Swiss Charge Ex-Gambian Minister with Crimes Against Humanity

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The former interior minister of The Gambia, Ousman Sonko, has been indicted by Switzerland’s attorney general for crimes against humanity committed under the country’s former authoritarian leader, Yahya Jammeh. The indictment accuses Sonko of supporting, participating in, and failing to prevent “systematic and generalised attacks” against Jammeh’s opponents as part of a repressive campaign by security forces. Sonko’s lawyer disputes the charges, stating that some of the alleged acts occurred before articles on crimes against humanity came into force in the Swiss Criminal Code. Sonko fled to Sweden and then Switzerland in 2016, where he applied for asylum. He was arrested in Switzerland in January 2017 after the Geneva-based legal group TRIAL International filed a complaint under the principle of universal jurisdiction. Sonko has been held in Switzerland ever since.

The case is set to be heard by Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court at an unspecified date. It will be the country’s second-ever crimes against humanity trial. TRIAL International’s executive director, Philip Grant, expressed satisfaction that the case is moving forward and hopes that it will put pressure on Equatorial Guinea to eventually extradite Jammeh. The former Gambian president fled to Equatorial Guinea after a political crisis in 2017. Human rights activists in The Gambia welcomed the indictment, with Sheriff Mohammed Kijera from the Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations stating that it sets a precedent for The Gambian government to “take its responsibility to bring Yaya Jammeh and his henchmen to face justice.” Madi Jobarteh, a human rights activist, added that “today we rejoice that finally, justice has caught up with one of the key perpetrators against Gambians, whose victims continue to live in pain and misery.”

Former President Jammeh ruled The Gambia for more than two decades, during which time he was accused of authoritarianism and alleged abuses. Jammeh has denied any wrongdoing.