Truth And Reconciliation Hearings Underway In The Gambia

This week in the Gambia, testimonies continue in front of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) to uncover the truth about the crimes committed under former president Yahya Jammeh’s regime. The formation of the TRRC in the Gambia follows in the footsteps of numerous countries after long periods of oppressive regimes. Perhaps the most notable country to go through this process was South Africa to address the atrocities committed during apartheid. 

Former officials are testifying on the details of the disappearances, deaths, and torture of Gambians who expressed dissent or who Jammeh saw as political opposition. The people finally gained insight into the extent to which Yahya Jammeh went to maintain a stronghold on power in the Gambia. The nation has been both captivated and horrified by the testimonies, broadcast on television and YouTube as well as streamed on various social media sites. 

Current president Adama Barrow ran on the issue of creating a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission during the 2016 election, vowing to begin his presidency on the foundations of trust between the state and civil society and begin the process of national healing. Testimonies officially began on January 7, 2019, and are expected to continue through next year. After the conclusion of the hearings, the state will consider the extradition of Jammeh who fled to Equatorial Guinea, taking with him millions in state funds luxury vehicles in 2017. 

The stories are gruesome, and detail 20 years’ worth of abuses by Jammeh’s intel agency, infamously known as the “Junglers.” The Washington Post interviewed Ya Mamie Ceesay, a mother whose son had disappeared without a trace. The truth was unveiled during the hearing when a former Jungler admitted to “[chopping him and his friend] into pieces.”  The results of Afrobarometer’s latest survey also uncover staggering revelations on the atrocities committed by the Jammeh regime. Almost 28% of respondents claimed that they or a family member was subject to some form of human rights abuse which includes, but is not limited to torture, arbitrary arrest or detention without trial, and state-sanctioned murder. 

The TRRC is a critical first step for Barrow’s new administration and is a healthy move for a transitioning government seeking to establish legitimate political institutions. The fact that the nation is paying such close attention to the hearings speaks to the fact that the Gambian people also want transparent political institutions and demand accountability for the crimes against humanity suffered under the Jammeh regime. 

However, the actions that follow will be crucial as well. Seeking the truth is one part of the equation, but accountability and holding perpetrators responsible will be an integral aspect of the process as well. Afrobarometer finds that most Gambians want those who participated in human rights violations to be prosecuted. The commission has said that it may grant amnesty in exchange for truthful testimony as a means of encouraging perpetrators to come forward, but it raises the question as to whether allowing members of the previous administration to go free will delegitimize the commission. Currently, four Junglers are free until a determination of their prosecution is made. It is too early to tell how this might change people’s perception of the TRRC as testimonies are ongoing and the determination of amnesty will occur after the hearings have been completed. As it stands, an essential piece of the reparations granted to victims will be to see Jammeh and the Junglers brought to justice. 

While the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission is a very important step in the process, it will be critical that the state see this process through and hold the belligerents accountable. Reminiscent of South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission to heal the scars of apartheid, it is essential that the new Gambian government avoid sparking the same outrage and ensure that victims and their loved ones receive justice.