This is the concluding remarks of Emmanuel Daniel Joof, the current Chairperson of the Gambia’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) on Thursday 20th May 2021. Mr Joof is a renowned Human Rights Advocate and was speaking on his experiences during the previous regime which all took place well before he became the Chairperson of the NHRC.
Below is a link to the video testimony.
My Message to Gambians:
Lest we forget what happened during the 22 years reign of the AFRC/APRC under President Jammeh, please permit me to quote from the recently submitted report in March 2021 by the Government of the Gambia to the UN Committee of Enforced Disappearance:
“Ours was a country where fear ruled for over two decades; where families dreaded that midnight knock on their doors which took away their sons and husbands forever; where civil servants went to work every morning saying goodbye to their families as if it was the last time they would see them ever again because coming back home to them was never a certainty; where Torture was widespread and routine; where unarmed and defenseless school children were gunned down in broad daylight with impunity; where women under detention were sexually molested, where sexual assault was used as a weapon to break and subjugate them; where enforced disappearances of political opponents, journalists was the order of the day; where summary executions and targeted murder were an option without consequences; where ordinary citizens speak of their leaders only in whispers within the four walls of their bedrooms; and where judges and other judicial officials were summarily dismissed without regard to the law”.
Over 50 Ghanaian and west African migrants were allegedly killed by state agents in the Gambia in 2005 believed to have been mercenaries.
Mr Chairperson, Commissioners and Lead Counsel, the above quotation is not from me but a report of the Gambia Government on the human rights situation of The Gambia at the time.
Our recent history is too fresh in our minds for us to have a nonchalant attitude towards human rights. Those who govern us (the Executive and its agents), those who are governed (the public) and those who aspire to govern us (political parties and their supporters) must believe in the principles of human rights and not just pay lip service to its ideals.
We must therefore condemn injustices wherever and whenever they occur and not be selective in our condemnation of human rights violations. We have a duty to exercise impartiality and objectivity in condemning all forms of discrimination based on religion, tribe, caste, race, gender, sex and/or other status.
As the TRRC wraps up its sitting, Gambians are eagerly waiting for the recommendations of the TRRC and its implementation. Although it Is true that we did not go through a civil war like Sierra Leone and Liberia, I hope you will agree with me however that the abuse of human rights under the former government was rampant and systematic marred by unlawful arrest and detention, torture, enforced disappearance, extrajudicial killings, oppression, fear, oppression and denial of access to justice as the former president usurped the powers of the judiciary.
We cannot talk about never again and justice if the perpetrators and those who enable the system to perpetuate itself are not repentant and or remorseful, we cannot talk about never again if the perpetrators and their enablers are emboldened because they find themselves in the system and or are still manning the same positions that they previously held, we cannot talk about never again and bring about any future meaningful change if the perpetrators and the enablers are in self-denial.
We cannot have a never again if victims and victims’ families cannot have justice and if the families of those who lost their lives and whose remains are still buried in unmarked graves have not been found. We need to bring closure to their ordeals.
We cannot victimize victims twice by not having the political will to see to it that justice is not only done but seen to be done. I urge all and sundry and especially political parties not to trivialize the outcome of the TRRC for political gains and let them all pledge to Gambians that they are serious with the outcome of the recommendations of the TRRC and that they will implement its recommendation.
I would like to quote from an anonymous letter discovered on the notice board in a head teacher’s study in a Bradford Secondary School in the UK- the author was most a holocaust survivor and here it goes:
I am a survivor of a concentration camp. My eyes saw what no man should witness: Gas chambers built by learned engineers. Children poisoned by educated physicians. Infants killed by trained nurses. Women and babies shot and burned by high school and college graduates. So, I am suspicious of education. My request is:
Help your students become human. Your efforts must never produce learned monsters, skilled psychopaths, educated Eichmanns. Reading, writing, arithmetic are important only if they serve to make our children more human.”
As we forge ahead to create a new and better Gambia, we are still faced with many problems. We have law and order issues: crime is reportedly on the increase, sexual assault on girls and women is on the increase, there is ongoing tension based on caste in the Upper River Region amongst the Sarahule Communities and in Badibu in the North Bank Region. Many are spewing out hatred and sowing seeds of tribal and religious disharmony on our social media. Unfortunately, there are many agent provocateurs and some with personal agendas.
The NHRC has been mandated to promote and protect human rights and bring back a culture of human rights in the country. We can only do that with the support of everyone especially Parents, Teachers, Religious leaders, opinion leaders and especially Politicians.
The consultations during the Constitutional Review Commission revealed how bigoted some of us have become and the desire by some groups to dominate others have become evident. It appears that we are gradually becoming a divided society and once you scratch the surface this begins to manifest itself. We have to guard against those who sow seeds of disunity in our society.
I will conclude by borrowing one of Nelson Mandela’s famous statements:
“No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background, or his religion. People must learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.”
Let Justice guide our actions.