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Thu. Apr 25th, 2024

Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court is poised to determine whether it has jurisdiction to try crimes against humanity allegedly committed prior to 2011 in the case of former Gambian minister Ousman Sonko. The accusations date back to the years 2000 to 2016, during the regime of ex-dictator Yahya Jammeh.

Sonko, who celebrated his 55th birthday on Tuesday, has been in Swiss custody since his arrest in January 2017, following his asylum application subsequent to being dismissed as the interior minister. The trial operates under the principle of universal jurisdiction, allowing nations to prosecute such grave offenses, irrespective of where they occurred.

Legal arguments unfolded on Monday, with Sonko’s lawyer, Philippe Currat, contending that due to the principle of non-retroactivity, his client should not face trial for actions predating the 2011 legal enactment. Currat also sought the dismissal of the entire case, alleging procedural rule violations, and requested reparations of around 800,000 Swiss francs ($945,000) for Sonko.

The charges against Sonko include supporting, participating in, and failing to prevent systematic attacks by Gambian security forces against regime opponents, spanning from 2000 to 2016. Allegations involve deliberate killings, torture, rape, and unlawful deprivation of liberty. If convicted, Sonko could face life imprisonment, though he vehemently denies all charges.

The trial, initiated by a complaint from the Geneva-based NGO Trial International, comprises ten complainants, including eight direct victims. After a six-year criminal investigation, the Swiss attorney general’s office indicted Sonko in April 2023. This historic trial marks the highest-ranking state official to face trial in Europe for international crimes under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

The proceedings commenced on Monday in Bellinzona, with discussions on procedural matters, and a verdict is not expected until March after a month-long trial. Sonko, once a high-ranking official within the army, inspector general of the police, and government minister, listened attentively to the proceedings while taking notes.

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