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Independent AfricaSwiss Court sentences ex Gambian Minister to 20 years for crimes against...

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Swiss Court sentences ex Gambian Minister to 20 years for crimes against humanity

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Ousman Sonko, who fled to Switzerland in 2016 amid political turmoil in Gambia, has been sentenced to two decades in prison for crimes against humanity. This verdict follows accusations of widespread rights abuses during Yahya Jammeh’s presidency, prompting Sonko’s arrest after NGOs presented evidence of atrocities.

Despite assertions of innocence from Sonko’s legal team, the former interior minister, aged 55, was convicted of intentional homicide, torture, and false imprisonment. Notably, he was acquitted of rape charges.

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The ruling, handed down by the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona on Wednesday, is subject to appeal.

This trial, conducted under the principle of universal jurisdiction, marks a significant case in Europe, as Sonko is the highest-ranking government official prosecuted under this principle.

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Philip Grant, head of the organisation that filed the complaint leading to Sonko’s arrest, said the case sends a “resounding message against impunity”.

“Minister-level perpetrators are now within reach of justice,” the Trial International director added.

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Swiss investigators journeyed to The Gambia, conducting interviews with numerous alleged victims and witnesses in preparation for the trial, which commenced in January of this year.

During Yahya Jammeh’s presidency, spanning from 1996 to 2016, The Gambia witnessed widespread human rights violations, including forced disappearances and extrajudicial killings, as reported by Human Rights Watch.

Ousman Sonko, perceived as Jammeh’s right-hand man, held the position of interior minister, granting him authority over security services, allegedly including a notorious paramilitary unit known as “the Junglers.”

However, shortly before Jammeh’s ousting, Sonko sought refuge in Switzerland, where he applied for asylum.

In January 2017, Swiss authorities apprehended him.

Beyond Switzerland, other nations are prosecuting former members of Jammeh’s regime.

In October, Germany convicted Bai Lowe, a former “Junglers” member, to a life sentence for crimes against humanity.

Additionally, in September of this year, a court in Colorado, USA, will adjudicate an alleged former member of the same group.

While The Gambia has established its own transitional justice mechanism to address abuses under Jammeh’s rule, human rights organizations criticize its sluggish progress thus far.

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