As the TRRC seeks to realise unambiguous truths of wrongdoings of the previous government, the truth telling exercise seems beset by the telling of embellished or fabricated truth telling, as there continue to be the proliferation of claims and counter claims in the court of opinion public. If this is the character and quality of transitional justice in the Gambia, we have some distance to travel yet.
Unambiguous truth telling, that is telling the truth and nothing but the truth of the brutalities inflicted on the victims is the best way to heal our communities. In contrast, fabricated truth telling is more likely to have damaging effects on reconciliation, since that appears to be the main efforts of the outreach activities of the TRRC at present.
Fabricated truth is unquestionably self-serving than reconciliatory as it tends to be deliberately deployed by the author to obtain financial gain, or in furtherance of vested political interests. Such truth-telling has no reconciliatory effects whatsoever, apart from creating a platform for ‘show trial’ which will never deliver justice for the victims.
As opined by Hannah Arendt (Political Philosopher), the point of any form of public hearing is to render justice. This was why the distinguished Philosopher questioned the motive of the public staging of the trial of Adolf Eichmann, a German-Austrian Nazi who was found guilty of serious crimes by an impartial court.
In my view, ‘show trials’ subsumed in fabricated truth will undoubtedly defeat the purpose of the TRRC. I must quickly add that while the current hearings at TRRC do not represent a court trial, the evidence presented at the hearings may subsequently lead to future prosecutions. So from that sense, some hearings may be seen as a trial.
Therefore, unambiguous truth-telling must be a necessary requirement for such public hearings. It stands to reason that fabricated truth poses a great threat to the whole reconciliation process, and will in no way deliver justice. In fact, it is likely to serve as a distraction from the acts of barbarism committed by callous citizens against defenceless citizens. And it will absolutely defeat the #Neveragain project which aims to ensure that we as a people of the Gambia will never return to the perilous paths of self-destruction.
To circumvent such pitfalls, the TRRC must follow coherent and fair evidence rules that allow investigators to assess the credibility of the evidence adduced before submitting them to public hearing. In this regard, the use of anonymous witnesses must only be allowed if strictly necessary. This is because it can hardly be justified to use anonymous witnesses in the context of reconciliation, in particular, in the absence of ongoing conflicts.
In any case, if it appears that the use of anonymous witnesses and admission of fabricated truth would have such an adverse effect on its impartiality, then TRRC ought not to allow such testimonies. It seems necessary to allow those accused of wrongdoings to have the right to know the identity of those making allegations against them. That is a basic principle of fairness which is also a fundamental principle of justice.
The right to fair public hearing in practical reasonableness is good for any and every one. If good truth-telling exercise is preserved, it may encourage perpetrators to cooperate with the TRRC and reveal unambiguous truth of their wrongdoings.
The fundamental rights of individuals are enshrined in most democratic constitutions and in many international law documents, e.g., the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 10) and in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Article 14). Grounded in opinion juris of international law and it has long been part and parcel of the responsibilities of states to citizenry.
In other words, the state of the Gambia is duty-bound to ensure that any public hearing she constituted conforms to the fair trial/hearing of those accused of wrongdoings. It is right to suggest that a state which fails to guarantee such fundamental right runs the risk of being sued for compensation.
The notion that the TRRC is not a court of law and that it could flout all principles of fairness and impartiality is outrageous. Such as a deliberate or inadvertent action, may be based on our expanded fantasy view of the administration of justice. It is imperative for any public hearing mechanism to follow basic principle of fairness if it is to retain any credibility in subsequent prosecutions, which the “Reparations” aspect of the TRRC has the mandate to report on. Thus, unambiguous truth-telling as opposed to fabricated truth telling, is intrinsic to any reconciliation efforts and it is a necessary ingredient of the administration of justice. Indeed, the unambiguous truth telling must be the standard on which all evidence is adduced in TRRC’s proceedings.
In the context of reconciliation, there is a right to the truth, the rights to restitution, the right to compensation, and the right to a fair hearing in public. The realisation of these rights must be the central focus of TRRC’s agenda in order to enhance reconciliation and reparations must be emphasised. Certainly, the public hearings had uncovered unambiguous truth of brutalities endured by victims at the hands of cowards.
The victims’ stories are in many ways heart-breaking. Still, the fundamental questions which may remain unanswered are as follows: 1) Why were we so complicit in the brutalities committed by callous citizens for many years, 2) Why did the Judiciary, the Parliament, Religious Leaders all turned their backs on what happened? It may well be that we were so preoccupied to guard our little prestigious lives and the interest of our community/ies at the expense of the collective wellbeing of all.
In this sense, we failed in our duty to act as courageous citizens until 2016, when we finally realised that the collective power of individuals has more force than self-proclaimed leaders who use state power to suppress ordinary citizens. I hope lessons are learned and we will no longer be bystanders in the face of state brutality.
Going forward, our public institutions such as the Police, the Army, Security Services, the Judiciary, Parliament and the Executive must operate within just laws in order to guarantee our existence against heinous crimes. If we do that, we can be hopeful for the future; a future that may guarantee our capacity to flourish as dignified citizens. In order to get there, the Gambia Government must commit itself to the much awaited reforms of public institutions as outlined in the NDP.
The oscillations between unambiguous truth and fabricated truth pose a great threat to our reconciliation and reparations efforts. Truth-telling must not be fabricated so as to enable perpetrators and victims to once again create a vibrant community where citizens live in harmony as they pursue their individual lifelong ambitions in a just a peaceful society.
By Solomon Demba