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Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Swiss federal court dismisses Sonko’s appeal

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The federal court of Switzerland has dismissed an appeal lodged by the former Interior Minister of The Gambia and ruled that he remains under investigation.
The federal court dismissed Ousman Sonko’s appeal against an extension of the investigations. Since the end of January, he has been in detention.

Switzerland’s highest court upheld a decision by a lower court that Mr Sonko should continue to be held in investigative detention over allegations of having committed crimes against humanity in The Gambia.
Mr Sonko who served in The Gambia Army before becoming head of police and later Interior minister is accused of being responsible for torture under the Yahya Jammeh regime between 2006 and September 2016. Police officers, prison staff, and related organisations have allegedly executed the torture. Sonko traveled to Switzerland as an asylum seeker after he fell out with President Jammeh.
The public prosecutor’s office of the canton of Berne in Switzerland had opened a criminal investigation against him at the end of January.

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In February, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office took over the case and applied for an extension of the detention period in April. Sonko claimed that he had no knowledge of the systematic torture. He claimed that there was no suspicion of an extensive or systematic attack on the civilian population of The Gambia, nor was there any evidence that police torture would have been part of a systematic police practice in some individual cases during a detention or transfer to the police station and the mere fact that he held a ministerial post did not suffice for a criminal responsibility. He said he had no knowledge of systematic torture.

According to the Swiss Criminal Code of 2011, it is a criminal offence to commit torture not just as an individual act, but in the context of an extensive or systematic attack against the civilian population. If a superintendent did nothing against such acts perpetrated by his surbordinates, he is punished as the perpetrator. According to the federal judges, the Federal Criminal Court was right to rely on two independent reports from US special rapporteurs in the investigation of the crime suspect. Both argued convincingly and strongly that between 2006 and 2016 numerous people in The Gambia had been victims of torture and torture by the government had been planned as a means to intimidate the population and to suppress the opposition. The federal court pointed out that, in view of the early stage of the trial, the international dimension of the investigation and the specific allegation of the crime of humanity, it cannot be required that Mr Sonko be specifically accused of specific actions during the investigation procedure. The Federal Prosecutor’s Office is currently investigating and has already interrogated witnesses.

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