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Former Gambian interior minister sentenced for crimes against humanity by Swiss court

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Former Gambian interior minister sentenced for crimes against humanity by Swiss court
  • Switzerland’s top criminal court convicted former Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Sonko of crimes against humanity.
  • Sonko has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for his role in repression under ex-dictator Yahya Jammeh.
  • Sonko, who served from 2006 to 2016, faced charges including homicide, torture and false imprisonment.

Switzerland’s top criminal court on Wednesday convicted a former interior minister of Gambia for crimes against humanity and sentenced him to 20 years over his role in repression committed by the west African country’s security forces under its longtime dictator, a legal advocacy group said.

Prosecutors had been seeking a life sentence for Ousman Sonko, Gambia’s interior minister from 2006 to 2016 under then-President Yahya Jammeh, TRIAL International said.

The Federal Criminal Court in the southern town of Bellinzona ruled that Sonko’s crimes — including homicide, torture and false imprisonment — amounted to crimes against humanity. However, they did not rise to “aggravated” cases that could have brought the maximum penalty of life behind bars, according to several lawyers who attended the trial.

SENEGAL’S OPPOSITION LEADER OUSMANE SONKO TO ADDRESS SUPPORTERS AFTER MONTHS IN PRISON

The trial, which began in January, was hailed by advocacy groups as a watershed application of the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” which allows for the prosecution of serious crimes committed abroad.

Legal advocacy group TRIAL International said on Wednesday that Ousman Sonko, pictured above, has been sentenced to 20 years in prison. (AP Photo/Sylvain Cherkaoui, File)

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Activists and legal experts say the verdict could send a message to Jammeh, who fled Gambia and remains in exile in Equatorial Guinea.

Sonko, who was in the courtroom for Wednesday’s reading of the verdict, offered little reaction when a translation was read out in English, said TRIAL International’s legal adviser Benoit Meystre, who also attended the proceedings.

Sonko applied for asylum in Switzerland in November 2016 and was arrested two months later. The Swiss attorney general’s office said his indictment, filed a year ago, covered alleged crimes during 16 years under Jammeh, whose rule was marked by arbitrary detention, sexual abuse and extrajudicial killings.

TOP SENEGALESE OPPOSITION LEADER FREED FROM JAIL AS ELECTION NEARS

Sonko was accused of supporting, participating in and failing to stop attacks against opponents in Gambia, an English-speaking West African country surrounded by neighboring Senegal. The crimes included killings, torture, rape and numerous unlawful detentions, prosecutors said.

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“This unprecedented conviction based on universal jurisdiction in Europe is the confirmation that no one is above the reach of justice,” Meystre said in a text message. “Even the most powerful figures can be brought to account for their participation in mass atrocities.”

Madi MK Ceesay, an award-winning journalist who was once arrested under Sonko’s orders and who testified in the trial, told The Associated Press the proceedings showed that “no matter what, the long arm of justice can always catch the perpetrator.”

Reed Brody, an American human rights lawyer who attended the trial, said Sonko’s conviction was a pivotal step toward justice for Jammeh’s victims.

“The long arm of the law is catching up with Yahya Jammeh’s accomplices all around the world, and hopefully will soon catch up with Jammeh himself,” he said.

Sonko was convicted of homicide, torture and false imprisonment as crimes against humanity, while rape charges against him were dropped, Brody wrote on X.

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Outside the courtroom, Olimatou Sonko, the defendant’s daughter, told Swiss public broadcaster SRF “it isn’t fair” that the full proceedings of the trial weren’t translated to English from German, which her father doesn’t understand.

Philip Grant, executive director at TRIAL International, which filed the Swiss case against Ousman Sonko before his arrest, said he was the highest-level former official ever to be put on trial in Europe under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

Sonko, who joined the Gambian military in 1988, was appointed commander of the State Guard in 2003, a position in which he was responsible for Jammeh’s security, Swiss prosecutors said. He was made inspector general of the Gambian police in 2005.

He was removed as interior minister in September 2016, a few months before the end of Jammeh’s government, and left Gambia to seek asylum in Europe.

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Ousman Sonko is not to be confused with leading politician Ousmane Sonko in Senegal, who spells his first name slightly differently.

Jammeh seized control in a 1994 coup. He lost Gambia’s 2016 presidential election but refused to concede defeat to Adama Barrow, and ultimately fled amid threats of a regional military intervention to force him from power.

“The verdict against Ousman Sonko is a milestone in the fight against impunity and a historic success for universal jurisdiction in Switzerland and Europe,” Amnesty Switzerland wrote on X. “Even former ministers can be prosecuted! Victims and their families finally see justice.”

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Biden admin urges China show to 'restraint' in Taiwan as former Navy captain warns CCP 'preparing for war'

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Biden admin urges China show to 'restraint' in Taiwan as former Navy captain warns CCP 'preparing for war'

The Biden administration is warning China to “act with restraint” after the CCP-controlled Chinese military ran provocative military drills near Taiwan on Friday.

Dozens of Chinese navy vessels and warplanes were spotted off the coast of Taiwan on Friday, according to Taiwanese military officials. 49 Chinese warplanes and 19 navy vessels were counted in total.

Taiwanese officials reported that 35 of the Chinese planes flew across the median line in the Taiwan Strait, which is considered the de-facto boundary between the two countries.

In a statement published on Saturday, State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller said that the U.S. is “deeply concerned” over the military drills.

CHINA’S FOREIGN MINISTRY BLASTS TAIWAN INAUGURATION, PHILIPPINES STANDOFF IN SOUTH CHINA SEA

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A Chinese warship sails during a military drill near the Taiwan-controlled Matsu Islands that are close to the Chinese coast, on April 8. (Reuters/Thomas Peter)

“We are monitoring PRC activities closely and coordinating with allies and partners regarding our shared concerns,” the statement read. “We strongly urge Beijing to act with restraint.”

“Using a normal, routine, and democratic transition as an excuse for military provocations risks escalation and erodes longstanding norms that for decades have maintained peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait, which is critical for regional and global security and prosperity and a matter of international concern,” Miller added.

CHINA SANCTIONS FORMER REPUBLICAN REP MIKE GALLAGHER AFTER TAIWAN PRESIDENT’S INAUGURATION

taiwan new navy corvettes

In this photo released by the Taiwan Presidential Office, newly commissioned navy ships are seen in the northern Taiwan port of Suao on Tuesday, March 26, 2024.  (Taiwan Presidential Office via AP)

On Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin blasted the U.S.’s previous calls for restraint in response to past military drills.

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“[The U.S.] is in no position to make such irresponsible remarks,” Wang was quoted as saying.

The drills come as tensions continue to intensify in the region. Former Taiwanese navy captain Lu Li Shih told Sky News that China is “preparing for war.”

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin attends a regular press conference

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin attends a regular press conference on May 24, 2022 in Beijing, China. (VCG/VCG via Getty Images)

“China is preparing for war based on the number of military ships and the hiring of new recruits. It’s all for self-defense, and Taiwan,” the former captian said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Russia hits Kharkiv supermarket in deadly attack

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Russia hits Kharkiv supermarket in deadly attack

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the airstrike “a manifestation of Russian madness”.

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Scores of people were killed or wounded when an aerial bomb hit a large store in the city of Kharkiv on Saturday afternoon, according to local officials.

The airstrike caused a huge fire to break out, with huge plumes of smoke seen filling the sky in social media footage. 

Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy said more than 200 people could have been inside the store. 

A second bomb hit the city’s central park, Kharkiv Mayor Ihor Terekhov said.

Zelenskyy called the airstrike “a manifestation of Russian madness”, and appealed to Western countries to provide Ukraine with air defence systems.

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“When we tell world leaders that Ukraine requires adequate air defence protection … we are literally talking about how not to allow such terrorist strikes,” he said in a post on X.

“Only madmen like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin are capable of killing and terrorising people in this way,” Zelenskyy added.

Kharkiv region is situated about 20 kilometres from the Russian border. 

Moscow’s troops have in recent weeks captured villages in the area as part of a broad push, and analysts say they may be trying to get within artillery range of Kharkiv city. 

Ukrainian authorities have evacuated more than 11,000 people from the region since the start of the offensive on 10 May.

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Russia’s Kharkiv push appears to be a coordinated new offensive that includes testing Ukrainian defences in the Donetsk region further south, where Russia’s Defense Ministry said Saturday that its forces had taken over the village of Arkhanhelske. 

They have also launched incursions in the northern Sumy and Chernihiv regions.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has said the Kremlin’s army is attempting to create a “buffer zone” in the Kharkiv region to prevent Ukrainian cross-border attacks.

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Biden Set to Deliver Commencement at West Point on Saturday

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Biden Set to Deliver Commencement at West Point on Saturday
By Jarrett Renshaw WILMINGTON, Delaware (Reuters) – U.S. President Biden will deliver the commencement speech on Saturday at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, amid conflicts in Ukraine and Gaza. The speech before some 1,000 U.S. Army cadets is part of a push by Biden to highlight the …
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