Gambia: TRRC Hearing On Sexual And Gender Based Violence Commences With Horrific Testimonies

The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) has commenced its 9th session focusing on sexual and gender based violence that happened under the 22 - year APRC and AFPRC regimes with horrific testimonies.

According to Mrs. Adelaide Sosseh, the deputy chairperson of the Commission, in this session, the witnesses will include direct and indirect victims of sexual and gender based violence by security officers, civil servants, private civilians and politicians who were in one way or the other involved in the events under investigation.

"It is anticipated that hearing on sexual and gender based violence will dominate the hearings of the Commission in this entire 9th session," she said.

She said the TRRC guarantees absolute confidentiality and protection of integrity for all witnesses. She said witnesses who would like to testify have a choice to appear in public, appear as protected witnesses, or testify behind closed doors. She added that even if witnesses do not wish to testify, their statements will make a significant contribution to the true historical record the Commission is mandated to produce for this country.

Meanwhile, she hinted they are visiting different parts of the country to engage communities and obtain statements from victims of sexual and gender based violence, the 2009 witch-hunts and other violations.

The first witness to appear in the 9th session was Sainabou Camara- Lowe. She is also a survivor of the April 2000 students' massacre by security personnel. She gave an account of her sexual assault and torture among others by four paramilitary officers.

She was 19 at the time of April 2000 mass students' demonstration that claimed the lives of about 14 people including students. She is one of those who still suffer from the pains of the regime of Yahya Jammeh.

Sainabou appeared as the first witness in the TRRC 9th session which will focus mainly on sexual and gender based violence. The Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) was established by an Act of the National Assembly to look into past human rights violations under the Yahya Jammeh's rule.

She is the 130th witness of the Commission. The Commission has called 129 before her in the previous sessions out of whom 31 were perpetrators.

The 39 - year - old said she was picked by a group of paramilitary personnel (PIU) around the Serrekunda central mosque and they walked from Serrekunda to GTTI together with the police.

She said at the Gambia Technical Training Institute (GTTI), the paramilitary personnel asked them to kneel down. She said they were over a hundred.

"A group of students came and they asked us not to obey the instructions of the paramilitary personnel because they have started shooting students at Westfield. We all dispersed and the paramilitary chased us and we all ran in different directions," she said.

"I was running towards the PIU headquarters without knowing and I was caught up by 4 paramilitary officers who chased me. I took to my heels and they followed me," she said.

She said she was later caught by the 4 and she was taken to their headquarters where everything that happened to her happened.

"I ran towards their camp. This was because I don't know the geography of Serrekunda," she said.

She said four paramilitary personnel chased her until she was captured. She said she was caught while she was trying to jump over a fence.

"When they captured me, all of them were beating me with the use of their baton and their hands. They slapped and kicked me. They started beating me right there until we reached their camp," she adduced.

"I did not walk. I was dragged. When they beat me and I fall, someone will raise me and they would beat me again. This was how it happened until I reached their camp," she said.

She said she was injured on her leg and face owing to the beatings and slaps. She added that her back was full of injuries.

She said she was taken to a room inside the camp and pushed on the ground where she was tied.

"The room is inside the camp. It is a line house," she said.

She said her bag was searched and she was tied with a rope.

"I was lying straight and they tied me up. The four of them participated in tying me," she said.

She said the three held her down and the fourth was the one who tied her up.

"The one who was having my Walkman stamped on me and he walked on me," the tearful witness said, adding that he was with his shoe at the time of stamping on her.

She said because of this, since then to now, she cannot do hard jobs. She added that the paramilitary personnel stamped on her womanhood until she became unconscious.

"All of them beat me," she said.

She said she only regained consciousness after a week at the Royal Victoria Hospital.

"After regaining consciousness, I was on wheel chair for a week," she said.

"My face, groin and my private part were swollen," she said.

She said she was injured on her private part and this wasn't treated at the hospital, adding that the injury on her sexual organ was both inside and outside.

"I don't know what caused the injury in my private part," she said.

She said she spent about 3 months at the hospital adding that she feels the pain particularly at the time of giving birth. She said she finds it difficult to give birth. She said for 19 years, her waist, groin and private part still pain her.

"I am still living with the pain," she said.

She said she has six children four of whom are boys.

Concluding Remarks

She said there are several victims who are still suffering from violations meted on them under the former regime.

"Some are still on wheel chair. Some are suffering from psychological problems. They are still suffering. I am calling on the Government to provide the victims with medical care. Those that need overseas treatment should be provided with that," she said.

About the Witness

She said she was born on the 17th September 1980. She said she went to Fatoto Primary School, St. Augustine Junior School and SOS Technical High School. She said she was supposed to complete in the year 2000, but she couldn't complete owing to the April 10th incident.

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