Switzerland: a former Gambian minister sentenced to 20 years in prison for crimes against humanity | TV5MONDE

Switzerland: a former Gambian minister sentenced to 20 years in prison for crimes against humanity | TV5MONDE
Switzerland: a former Gambian minister sentenced to 20 years in prison for crimes against humanity | TV5MONDE

Swiss justice on Wednesday sentenced a former Gambian Interior Minister to 20 years in prison for various crimes against humanity under the regime of former President Yahya Jammeh, dismissing part of the charges.

Ousman Sonko, 55, “is sentenced to a custodial sentence of 20 years”, declared the registrar of the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, in the south-east of Switzerland.

The Court also orders his expulsion – once the sentence has been served – from Swiss territory for 12 years, and forces him to pay compensation to the civil parties.

He can appeal to this same court.

The federal prosecutor’s office had requested his life imprisonment for crimes against humanity from 2000 to 2016, accusing him of having acted first as a member of the army, then as inspector general of the police and finally as a minister.

During the trial, which took place in January and March, the defense pleaded for acquittal.

The Court declared him “guilty of repeated willful homicides, repeated acts of torture and repeated deprivation of liberty, offenses punishable as crimes against humanity.”

She concluded that he committed these offenses “as part of a systematic attack against the civilian population”, noting that he “was a trusted close associate of the then Gambian President Yahya Jammeh, who ruled the Gambia repressively between 1994 and 2016.

“Historic affair”

Part of the charges, which allege rape as a crime against humanity, were dismissed, the Court “not being able to establish any attack against the civilian population in this regard”.

“This historic case sends a message for the future in the fight against impunity: the perpetrators of serious crimes, even of ministerial rank, are now within the reach of justice”, reacted, on the social network , the director of the NGO TRIAL International, at the origin of the procedure.

Ousman Sonko was arrested on January 26, 2017 in Switzerland where he requested asylum after being dismissed from his ministerial position, which he held for 10 years, until September 2016.

“The conviction of Ousman Sonko, one of the pillars of Yahya Jammeh’s brutal regime, is an important step on the long road to justice for Jammeh’s victims,” ​​Reed Brody responded to AFP, a lawyer from the International Commission of Jurists who works with Jammeh’s victims.

“The long arm of the law is catching up with Yahya Jammeh’s accomplices around the world and, hopefully, will soon catch up with Jammeh himself,” he added, indicating that there has already been a conviction in Germany and that “another trial is approaching in the United States”.

“Not yet prescribed”

In Switzerland, this is the first time that the notion of crimes against humanity – crimes committed as part of a large-scale attack targeting civilians – was addressed at first instance.

According to the defense, the conditions for a crime against humanity were not met. She believes that the facts retained by the prosecution were isolated acts in which the former Minister of the Interior bears no responsibility, pointing the finger at the National Intelligence Agency (NIA) and the Junglers, a paramilitary group.

The defense also considers that certain elements of the indictment escape Swiss legislation because they predate 2011, the date since which Switzerland has recognized universal jurisdiction to try certain serious crimes under international law. It was also in 2011 that crimes against humanity were included in Swiss law.

According to the Court, the criminal provisions for crimes against humanity which came into force on January 1, 2011 are applicable, even if part of the alleged facts date back to the year 2000, “since the intentional homicides, acts of torture and deprivation of liberty were not yet prescribed at that time.

In Gambia, the Gambian government endorsed in 2022 the recommendations of a commission which looked into the atrocities perpetrated under the Jammeh era. The authorities agreed to prosecute 70 people, including Mr. Jammeh, who went into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017.

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