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Lawyers Say Sonko Misled Swiss Investigators On NIA, Junglers’ Torture

By Sanna Camara

Despite attempts by his lawyers of Sonko’s innocence and ignorance of what goes on the torture chambers of the National Intelloignce agency and Mile 2 Prisons, lawyers of the plaintiffs have argued that Mr Sonko is indeed central to the activities of the Junglers and the NIA, and
had coordinated the cooperation between the NIA and the police, including the cover-up of the torture.

The 55 year-old Ousman Sonko was a Commander of the presidential guards of The Gambia, and became the Inspector General of police. In 2006, he was appointed Minister of the Interior until September 2016, when he was removed from office and later fled the country to Europe, where the Swiss based international human rights NGO, Trial, filed a criminal complaint against him in January 2017. He was arrested and placed under custody while the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of Switzerland opened investigations into crimes alleged against him. In April 2023, he was formally indicted for multiple counts of crimes against humanity allegedly committed between 2000 and 2016.

Lawyers of the plaintiffs’ for the past 36 hours have been arguing their plea bargains in support of the Federal Prosecutor’s case for the conviction of Ousman Sonko for crimes against humanity. They argued and gave illustrative points that Mr Ousman Sonko had repeatedly and deliberately misled the Swiss prosecuting authorities from the beginning of the investigation by being selective with the evidence collected – including of the TRRC findings – and only used it when and where they suited him. They said Sonko also “regularly shifted the responsibility to others.”

His trial opened on 8 January 2024 before the Swiss Federal Criminal Court (FCC) in Bellinzona. The parties’ hearings were finalized on 23 January 2024, proceeding to the plea bargains once the presentation of evidence phase closed. Ousman Sonko’s trial is the second in
history to address crimes committed in The Gambia under the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh based on the principle of Universal Jurisdiction, that allows perpetrators of crimes against humanity and war crimes to be prosecuted anywhere they are found, even if these crimes have been committed in a different jurisdiction.

“Ousman Sonko’s claims that his subordinates – the then Director of Prison and the former IGP – acted on their own authority or without his consent were unrealistic and clearly contradicted by the evidence gathered. Moreover, both testified before the TRRC that there were serious and systematic police failures in relation to the crimes committed under the Jammeh regime,” Fanny de Weck, the lawyer for Fatoumatta Jawara and Fatou camara, opposition activists arrested, detained and tortured for 2016 electoral reform demonstrations argued.

She said it speaks volumes that Ousman Sonko denies serious and systematic police and prison misconduct that even his subordinates have admitted.

“Despite the accused’s attempts to absolve himself of responsibility, the available evidence in the case also clearly showed that it was the Minister of the Interior who coordinated the cooperation between the NIA and the police, including the cover-up of the torture,” Fanny de
Weck added.

Also, the lawyers said their clients provided the prosecuting authorities with accurate and detailed accounts of the events they experienced, even to Mrs Nogoi Njie, who died in 2023, just before the hearings kicked off and years after the investigation process.

“The denial of the fact that the private plaintiffs were severely tortured on 14 April 2016, which was obviously known to him and the general public, shows once again how unbelievable the defendant’s statements about his role are. In May 2016, no one in The Gambia – except Sonko
– would claim not to have witnessed the disappearance and torture of our clients.

The lawyers of plaintiffs contend that the policy of violent suppression of any opposition by the Jammeh regime was implemented by all security forces, that coordination between them was agreed at the highest level of the State, and that the establishment of panels to “investigate” coup attempts was a common system to attack, intimidate and silence the civilian population in the broadest sense.

“Ousman Sonko is obviously a very smart man, an excellent politician who can answer questions without giving answers. But one is always left somewhat unsatisfied when listening to him. He does not present a coherent and understandable alternative set of facts that would
allow the judge to evaluate the evidence differently,” one of the plaintiff lawyers said to the Judges.

They further argued that the information provided by Ousman Sonko was neither coherent nor consistent in itself, nor consistent with the other files, the interrogations, the Gambian legal assistance file, nor the TRRC proceedings. Neither is it consistent with common life experience, or with any kind of logic.

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