By Yankuba Jallow
The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC), has warned the National Intelligence outfit, not to interfere with the evidence found within the Agency.
This warning was given by Lead Counsel of the Commission Essa M. Faal, on Friday February 15th 2019, at NIA headquarters in Banjul, during a familiarisation visit by Commissioners of the TRRC, in order to verify the truth of what many of the witnesses said in their testimonies.
The Chairperson of the TRRC Dr Lamin Sise, said the NIA was mentioned several times by witnesses who had testified before the Commission. He said the purpose of the visit was for the Commission to familiarize itself with the realities of what the witnesses have said about the NIA; that the Agency according to the testimonies of the witnesses, was a place where many atrocities have taken place including torture and unlawful detention.
“Preservation of the pieces of evidence within the NIA, would really help the TRRC in fulfilling its mandate because the NIA is central in this process,” Dr Sise said.
Counsel Faal on behalf of the Commission, requested that the NIA should endeavor not to tamper with the pieces of evidence found within, and emphasised that all structures within the NIA that are not rehabilitated, should be left as they are; that the Commission should be provided with answers to the evidence and their whereabouts, of those that have been already rehabilitated.
“Any structures that have been restructured by the SIS (NIA), you should be in a position to tell us what had actually happened. You have to tell the Commission how they were and what happened to them,” the Lead Counsel Faal told DG Sowe.
Counsel Faal said the NIA is paramount in the whole process of the Commission, and that the witnesses who have already testified before Commissioners of the TRRC, all indicate that the NIA was a place that they were detained and tortured. “The structures of the NIA should remain intact so that the Commission can have first-hand information about them,” he said.
The Commission visited all the places within the premises of the Agency which include the guard room, the notorious ‘Bambadinka’ cell, the two cells in the Investigation Unit, Administrative Building, the building was where ex-ministers during president Jawara’s regime were detained by the junta, the office of the former DG, and the clinic. In the process of the visitations, the Commission discovered hooks alleged to have been used to chain people.
The wall of the various cells visited were seen to have the following messages were written them:
‘please keep your faith in Allah’, ‘nothing last forever except Allah’s kingdom’, ‘the downfall of a man is the not the end of his world’, ‘never pray to be here’, ‘God help us’, ‘the day I will never forget in my life’, ‘the game is over’, ‘Jesus lives forever’, and ‘hope in Jesus, he is the lord of lords’, among many others.
The Director General of the NIA, now SIS Ousman Sowe, said the outcome of the whole process of the TRRC will be history in the Gambia; that the agency is ready to give support the Commission in fulfilling its mandate.
He said there are no rooms or chambers in the Agency specified as torture areas. He told Commissioners of the TRRC that he did not inherit any instrument used for torturing people; that the agency over the past two years, has rehabilitated some of the structures in its premises; that the Agency now and the one before, is different. He told Commissioners that for the past two years, the Agency has improved in the way it deals with the public; that they will ensure that human rights violations that happened in the previous regime, will not be repeated again; that the purpose of the rehabilitation and restructuring of the NIA, is to make some of the buildings fit for their purpose; that some of the offices were old because the Agency was the office of the defunct GPMB and requires rehabilitation. “Some of the offices were not accommodative,” he said.
He stressed that the restructuring of the structures has not damaged any of the structures; that the notorious ‘Bambadinka’ cell and the other two that are attached to the Investigation Unit of the Agency, have not been rehabilitated and they are still as they were.
Sowe explained that he has not inherited any instrument of torture such as electric shock material or chains, from his predecessor. He however promised the Commission that the Agency will do its utmost in finding where those instruments are kept; that the Agency should be the most important institution in the State.
Sowe said the agency has taken advantage of the newly found dispensation by training its officers on human rights; that he has introduced two offices namely the Directorate of Operational Assurance, and the Directorate of Reform. “We have cut down excesses in terms of the way we deal with people,’’ he said. He emphasized that the focus of the NIA now is on national intelligence; that and the agency will remain focused on executing its mandate.
Although the process of restructuring at the Agency’s premises is ongoing, Sowe said the rehabilitation was not geared towards tampering with the evidence found within.