Switzerland inaugurates a trial invoking universal jurisdiction at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona. Ousman Sonko, a former Gambian Minister of Interior during Yahya Jammeh’s regime (1994-2017), faces charges of crimes against humanity.
Before the Swiss judiciary stands Ousman Sonko, a 55-year-old former Gambian minister, as of January 8, 2024. Serving as the Interior Minister for a decade under President Yaya Jammeh’s iron-fisted rule that spanned 22 years, Sonko now stands accused of crimes against humanity in Switzerland, under the principle of universal jurisdiction, with a potential sentence of life imprisonment.
A former Inspector General of Police, Sonko ascended to the role of Interior Minister in Gambia in 2006. Dismissed a decade later, he sought asylum in Switzerland. The international non-governmental organization Trial International brought this to light, subsequently filing a criminal complaint. In January 2017, Sonko was arrested and has been in provisional detention since.
Facing charges of participating, ordering, or failing to prevent murders, acts of torture, rapes, and illegal detentions between 2000 and 2016, Sonko vehemently denies these allegations. Ten individuals, including eight direct victims, have joined as plaintiffs in the case.
Several Gambian and international organizations view this trial as a significant step forward. However, they express regret over the proceedings being conducted in German, a language unfamiliar to Gambia, an English-speaking country.
Human Rights Watch underscores that only two judicial cases for crimes committed during Yahya Jammeh’s presidency have concluded in Gambia. The organization states, “The victims and the Gambian public have already waited too long for the opportunity to see justice served.”
Ousman Sonko’s trial is expected to last approximately a month, with the verdict not anticipated before March.