By Aramata Jatta
In his concluding remarks last week at the Truth Commission, the lead counsel Essa Faal gave a long speech taking Gambians through the two yearlong investigations. A number of 220 people were killed at the orders of the former President Yahya Jammeh , as per the revelation at the Commission. 8 people were killed among them a woman and given to the crocodiles as human charity for Jammeh, 41 die as a result of the witch hunt , 67 West African migrants butchered, and 11 students killed in coal blood. All of these revelations were made, from the 392 witnesses who appear before the Truth Commission.
Below is the content of the speech paraphrased?
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission have recently concluded it public hearing on the violence of rights abuses that occurred during the 22year of Yahya Jammeh’s rule.
It is established to create an impartial record of the violations and abuses of human rights that occurred from July 1997 to January 2017 and the commission has unearthed numerous inhuman atrocities through victim’s testimonies and confessions from perpetrators.
The Commission has heard from 392 witnesses, and they have also unearthed Arbitrary arrests, unlawful detentions, torture, enforced disappearances, sexual and gender based violence, inhuman and degradation treatments, witch hunting, fake HIV/AIDS treatment and general widespread abuses of public office.
The lead counsel explained that when he took the job little, he did know that it was going to be the most important work he has ever done “I have done cases of the highest order, cases that are of the highest complex, cases that are much talked about, everywhere else from genocide against seating head of states to some of the notorious rebels And I thought I have seen it all but little did I know that the information that I was receiving about my country was disturbing as it was, was in fact the tip of the ice bag”.
Recalling the day, when he gave the presentation at Sunset Hotel on how to investigate this cases. He said they tried to chat out the map on how the investigations was going to be and that most of it came off head from their brainstorming exercise “I didn’t see much of it but Mr. Chairman sooner I discovered that we are dealing with a very dark chapter in our history, I realised that what we were dealing with was a beast with many heads”.
Dwelling into the achievements and finding that the commission has unearthed, Faal stated that a group of soldiers in 1995 hijacked the country’s democracy and suspended the Constitution and also making the Gambians believe that they were soldiers with a difference and that they were going to salvage the country and save it from rampant corruption, nepotism and bring in transparency, accountability and probity.
“We embraced them at least many of us, including me and if we are all honest most of us the majority embraced it because, we were tired of the slow pace of development”.
“We had a great democracy, we had one of the best civil services in the world, we had an unblemished human rights record one to burst about everywhere but we kicked it aside and embraced a military junta and they made us believe they were soldiers with a difference”
In the sooner part of this investigations the commission had realised that , the junta humiliated political leaders and the elites by putting them on military trucks and dumping them in military barracks
“they attacked people on the roads to show power, people were shot at by these convoys we have received evidence from the actual perpetrators Sana Sabally ,came here and told the commission all those things they were doing, they were imposing their will on the Gambian people in the most dastardly manner”.
The Commission has also heard testimonies from witnesses on the attacks on senior security personnels and how they were dump in jail unlawfully. ” we have seen how on the night of September 6th they encode mostly went to the jail and unlawfully tortured and brutalised these senior military officers. It was done cowardly we have heard Eward Singhateh, Ebrima Chongan and a host of other soldiers testifying about it”.
He said as if that was not enough, they started arresting the political leaders again torturing them at mile two Central Prison. When Eward Singhateh appeared before the commission, he talked about how he managed to stop this unlawful acts likewise Sanna Sabally who talked about how he did it and how OJ and others became victims.
Faal described this as just the little symptoms that they were imaging as the worst is yet to come. He said Lawyer Ousman Sillah wrote to Jammeh and told him how he was seeing’ the seats of dictatorship being showed and how Jammeh was planning to self-perpetuate himself in power and that he must stop.
“He was one of the few brave men who dared to face the dictatorship and protested directly to those concerned, but this guys they had a different agenda as they were pushing Constitutional reforms with a view to bring in a new Constitution”.
Lead Counsel said it was quite obvious at least to Lawyer Ousman Sillah that this people had no intention of relinquishing power even if we were to return to democracy it would be democracy as per members of junta and democracy as per Yahya Jammeh and the facts will soon unfold.
As the junta stated, taking the necessary steps to silence all sections of Gambians society so that Jammeh can self-perpetuate himself in power
“We have seen the steps he has taken the first was to silence the soldiers, we have heard what happened on November 11, 1994 were they took 11 officers and men of the Gambia National Army and executed them in cold blood and in violation of the law”.
These men were unarmed , they were stripped almost naked , humiliated, tortured and executed ” have heard the leaders sat before the commission and dwindle the international conventions that applies to men of civilized behaviors, Geneva conventions and the additional conventions.
Essa Faal argued that they completely disregarded the application of this laws and did what they wanted as he recalled Eward Singhateh saying Jammeh told them to take no prisoners and he interpreted that as an order to kill all the ring leaders and that is what they did.
Day before remembrance day , they executed their colleagues, in cold blood , they wanted to silence those who could potentially challenge their authority but they did not stop there, the next step was to see who were the descendants quickly Sanna Sabally realised that they are off on the wrong track.
“Soon Yahya Jammeh had different ideas, that Sanna has to go, because he has the audacity to say no we have to go back to the barracks , we have heard Eward Singhated about how they hatched a plan and eliminated him (Sanna) and falsely accused him of something he never did and has no clue about, then dump him in prison, tortured him and secured a conviction of him for nine years.
Sanna while giving his testimonies before the commission, told member that he served his term and they wouldn’t even let him go and his name was on the spiritual hit list of Yahya Jammeh.
Then Koro Ceesay came, a young man with the brightest future ahead of him , super brilliant of high intellect with wonderful training because he objected to their nefarious plans , they had to silence him but knowing , that sacking him from the job would not have silenced him.
They decided to silence him permanently those were the words of Mustpha Marong former Minister of Justice who appeared before this commission and that was the beginning of the crisis we were going to face because at that stage Gambians started accepting, the complains reduced and Jammeh won elections , which was the beginning of much more troubles to come “.
In order to further solidify his power he started attacking the media, over 140 personals of the media fraternity were arrested detained and some tortured, some media houses were attacked and burnt including that of the TRRC’ Chief Executive Baba Galleh Jallow who on several occasions was threatened and intimidated by the NIA like many of his colleagues who had to end up in exile. This is all because Jammeh had to muzzle the media , they had to keep quiet so that he would self-perpetuate himself in power.
However Jammeh did not limit himself just to that , he attacked the students because they dared to complain. On April 10-11 at least 12 of our young students and two children were brutally butchered along Kairaba Avenue near red cross and so far, by forces under the command of Jammeh
“We have heard how the instructions came from Cuba to Isatou Njie Saidy who appeared before this commission to say well he ordered the military to go and take care of the situation, we have had from Grey Njie who explained how they had instructions and they had to shoot at students”.
The attacks on the Gambian people was not only limited to that, it continued through a beauty pageant and through a protocol girl system. “Our sisters were humiliated sexually abused just to further subjugate the Gambian people and show ego, superiority for one’s self-aggrandizement”.
The Commission also heard how institutions were created that is aimed at further strengthening or creating a dictatorship. “The NIA with all those monstrous power they were given and a very compliant justice system anchored by so called Nigerian machinery judges and we have seen how investigative processes and judicial processes were compromised in other to produce desire results for Jammeh” .
Not only institutions for investigating, prosecuting and judging but even the institutions to keep this people , the prison became his five star hotel lacking of any facility that would help a person have a good life. ” the mere fact of being in mile two is a violation of a person’s right if one were to end up in mile two you live being half the person or less of the person you were when you went in and Jammeh knew that, that’s why he called it the five star hotel”.
Witnesses have also revealed how Jammeh, had dealt with those people who dare challenged his authority or those he perceived to be challenging his authority . “we have heard of all those so called coups that happened and how he dealt with them, we have heard about the Ndure Cham one in March 2006 wherein those who were involved and those who were not involved were taken to mile two prisons brutalised , also they were taken to the NIA to be tortured and forced to give confessions which were used against them in court and convicted”.
The commission heard how Lang Tombong’s evidence was manufactured, a witness stated how they sat and manufactured evidence to Jammeh’s knowledge which led to sentencing Lang Tombong to death. “That is the ultimate price , and he would have been executed, if that had happened we would have lost a patriotic son unlawfully and this has happened several times”.
Even political decants was so suppressed that Jammeh could easily sail through elections, he manipulated the laws to make sure that he reminds in power. “that’s why he, had the audacity to tell us I will be in power for a billion years because he had all the confidence, he has taken all this steps, he has instituted a dictatorship and when Sandeng and others decided to protest he treated them in the only language he understood , violence leading to the death of Solo Sandeng and the brutal torture of his cohorts this was the Gambia that we had”.
Power so important to him ,that he wouldn’t even spare his relatives, TRRC has heard from a person who was very close to him and told the commission that Jammeh had killed at least five of them just because he believe those people wanted him death.
Many people have lost their lives unnecessarily including 67 West African migrants who were butchered in several places of the country “initially we thought they were 34 then ultimately 67 people and the government went on a campaign to cover this up”.
The witch hunting exercise that was ordered by Jammeh 41 people died, many of them humiliated, tortured and some sexually abused.
Then Jammeh decided to start a fraudulent President alternative Programme by making people believe that he had a cure for HIV, many people in that programme testified before the commission, saying they are still HIV positive . Soon after treatment they had to go into convictional medicine without that they would have died
One Ensa keita also testified before the commission and talked about how he was captured and taken to Kanilai and being tortured.
He provided a list of all the people who were killed while he was there, according to him 8 people were killed including a woman who was butchered and given to the crocodiles as charity, for Jammeh to entrench himself in the throne.
Gambia became a country where if you kill in the name of the head of state, you get protected and even get promoted.
Jammeh created institutions wherein torture was the name of the game and the other of the day, it was his star chamber “we have heard the NIA officers said that torture was almost certain to happen in cases where he is involved, in fact we heard from someone so closed to jammeh who told us at times he would come and participate in the torture.
Records have it that , there were between 220 to 215 murders cases in this country during Jammeh’s rule and all these murders attributable to him, the enforced disappearance is not captured in this number
The evidence unearthed before the commission indicates that the situation was so bad that when Civil servants went to work , they are not sure if they will return home and to that the civil service had to dance to his tune , which makes one safe but if you don’t, you face charges like false information, economic crime, or being sacked by a letter of one or two lines or at least one sentence.
The Lead Counsel at the TRRC, l said “there may be denials, yes there will be denials but these numbers don’t lie. Deny as much as you want but the facts speaks for itself ,the Gambian people have seen it, what we heard was a terrible dictatorship that would do anything to self-perpetuate and to strengthen its so called supremacy on to the Gambian People, he remarks no wonder Jammeh demanded to be crown king. If the Gambian were not strong at the point in time, we would have a monarch”.
Lawyer Faal said Justice must happen “we all crave for reconciliation and that is fundamental and absolutely important, we all crave for unity of the Gambian people because we are all in one little boat and all of us have to be our brother’s keeper”
He concluded that should there be justice for the victims “there should be justice as a people because we are all scared and traumatized because of the dark chapter that happened to us all thesen22years of brutality, disrespect for the Gambian people but we are the cause of it because we accepted it, we couched and guided him through it and told him we would accept him”.