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EXTRADITING OUSMAN SONKO OFF THE TABLE As Court sets date for judgement

By Sanna Camara

The Minister of Justice of The Gambia, Mr Dawda Jallow has confirmed that The Gambia government is in touch with the Swiss authorities over the matter of Ousman Sonko. However, he clarified that no extradition request has been put forward by the Gambia for the former Minister to be returned to Gambia.

The Federal Criminal Court on Friday, April 19th announced that the date for the judgment of former interior Minister, will be on Wednesday, 15th May 2024 at the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, Switzerland. This followed a marathon trial process that began since January this year, including two adjournments prior to the judgment.

Sonko was subject of a seven-year “thorough” investigation by Swiss Federal Prosecutor’s office for crimes against humanity, of human rights violations, false imprisonment, sexual violence, and degrading treatments before he was formally indicted las year.

Under Swiss justice system, investigations can take a long time, but trials can be conducted expeditiously, especially when evidence presented to the court warrants a trial.

 On Thursday, 18th April, 2024, Gambia’s Justice Minister, Mr Dawda Jallow clarified to this reporter  that that no extradition request has been made to Switzerland over Sonko.

“We are in touch with the Swiss authorities, but we’ve not made any such request,” Mr Jallow said.

Life Imprisonment

The Federal Prosecutor had requested a life imprisonment for Mr Ousman Sonko, for various counts of human rights violations and other crimes he allegedly, either committed himself, committed under his watch, or supervised.

If Mr Sonko is convicted of these crimes, he may never see The Gambia or step his foot on its soil again. He has already spent seven years in detention while the Federal Prosecutors conducted investigations into his crimes when he served under the government of Yahya Jammeh between 2000 and 2016.

During the trial in January, the presiding judge had asked Mr Ousman Sonko if he will be prepared to return to Gambia at any point, to which he answered yes. However, it is not clear what the three-empaneled judges at the Federal Criminal Court of Switzerland will decide on Sonko.

“I don’t think that Switzerland would (or actually could, from an international law perspective) agree to subject Sonko to Mile 2 prison conditions,” a judicial source in Switzerland said, when asked to comment on the possible extradition.

Extradition again follows specific rules

For Sonko to be eligible for extradition, he will have to credibly argue a real risk of a violation under Article 3, it would NOT be possible to deport him (under prohibition of torture and ill-treatment). This would qualify him to get a kind of “subsidiary protection status.” However, Ousman Sonko did not make such arguments in court during the trial.

Under Swiss criminal law, there is also a provision that a foreign national is automatically expelled from Switzerland for (x number of) years if convicted for a serious crime. “This would obviously be the case here. But also, for this, the court must consider if there are any reasons that would deem an expulsion unlawful or unreasonable… under Article 3 of ECHR, for example,” our source in the Swiss judiciary explains.

Mr Sonko had asked for an asylum status in Switzerland prior to his arrest in 2016, after he fled The Gambia upon the termination of his services as Minister of Interior under Jammeh. He was subsequently arrested before the application – whose infamous letter presented as evidence to the court, quoted him as saying, among other things, that Yahya Jammeh had given instruction to shoot at protesters in April 2016, which he refused – was approved or otherwise.


Unsuccessful asylum

According to our source, the asylum application and the trial for crimes committed in Gambia are two separate issues. “Sonko’s asylum procedure did not continue due to the criminal procedure. If he gets convicted, he will be rejected because the refugee convention excludes people who committed crimes against humanity from refugee status in Switzerland,” said our source.

Therefore, if he is not recognised as a refugee, Mr Ousman Sonko is not protected from expulsion/deportation under refugee law of Switzerland.

But again, the decision of the court on 15th May 2024 will determine whether Mr Sonko will return to Gambia at some point or not, or what will be the next steps or options for him.

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