Gambia: overcoming the past by getting witnesses and victims to speak out
Two years ago, the Gambia created a key tool for transitional justice: the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC). The eleven commissioners of the TRRC are tasked with shedding light on the many abuses that took place under Yahya Jammeh‘s regime between 1994 and 2017. The TRRC hearings, which began in 2019, are being attended by many Gambians. They have so far shed light on dark areas of the past through testimony of victims, witnesses and insiders of the former regime. The mandate of the Commission has recently been extended until the spring of 2021.
TRIAL International’s involvement in the Gambian context began with the case against former Interior Minister Ousman Sonko. The TRRC hearings are therefore of great interest to the organization. TRIAL International also investigated the massacre by the so-called “Junglers” – a death squad under direct orders of the former president – of around fifty West African migrants in 2005. It also supported the proceedings against one of their members, Michael Sang Correa, currently awaiting trial in a district court in Colorado.
Torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, sexual violence… the human rights violations committed by the security apparatus under Yahya Jammeh’s regime are numerous. But the successive testimonies revealed the identity of certain key figures of the regime, as well as their involvement in the crimes. Over the course of the sessions and the themes discussed – the national intelligence agency, the Junglers, the former president’s “miracle cure” for HIV and his “witch hunts”– , the commissioners patiently reconstructed the outline of the abuses that took place with Jammeh’s approval, as if they were assembling the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.
The Commission usually devotes three consecutive weeks to each of these hearings, which are organized by theme. Some of those yet to come are of particular interest to TRIAL International, such as the massacre of the West Africans in 2005, or the second parts of the sessions devoted to sexual and gender-based violence, or to the “Junglers”.
The TRRC hearings are a source of background information and details of the abuses that took place in The Gambia under Yahya Jammeh’s regime. This information is also an important source for TRIAL International’s investigations.