GENEVA (Reuters) – Switzerland will try a former Gambian minister of ousted dictator Yahya Jammeh on Monday for crimes against humanity in a historic case in which a serial rape victim will testify after decades of waiting for justice.
Former interior minister Ousman Sonko will become the highest-ranking official to be tried in Europe under the principle of universal jurisdiction which allows serious crimes to be prosecuted anywhere, said Swiss campaign group TRIAL International which brought complaint against him.
Nine Gambian plaintiffs will travel to Switzerland for trial scheduled for January 8-30 at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona in a case that human rights activists say will secure global accountability for the worst atrocities.
Sonko, 54, faces charges of murder, multiple rapes and torture between 2000 and 2016 in what is Switzerland’s second-ever trial for crimes against humanity. He denies the accusations.
“It’s been a long period of waiting, waiting with anger and anxiety. But I’m very optimistic now and I feel so happy. I feel justice,” said Madi Ceesay, a 67-year-old plaintiff who said having been arrested. and tortured under Sonko.
The defendant’s lawyer, Philippe Currat, plans to ask the court to drop the case, citing problems with investigations and hearings.
“From the beginning, I have been stunned by the way this case has been handled,” he told Reuters, saying some of the evidence in the indictment was based on “secret” hearings. ” in Gambia and that those interviewed had not been informed of their rights.
‘FIGHT FOR 25 YEARS’
One of the complainants is Binta Jamba who, according to the indictment, was repeatedly raped by Sonko between 2000 and 2002 after the murder of her husband in an alleged coup attempt.
Once, in 2005, he held her captive for five days, beating and raping her repeatedly, according to the indictment. She became pregnant by him twice and he paid for the abortions.
“My family and I have been dealing with this problem for almost 25 years now,” she said in a message to Reuters. “Without justice, I will never have peace in my life.”
Currat says he can prove Sonko was abroad during much of the period of the rape accusations.
It will also argue that many of the alleged crimes against humanity, including the rape accusations, occurred before a relevant Swiss law came into force in 2011 and are not admissible.
Sonko, 54, was arrested in early 2017 in Switzerland, where he was seeking asylum. Jammeh’s repressive 22-year rule ended in January 2017 after he lost elections and was forced to flee.
Sonko could face life in prison as the maximum possible sentence.
Currat claims his treatment in Swiss prisons was cruel and that he was denied food and inadequate medical care.
Fatoumatta Sandeng, the daughter of Solo Sandeng, a Gambian opposition activist killed in custody in 2016, said she looked forward to looking Sonko in the eye in court. “If we don’t hold people accountable, things like this will continue to happen in Gambia, Africa and all over the world,” she said.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; additional reporting by Pap Saine in Banjul; editing by Andrew Cawthorne)
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