By Desmond Davies, GNA
London Bureau Chief
London, June 12, GNA – The experiences of the media as an institution under the government of former President Yahya Jammeh in The Gambia is the focus of the fifth session of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), which began on Monday in Banjul.
The three-week hearing is looking at the various laws, allegedly used to suppress the media and violate the rights of journalists and freedom of expression.
It would also hear testimony about the public institutions and individuals that helped create these laws and enforced them.
The TRRC will hear the experiences of individual media houses, and the violations of the rights of journalists through arbitrary arrests, detentions, tortures, murder and exile.
A representative of the Gambia Press Union will testify, and individual journalists will speak about their personal encounters with human rights violations.
“As of now, we plan to hold institutional hearings on the Ministry of Justice and the State Intelligence Services [formerly National Intelligence Agency],” Baba Galleh Jallow, the TRRC Executive Secretary, told the Ghana News Agency (GNA).
“Specifically, we are interested in how these two public institutions aided and abetted or otherwise participated in violating the rights of Gambian citizens and other affected persons during the period under review.”
By the end of the fourth session of the TRRC at the end of April, 57 witnesses had testified, including eight women.
Most of them are widows of 14 soldiers summarily executed and buried in mass graves during an incident at a military barracks on November 11, 1994.
During the break, TRRC investigators exhumed the remains of seven of the victims.
The investigators are continuing their search for more bodies.
At the opening of the fifth session, the TRRC Chairman, Dr. Lamin J. Sise, said: “Confronting the truth as a people is allowing us to raise the difficult questions that need to be raised and brainstorm on the difficult answers that suggest themselves to us.
“And this is making Gambian society increasingly determined to ensure, both morally and legally, that a future Gambia will be a Gambia where it is impossible to violate the rights and dignities of our fellow human beings with impunity.
“We hope and pray that we all remain engaged in this national conversation with the confidence and conviction that we can indeed create and bequeath to our children a better Gambia,” Dr. Sise added.
TRCC Executive Secretary Jallow is also upbeat about the progress of the hearings.
“Experiences from other jurisdictions suggest that many truth commissions find it extremely difficult if not impossible to persuade alleged perpetrators to willingly come forward to give their statements, testify on their alleged wrongdoings and shed light on crimes and human rights violations that occurred in the past,” he said in a statement.
“The TRRC is proving to be an exception to this rule.
“So far, at least nine alleged perpetrators have voluntarily come forward and testified on their alleged participation in the commission of crimes.”
Amid all this, the TRRC continues to counter rumours about its activities and staff.
For instance, Mr Jallow had to publicly scotch rumours claiming that TRCC Lead Counsel Essa Faal had resigned or been sacked from the TRRC.
“Equally false are rumours that the Christian community is engaged in a fight with the TRRC or its Chairman,” he said
“The TRRC remains intact and at peace with itself and with the Gambian public.
“While welcoming and embracing the general public’s enthusiastic engagement with the TRRC process, our Commissioners and staff remain one big family of friendly colleagues dedicated to the actualisation of our mandate.
“We are confident that the crippling in-fighting among commissioners and staff of some truth commissions around the world will never happen at the TRRC.
“We continue to seek the understanding, support and blessings of the general public,” Mr Jallow added.