EYEAFRICA TV: Banjul, The Gambia: Wednesday sitting of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) featured a scintillating exchange on points of legal techniques concerning the flow of questions and answers between Lead Counsel Essa Faal and former military junta member, Edward Singateh.
One of the key architects of the most reckoned with military offensive of the birth of dictatorship in the country was on the ‘hot sit’ to keep head above water for allegations of extrajudicial killings, torture, and detentions without trials for more than half of the entire rule under former president Yahya Jammeh.
He said he has chosen to tell the truth in consideration of the plight of victims in all forms of human right violations, but not without asking for liberty to flow uninterruptedly.
In recognition of the Commission as ‘fact finding mission,’ Edward Singateh respectfully challenged the counsel to wait for the truth coming out of his [Edward’s] mouth than pinning him to a legal trap.
“You want to get to the truth; if you don’t want to hear the facts, then just read out the adverse mentions and I will say yes or no. But if you want explanation and the background so that you can have an understanding of what happened, so that we can together as a nation heal and the slogan as it says, ‘Never Again’ through understanding of what happened then fine,” he argued.
For Edward, if the session was to be “punitive yes or no,” as in the questions, “did you do this” or “do you accept this,” the whole sitting could have lasted for only five minutes and that they would leave for other errands.
In response to this assertion, TRRC Lead Counsel, Essa Faal explained that it was unprofessional for the Commission to allow the witness a free range of an unguided testimony.
“You have your own set ideas as to what you want to say but also, please do understand that I have a responsibility to elicit particular facts from you and I would have to ask those questions,” he stated.
Faal further argued that if he did not interject during the testimony, the Commission would not have the evidence it needed. “I would give you the opportunity to explain yourself but if you digress onto issues that are not necessarily so helpful or within the parameters of what we are looking at, I will bring you back and in that case you will have to accommodate my interjections,” he said.
Edward Singateh metamorphosed into the civilian sphere after twelve years as cabinet figure under the former government, gained university admission and graduated into the legal field where he served up the rank of Principal Magistrate. Among his latest achievements is a two-year term as Vice President of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) sub-regional bloc starting March 2016.
The whole argument came following what counsel Faal referred to as beating about the bush in the explanation of the ex-soldier on the cause of indiscriminate detention of officers and soldiers in the name of the armed council following the coup in July 1994.
In his testimony, Sana Sabally would go to Yundum barrack to arrest and detain, but the counsel put it to him that not only would Sabally just arrest and detain people for himself, he was doing it for and on behalf of the Armed Forces Provisional Ruling Council (AFPRC) through the decree for the arrest and detention of the arm forces and police personnel.
Feeling cutoff in his flow of narration, the ex-vice chairman of the AFPRC complained that he is not been allow to take responsibility and that the exchanges were as if he was trying to extricate himself from responsibility.
In his argument, there was a number of detentions that occurred without prior consultation [within the council] to which he said he accepted full responsibility, but council Faal asked him to explain the basis.
However, this interjection did not go down well with the witness. “Sir now you are interjecting”, he said.
And then, “you either allow me to explain or you come and sit here and explain on my behalf Sir. I don’t know which one is going to happen”, he stressed.
With regards to the detainees, Singateh stated that there were some people who should not have been there. He admitted however, that whatever happened with regard to their detention and the conditions were wrong.
The lead counsel assured him that he could go further to say whatever he needed to say as far as it is central to the issues under inquiry.
Edward pledged not give facts that are not essential. “I would give you facts that will make your job easier and beneficial for the information of The Gambian people.”