Friday, June 9

Switzerland indicts Ousman Sonko for crimes against humanity

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Ousman Sonko is accused of having supported, participated in and failed to prevent “systematic and generalised attacks” as part of a repressive campaign by security forces against Jammeh’s opponents, the Office of the Attorney General said.

Sonko’s lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

Sonko was interior minister from 2006 to 2016, when he fled to Sweden and from there to Switzerland, where he applied for asylum. 

He was arrested by Swiss police in January 2017 after the Geneva-based legal group Trial International filed a complaint under the principle of universal jurisdiction that allows prosecution of the most serious crimes irrespective of where they were committed.

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. 

“We are very satisfied that this is going ahead,” said Philip Grant, executive director of TRIAL International. 

“We hope this will generate momentum and that the trial will put pressure on Equatorial Guinea to eventually extradite Jammeh,” he added. Gambia’s former president fled there after a political crisis in 2017.

Human rights activists in Gambia welcomed the indictment.

Sheriff Mohammed Kijera from the Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations said the indictment set a precedent for the Gambian government to “take its responsibility to bring Yaya Jammeh and his henchmen to face justice.”

“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,” said Madi Jobarteh, a human rights activist. 

Gambia, a tiny West African country of 2.5 million, is still reeling from over two decades under former president Jammeh marked by authoritarianism and alleged abuses. Jammeh has denied allegations of wrongdoing. Source: Reuters 

Victims’ Reactions

Sheriff Mohammed Kijera, chairman, Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violation (Victims Center) said: The Victims Center is deeply excited by the news of Ousman Sonko’s indictment by the Swiss authorities. It is good news for international justice system, and by all indications, it has once again reaffirmed that there is no torture safe haven anywhere in the world. This has set the precedent for the Government of the Gambia to take its responsibility to bring Yaya Jammeh and his henchmen to face justice.

Baba Hydara, son of the late Deyda Hydara, the journalist who was assassinated by the junglers who were working on the instructions of Ousman Sonko, said that they welcome the indictment of Sonko knowing fully well the atrocities he had committed during the 22 years rule of Yaya Jammeh (1994 – 2016).

“We, Gambians welcome the indictment. We are looking forward to justice being served.”

Pap Saine, co- founder of The Point Newspaper said that the indictment of Sonko was long overdue for the past 6 years. We, the victims of his atrocities have been looking forward to Sonko’s indictment. Sonko was a killer acting under the orders of his boss, former President Jammeh. Sonko deserves to face the penalty for what he did in the past.

“The indictment of Ousman Sonko is indeed  welcoming news which is a significant step towards justice and accountability for the crimes committed by the Jammeh regime against Gambians. Yes, the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends towards justice. After seven years, 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. I hope the trial will take far shorter time leading to the maximum sentence for Sonko,” says Madi Jobarteh, Human Rights Activist The Gambia.

Demba D.A. Jawo: “Civil society and human rights activists in The Gambia have welcomed the decision by the Swiss authorities to charge a former Interior minister during the Yahya Jammeh dictatorship with crimes against humanity. Ousman Sonko’s name had featured quite negatively in virtually all inquiries about atrocities committed during the Jammeh era. His activities of torture and harassment of perceived opponents of the regime were quite prominently highlighted by many victims of the Jammeh regime during proceedings of the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) that was set up to investigate the atrocities committed by the regime.”