Switzerland’s top criminal court has yesterday convicted a former interior minister for crimes against humanity over his role in repression committed by the Gambian security forces under Yahya Jammeh.

Ousman Sonko, who served as Gambia’s interior minister from 2006 to 2016 under ex-president Jammeh, was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The trial, which began in January, was seen by advocacy groups as an opportunity to reach a conviction under “universal jurisdiction,” which allows for the prosecution of serious crimes committed abroad.

The verdict was read out in Swiss federal criminal court in the southern town of Bellinzona. Sonko, who was in the courtroom, offered little reaction when a translation of the verdict was read out in English, said TRIAL International’s legal adviser Benoit Meystre, who also attended the proceedings.

Sonko applied for asylum in Switzerland in November 2016 and was arrested two months later.

The Swiss attorney general’s office said the indictment against Sonko, filed a year ago, covered alleged crimes during 16 years under Jammeh, whose rule was marked by arbitrary detention, sexual abuse and extrajudicial killings.

Sonko was accused of supporting, participating in and failing to stop attacks against opponents in Gambia. The crimes included killings, torture, rape and numerous unlawful detentions, prosecutors said.

Responding to a Standard Newspaper question during a news conference following the verdict, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Gambian Mission in Swiss, Cherno Marenah, said: “We are very satisfied as the representative of the Gambia in Switzerland that due process has been followed in this case from the arrest of Mr Sonko in 2017 right up to the trial, the investigations and the judgement today and all the parties in this case are essential Gambians.”

He said it is fundamental that the government and the Gambian people have interest in the case to make sure it follows due process and that at the end of the day, the accused has his day in court and was represented by an able counsel who has done a fantastic job in defending him. “And of course, the victims had an opportunity to have their say in court and today ultimately the justices of the Swiss federal court have come to a conclusion which served the purpose of justice. Jammeh is the big fish; certainly, he is the one who is the principal of all the crimes that are alleged and so indeed, it would be very fundamental to have him face justice as well,” he said.

Also, commenting on the verdict, international lawyer Reed Brody told The Standard: “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. 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 added: “Jammeh’s henchmen have been convicted in Germany and now in Switzerland and another trial is approaching in the United States. Most importantly, the Gambian government, after many years, is finally moving towards the prosecution of Jammeh himself, now in exile in Equatorial Guinea.”

Madi Ceesay, a journalist who was once arrested under Sonko’s orders and testified in the trial, said the verdict would send a strong signal to Jammeh, who remains in exile in Equatorial Guinea.

“The trial demonstrates that no matter what, the long arm of justice can always catch the perpetrator,” Ceesay said.

Sonko was convicted of homicide, torture and false imprisonment as crimes against humanity, while rape charges against him were dropped, Brody wrote on X.

Sonko, who joined the Gambian military in 1988, was appointed commander of the State Guard in 2003, a position in which he was responsible for Jammeh’s security, Swiss prosecutors said. He was made inspector general of the Gambian police in 2005.

He was removed as interior minister in September 2016, a few months before the end of Jammeh’s government, and left Gambia to seek asylum in Europe.

Source: The Standard

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