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Essa Faal Clarifies TRRC’s Mandate, Defends His Robust Questioning

The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) has been received with mixed feelings since the beginning of its proceedings early this year.

Set up to investigate atrocities and violations of hum rights committed during the regime of Yahya Jammeh, the commission has attracted both victims and perpetrators of the regime as witnesses. While many people hailed the process so far as an answer to the Gambia’s quest for reconciliation and justice, others cried foul and accused the TRRC of witch hunt.

On Tuesday, the commission’s Lead Counsel Essa Faal held a press conference at the TRRC complex to allay fears and concerns. According to him, the commission “is not a witch hunting exercise, but a victim-centered process aimed at establishing the truth about violations and abuse of human rights.” He also refuted allegations of selective justice by the TRRC, arguing that the commission’s exercise was not a criminal trial.

Faal told journalists that the TRRC has always endeavored to remove many features that would liken the process to that of a normal court proceeding. He reiterated that the success of the TRRC depends to a large extent on its ability to get to the truth of what happened from 1994 to 2017 as mandated by its act.

“The TRRC’s success will easily be attained if witnesses cooperate by providing truthful accounts. False or misleading testimony would only derail the commission,” he said.

In recent days, Faal has come under attack from some quarters for his robust way of interrogating witnesses at the TRRC. The latest was during the testimony of former army chief, Baboucarr Jatta last week. Faal and Jatta squared up many times during the exercise, resulting to the ex-army commander questioning Faal’s level of understanding of military matters.

Baboucarr Jatta (l) and Essa Faal

But responding to a question about his robust questioning and confrontation with witnesses, Faal said “there is no need for confrontation with the witnesses unless there is reason to believe that a witness is not forthcoming or he’s providing false or misleading information.”

Asked by The Chronicle about the allegations of evidence destruction at the headquarters of the National Intelligence Agency or NIA (now State Intelligence Services), Faal said the TRRC was yet to ascertain if evidence has been destroyed at the NIA. “Our investigators are working on all the evidence adduced before the commission.” He warned that “destroying evidence is a crime that the commission cannot take lightly.”

According to Faal, institutional hearing would reveal some of the allegations against any institution, including the NIA. He said the process would avail the commission the opportunity to address some of the allegations leveled against institutions.”

Faal also clarified that the recent arrests of TRRC witnesses were ordered by the Ministry of Justice and not the commission. The witnesses, including ex-soldier John C.B Mendy were arrested and charged following their TRRC appearances.

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