Former Gambian Minister Convicted of Crimes Against Humanity by Swiss Court

In a historic ruling applying universal jurisdiction over grave crimes, a Swiss court on Wednesday convicted former Gambian government minister Ousman Sonko of crimes against humanity committed under ex-dictator Yahya Jammeh’s regime. Sonko was sentenced to 20 years in prison.

The Federal Criminal Court found Sonko guilty on multiple counts of intentional homicide, torture, and unlawful deprivation of liberty. He was acquitted of rape charges. According to the court, Sonko carried out these crimes “as part of a systematic attack against the civilian population” while serving under Jammeh.

This represents the highest-ranking official ever prosecuted by a European nation using the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows the most egregious offenses to be tried anywhere they occurred. The Geneva-based group TRIAL International had filed the original complaint against Sonko.

Sonko denied the allegations, accused the plaintiffs of lying, and denounced his seven-year pre-trial detention, part of which was spent in solitary confinement. He fell out of favor with Jammeh toward the end of the dictator’s 22-year oppressive rule, which ended when Jammeh fled into exile in early 2017 after his election defeat. Sonko was arrested that month in Switzerland while seeking asylum.

Swiss prosecutors had sought a life sentence against Sonko. Human rights advocates hailed the conviction as a significant step toward justice for Jammeh’s victims. One group expressed hope the ruling deters future abuses by officials, though some wished Sonko could serve his term under Gambia’s harsher prison conditions his victims endured.

About Geraldine Boechat 2711 Articles
Senior Editor for Medafrica Times and former journalist for Swiss National Television. former NGO team leader in Burundi and Somalia