Swiss court jails Gambian ex-minister for crimes against humanityWed, 15 May 2024 19:43:00 GMT

A Swiss federal court on Wednesday sentenced Gambian ex-interior minister Ousman Sonko to 20 years in prison for crimes against humanity committed under the regime of former dictator Yahya Jammeh.Sonko, 55, is the highest-ranking official convicted in Europe under universal jurisdiction for the most serious crimes.He was found guilty of “multiple counts of intentional homicide, multiple counts of torture and false imprisonment, each as a crime against humanity” committed between 2000 and 2016, a court statement said.”Sonko committed these crimes… as part of a systematic attack against the civilian population.”He will be expelled from Switzerland for 12 years once the 20-year sentence is served, and Sonko must also pay compensation to the civil claimants, the court said.State prosecutor Sabrina Beyeler said they were “very satisfied” with the verdict. Sonko’s lawyer Philippe Currat said his client, who denied the charges, would “probably” appeal.”This verdict comes at a pivotal time in our history as the country undergoes a transition from an autocratic to a democratic governance system,” the Gambian justice ministry said. – Universal jurisdiction -Sonko was tried under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows countries to prosecute crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide regardless of where they were committed.The NGO Trial International — which filed the complaint leading to Sonko’s arrest — said the conviction was “historic”, while Human Rights Watch called it “monumental”.Trial International’s executive director Philip Grant said the verdict “sends a strong signal to high-ranking perpetrators around the world: justice can catch up with you”.In Gambia, Samba Jawo of the International Centre for Transitional Justice said that the conviction is a “relief for Gambians, especially the victims”. Sonko has been in Swiss custody since his arrest in January 2017 after applying for asylum following his sacking as a minister. His time already served in custody will be taken into account in his sentence.”The conviction of Ousman Sonko, one of the pillars of Yahya Jammeh’s brutal regime, is a major step on the long road to justice for Jammeh’s victims,” said lawyer Reed Brody, a member of the International Commission of Jurists.Brody works with Jammeh’s victims and followed the court case in Bellinzona.- String of convictions -The trial in Bellinzona, southern Switzerland, was heard in January and March.Sonko’s lawyers had argued that he should not have been tried on any counts predating 2011 when universal jurisdiction came into force in Switzerland.The court ruled that Sonko, with others, intentionally killed a soldier suspected of a coup; tortured army personnel, politicians and journalists and falsely imprisoned them in connection with a failed coup attempt; murdered a former member of parliament; and tortured several opposition members.Charges relating to alleged rape as a crime against humanity were dropped as the court could not establish an attack on the civilian population, meaning Switzerland did not have jurisdiction.The court said Sonko was a “close confidant” of Jammeh, who ruled The Gambia from 1994 to 2016.Sonko was accused of committing the crimes first within the army, then as inspector general of the police, and finally as the interior minister from 2006 to 2016.- Jammeh and his ‘henchmen’ -Fatoumatta Sandeng Darboe, the daughter of Solo Sandeng who was tortured and killed, said: “We are actually happy that the responsibility of Ousman Sonko in all of what has happened in The Gambia… is put out there.”Cherno Marenah, The Gambia’s deputy permanent representative in Geneva, said: “We are quite satisfied that due process was followed and that at the end of the day, justice has been served.”Currat said Sonko would not be commenting, having been unable to understand the verdict in German without translation.”The long arm of the law is catching up with Yahya Jammeh’s accomplices all around the world, and hopefully will soon catch up with Jammeh himself,” Brody said.In 2022, the Gambian government endorsed the recommendations of a commission that looked into the atrocities perpetrated during the Jammeh era.The authorities agreed to prosecute 70 people, starting with Jammeh, who went into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017.