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Ousman Sonko: Swiss court convicts Gambia ex-minister

May 15, 2024

A Swiss court has delivered a guilty verdict in the trial of former Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Sonko. He was accused of several crimes against humanity committed from 2000 to 2016.

The Swiss Federal Criminal Court
The Swiss Federal Criminal Court is located in BellinzonaImage: Elodie le Maou/AFP/Getty Images

Switzerland's Federal Criminal Court on Wednesday ruled that  former Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Sonko was guilty of crimes against humanity committed while in several positions of authority from 2000 to 2016.

Trial International said on messaging platform X, formerly known as Twitter, that Sonko had been sentenced to 20 years in prison.

He is the most senior official ever to be tried in Europe using universal jurisdiction that allows the most serious crimes to be prosecuted anywhere. Sonko had denied all charges during the trial.

The ruling can be appealed.

What was Sonko accused of?

Sonko, 55, was accused by Swiss prosecutors of carrying out several serious offenses, including murder, torture, and rape, between 2000 and 2016 under the regime of former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh.

He was said to have committed the crimes first within the army, then as inspector general of the police, and finally as the interior minister from 2006 to 2016.

Reed Brody, a war crimes prosecutor attending the trial, said Sonko was convicted of intentional homicide, torture and false imprisonment and acquitted for rape.

"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 said.

Several civil parties testified during the trial.

Sonko's lawyers had argued that he should not be tried for crimes against humanity because the alleged offenses were isolated acts for which he had borne no responsibility.

They said the offenses were rather committed by the National Intelligence Agency and the Junglers paramilitary group, over neither of which he had authority or control, according to the lawyers.

The former interior minister, who was sacked from  Gambia's government in 2016, has been in Swiss custody since he was arrested in January 2017 after applying for asylum. 

Jammeh ruled Gambia in an authoritarian manner from 1994 to 2016. He went into exile in Equatorial Guinea in January 2017.

tj/rc (AFP, Reuters)