Swiss court to decide on challenge in Gambian ex-minister’s trialTue, 09 Jan 2024 12:16:42 GMT

Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court is set to decide Tuesday whether it can judge crimes against humanity allegedly committed before 2011, in the trial of a former Gambian minister.Ousman Sonko is accused of various crimes against humanity allegedly committed between 2000 and 2016 under the regime of former Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh.The trial is taking place under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows countries to prosecute alleged crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide regardless of where they were committed.In 2011, Switzerland enshrined into law the right to judge such serious crimes alleged to have taken place abroad — provided that the suspect is on Swiss soil.Sonko, who turned 55 on Tuesday, has been in custody since his arrest in Switzerland in January 2017, after applying for asylum following his sacking as interior minister.The Federal Criminal Court is due to take a position on whether it can try crimes against humanity that allegedly took place before 2011, when the law came into force.Sonko’s lawyer Philippe Currat argued Monday that under the principle of non-retroactivity, his client should not be tried for any alleged acts before this date.He furthermore requested the entire case be dismissed, claiming there had been violations of the fundamental rules of procedure, and sought around 800,000 Swiss francs ($945,000) in reparations for his client.- Rape, torture charges -Jammeh ruled The Gambia with an iron grip from 1994 to 2016. Sonko was the West African nation’s interior minister from 2006 to 2016.Sonko is accused by Swiss prosecutors of “having supported, participated in and failed to prevent systematic and generalised attacks as part of the repression carried out by the Gambian security forces against all opponents of the regime”.The charges span from 2000 to 2016 and include nine counts of crimes against humanity.He is accused of having “deliberately killed, tortured, raped and unlawfully deprived individuals of their liberty in a serious manner”.If convicted, he could face life imprisonment. Sonko denies the charges.The proceedings are likely to last a month and a verdict is not expected before March.Sonko was detained after a complaint by the Geneva-based NGO Trial International.There are 10 complainants in the case, according to the NGO, including eight “direct victims”.Following a six-year criminal investigation, the Swiss attorney general’s office indicted Sonko in April 2023.Trial International says he is the highest-ranking state official ever to be tried in Europe for international crimes under the principle of universal jurisdiction.Sonko is accused of committing the alleged crimes first within the army, then as inspector general of the police, and finally as a government minister.The case opened on Monday at the court in the southern city of Bellinzona. Sonko calmly listened to the discussions on procedural questions, while taking notes.