By: Bakary Ceesay, In Germany
The trial of Ousman Sonko – the former Gambian Interior Minister accused of having committed multiple crimes against humanity- will open on 8 January 2024 before the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, Switzerland.
This will be the second trial for crimes against humanity in Switzerland’s judicial history. Moreover, Ousman Sonko will be the highest-ranking state official ever to be tried for international crimes in applying the principle of universal jurisdiction in Europe.
With the dates of the opening of the trial, the victims’ hope of finally seeing their abuser brought to justice becomes a reality. “Some of the victims have fought this battle for more than twenty years, and Swiss justice must live up to their expectations,” stresses Vony Rambolamanana, Senior Legal Advisor at TRIAL International.
A possible recognition of Ousman Sonko’s role in the abuses committed during Dictator Yahya Jammeh’s regime would be an important sign for the transitional justice process undertaken by the Gambia in 2017. The recent news of the arrest of a human rights defender, a journalist, and other activists raises fears of an upsurge in repressive measures against those who oppose the government. The trial of one of the senior officials of the Jammeh regime could send a strong signal and give new impetus to the search for truth and justice for which many Gambians have worked to date.
As a reminder, the accused was arrested in Bern on 26 January 2017. The day before, TRIAL International had filed a criminal complaint against him. On 17 April 2023, after more than six years of investigation, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland (OAG) filed an indictment before the Federal Criminal Court. The OAG accuses Ousman Sonko of having taken part in numerous acts of torture, kidnapping, sexual violence, and killings perpetrated between 2000 and 2016 in The Gambia.
“The fact that the case is finally going to trial is very important for our clients,” says lawyer Fanny de Weck. “This trial should notably show whether hierarchical superiors – and not just those who executed the crimes – can be held to account on the basis of universal jurisdiction,” adds lawyer Nina Burri. Both lawyers are representing private plaintiffs in the trial against Ousman Sonko.
The proceedings will be in German and open to the public and journalists within the limits of the available courtroom space.