspora engagements in the U.S. and Europe proved very successful. We are very grateful to everyone who contributed to our Victim Support Fund during the engagements.
The months of July and August 2019 saw various other units of the Secretariat engaging communities across the country through town hall meetings, community dialogues, and listening circles designed to get everyone involved in our national conversation and to encourage victims and other potential witnesses to come forward and share their stories with the Commission and the Gambian public in a safe and secure environment. From July 6 – 11, the Women’s Affairs Unit in collaboration with other TRRC units and the UNDP Transitional Justice team held women’s dialogue meetings in Nyakoi, Basse, Kuntaur and Bansang in the Upper River and Central River regions respectively. Later the same month from July 23 – 25, the Women’s Affairs Unit also conducted listening circles for both men and women at the Christian Council Hall in Kanifing. In all cases, the idea was to encourage both male and female victims and other witnesses to come forward and share their stories with the TRRC and the Gambian public and to reflect and obtain feedback on the work of the Commission so far.
Even though schools are closed for the summer holidays, the TRRC’s Youth and Children’s Network Unit continues to engage young people in conversations over what went wrong and how best to prevent recurrence of dictatorship and human rights violations in this country as part of our ongoing Never Again campaign. During the month of August, the unit conducted town hall meetings with the communities of Sukuta and Gunjur as well as a highly successful meeting with Beach Youths at the TRRC headquarters. The meeting with the beach youths derived from the practical consideration that these young people are largely excluded from Gambian public and political life. The TRRC encourages all young people to get activelyinvolved in our national politics especially by obtaining ID and voter’s cards, and participating in the civic and electoral lives of our country. Their participation is crucial to the success of our all our transitional justice processes.
In the midst of these research, investigation, and outreachactivities, victims remain at the center of the TRRC’s work. Our Victim Support Unit (VSU) maintains a psychosocial support sub-unit that provides ongoing counseling to all witnesses and staff that need it, both those who have appeared and those yet to appear before the Commission. The VSU continues to work closely with the Turkish Embassy and the Ministry of Health to facilitate overseas treatment for some surviving victims of the April 2000 student massacre and the April 2014 incident involving Solo Sandeng and other victims of arbitrary arrest, torture and murder. The TRRC has submitted the names of the first nine victims to have been seen by the Medical Board for consideration for possible treatment in Turkey. The board has also submitted reports on more than a dozen other victims and the TRRC will do what it can to facilitate their access to the care they need. Meanwhile, the TRRC is facilitating funding and scholarships for young victims to continue their formal education.
Finally, we wish to reassure the general public that the TRRC remains totally committed to the pursuit of its mandate without fear or favor, affection or ill will. This Commission is an embodiment of both state and society in this country and exists for the service of all Gambians regardless of political, ethnic, gender, regional or religious affiliation. As we seek to create a true historical record of what happened in this country during twenty-two years of dictatorship, we also seek to help create a society reconciled and at peace with itself, a tolerant society, and a society of empowered citizens who will refuse to allow political impunity and gross human rights violations to happen in this country again. In this daunting but fulfilling task, and as we start this new session of public hearings, allow me to say that we need and we crave the understanding, support and prayers of the Gambian public and the international community.
I thank you all for your kind attention.