You just have to be a human being with a soul to uncontrollably drop tears listening to Gambians narrating their ordeals, physical tortures and humiliations they went through in the hands of soldiers. Gambians are beginning to feel, experience and see the terror, humiliation and gross human rights violations that were meted on our citizens for over two decades. The country was besieged by its own sons who were born, nurtured and educated by Gambians. It is inconceivable that the very children whose parents grew up; went to school, played together, befriended and lived with others in a peaceful coexisting society would be so callous in deliberately inflicting unnecessary physical harm, humiliation and outright attempt to morally damage the spirit of innocent citizens particularly elders. The only crime these people may have committed is serving or daring to support the former regime.
Almost six weeks into witness testimonies at the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparation Commission (TRRC), it is almost unbearable for many Gambians to watch the emotional testifies of torture and cruelty inflicted on many of the country’s elders who served our country for the better half of their lives. One cannot imagine why and what these Gambian soldiers and security personnel were trying to achieve in just heartlessly hurting detainees for no reason whatsoever.
The gruesome testimonies of several witnesses from former security personnel, politicians to civil servants such as OJ Jallow, Batch Samba Jallow and most recently Alhagie MC Cham one of the founding fathers of our constitutional republic is very hard to swallow. One wonders what in the world were these people trying to achieve by undressing civilian elders including women; place them in the hot sun, open rain or under a tree in front of strangers or soldiers young enough to be their children. Batch Samba Jallow’s description of the tortures on his most sacred places, to breaking OJ’s eye and physically striking MC Cham on his back and many others is beyond human comprehension. It is simply the most cruel thing any human being can do to another. To see these senior citizens breakdown and cry like babies in front of the whole world and their family is simply unforgivable.
The most morally depressing about these testimonies is how early on these tortures were taking place. This was 1994 and one could argue that the soldiers and military junta were not even facing resistance from the Gambian population. They freely matched into Banjul and took over power with little to no resistance, no civilian uprising or arm conflict whatsoever. So why were these people torturing civilians when there were no signs of rebellion? The most difficult part of these stories of torture is the people who were allegedly doing the arrests and physical tortures. Both Batch Samba Jallow and OJ Jallow named people like the late Daba marenah; former NIA Officer Foday Barry, Baba Saho, Army officers; Musa Jammeh, Almamo Manneh, members of the junta Sana Sabally, Edward Sighateh and many others as torturing them for what only God knows. Many of these people in fact either met their own demise by the same criminal behavior or would forever live to regret these brutal actions. What in the world was really worth harming civilians or soldiers who could not defend themselves? How can we explain our country producing such citizens who many of us later fought for their rights to freedom, justice and dignity?
Imagine we are only at the beginning of the reign of the military junta during the transition period in the late 1990s. What would happen and how can the country handle other perhaps more devastating tortures, killings and rape of our citizens during this period? Gambians were in denial that these tortures, killings and human rights violations were taking place. Many just heard the stories and never witnessed someone go through these inhumane treatments or narrate their stories first hand. But it was our own citizens, brothers and sisters who were doing these tortures on their fellow citizens.
What in the world were they trying to achieve? What anger, rage and hate were these people going through? What were they thinking? Did they never thought these people were human beings, could feel any pain or were as old as their own fathers and mothers? How can anybody explain the reason for just harming people that you could even know and have interacted with? It is almost certain that Gambia will never recover from the sins of these events. Certainly, there is almost nothing that can lead someone who has gone through such treatment to forgive or forget. While establishing exactly what happened is vital, how the country can regain its lost soul and restore humanity in our citizens is the meager million question.
By Demba Baldeh Pic & video courtesy QTV