Your Lordship, The Chief Justice,
Honourable Cabinet Members,
Secretary General and Head of The Civil Service
Special Invited Guests
Newly sworn-in Commissioners,
Members of the media fraternity,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is quite a relief to observe that we are here, today, to witness another milestone in our emerging democracy, as we launch The Truth Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC).
Gambians had for far too long suffered under a repressive regime; a regime that failed its social contract with the citizens and, in doing so, oppressed the very people it swore to serve and protect. As a consequence, the TRRC was born out of the aspirations of a people who decided that they want a society where truth and justice prevail. This Commission is the outcome of the dreams of a people united in their wish for a better future: a future free of oppression, persecution and tyranny.
For a long time, we had looked forward to this day; hence, it is my singular honor and privilege to deliver this statement, as we take a historic step towards discovering the truth for national healing.
The story of how we got here would be incomplete if we did not first pay homage to the countless victims of the past twenty-two years; that is, the countless people who stood up to tyranny and, in the pursuit of freedom, selflessly laid down their lives. Those are the victims both known and yet to be known. Lest we forget, they also include those who are still with us today. Therefore, we resolve here, today, to investigate and establish an impartial historical record of the nature, causes and extent of the violations and abuses of human rights committed from July 1994 to January 2017.
The establishment of the TRRC is not an isolated development in our pursuit of a ‘New Gambia.’ Rather, it constitutes a component of the wider Transitional Justice Process, and it is pleasing to state that over the past twenty-one months, huge progress has been made in this direction.
To cite examples, we have set in motion a series of legislative, administrative and institutional reforms.
i) The Constitutional Reform Commission Act has been passed, and the Commission has begun its work.
ii) We have commenced a process of reviewing all laws with a view to amending or completely repealing all oppressive laws.
iii) The National Human Rights Commission Act has been passed, and the process of its establishment is at an advanced stage.
iv) Last, but not least, we have commenced a major reform of the security sector.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
In establishing the Commission, a special focus was placed on its independence and inclusive nature. We believe that in order for the process to be meaningful, the TRRC must be free from all forms of outside influence. So too was the appointment of the Commissioners done via what I consider as one of the most transparent and inclusive processes this country has ever known. It is our hope that in doing this, the Commission’s independence and composition will allow for a sincere and inclusive process, with which we can all proudly associate ourselves.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is the third time a Truth and Reconciliation Commission is being launched in Africa and, indeed, if we had our way, this would be the last. Over the past three decades, we saw the setting up of similar Commissions; for example, in South Africa after the fall of Apartheid and in Sierra Leone after the end of the brutal civil war that claimed many lives. One recurrent theme that struck us, as we looked up to other Commissions for inspiration in crafting ours, was the focus on the victims in each case. As a Government, we feel that, beyond establishing the truth and fostering national reconciliation, there is a crucial need to put the victims at the center of the process. It is for this reason that we included reparation in The Gambia’s model as a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission.
While we appreciate that we cannot, in all cases, restore the circumstances in which the victims were prior to the abuses they suffered, we can, in appropriate cases, offer various forms of redress to deserving victims or their families.
Naturally, the TRRC may hold different meanings for different people; be it the State, the perpetrators, the victims, or the families of either group. To the State, it serves as an opportunity to embark on a process of re-birth and healing. To the victims, it provides an opportunity to establish the truth with regard to what they went through. For the perpetrators, it provides an opportunity to come clean, face their victims and seek forgiveness.
For the families of either the victims or the perpetrators, the moment may present itself for them to come to terms with the reality of the brutality committed by, or against, their loved ones.
Irrespective of whichever it may be, we must forge on resolutely as one people, united in our diversity, with the common belief that we can set aside our differences and confront our past, while holding on to the promise of a bright future.
As we embark on this process, we must bravely revisit the past in order to build a better future. As Gambians, and as a united people, our common experience remains our greatest teacher.
That bitter experience should guide us now, as we move towards forging a “New Gambia” wherein the respect for Human Rights, the Rule of law and guarantee of inherent freedoms are the pillars on which we thrive as a nation.
I am full of gratitude for the support our partners and friends have been providing, and for being with us, also, throughout the journey to regain our dignity and build a progressive democracy.
To the Chairman and Commissioners of the TRRC, my government has put everything at your disposal to ensure that you are able to carry out your work without any obstacles. The hope of the nation lies on your shoulders, and we are confident that you will deliver to the best of your ability and in the best interest of our dear nation.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
We have a historic opportunity to re-write our history as a nation so that when future generations look back at the journey we have embarked upon, it will be with pride and from a future of peace, respect for human rights and the rule of law. We, as well, must be justified in our conviction that we are now doing full justice to the nation.
To conclude, I urge all Gambians to work together to promote reconciliation and justice and to heal and rebuild our nation. Let us stand together to say: “Never again shall a few people oppress us as a nation. Never Again! Never shall this beautiful Smiling Coast experience the oppression and tyranny of the minority against the majority.”
Thank you for your attention.