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An historic trial opened on January 8 for the West African nation of The Gambia. Ousman Sonko, a former high-ranking member of the dictatorship of Yahya Jammeh, is in the dock in Switzerland for a series of alleged crimes against humanity committed between 2000 and 2016. Victims of the dictatorship have high hopes for the trial. FRANCE 24’s Sarah Sakho and Simon Martin report.
From 1994, when Yahya Jammeh came to power in a bloodless coup, The Gambia lived in fear as the country plunged into dictatorship. For 22 years, all Gambians suffered from Jammeh’s rule – directly or indirectly – as torture, massacres by death squads, extrajudicial executions, rape and forced disappearances took place. Journalists and the opposition were silenced. Jammeh withdrew his country from the Commonwealth and began the process of withdrawing from the International Criminal Court, while transforming The Gambia into an Islamic Republic.
Since the fall of the dictator in 2016, the country has been grappling with its past. In January 2017, a Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission was set up to shed light on the crimes committed by the regime and initiate proceedings against those responsible. This is the first step towards enabling Gambians to move forward and put an end to the brutal legacy of Jammeh, who is now living in exile in Equatorial Guinea.
But no trial has so far taken place in The Gambia. And victims are losing patience. The trial of former Gambian interior minister Ousman Sonko, currently in the dock in Switzerland for crimes against humanity, is therefore eagerly anticipated in Gambia. Sonko is accused of various counts of crimes against humanity – including repeated torture and rape – which he is alleged to have committed between 2000 and 2016: first as a member of the army, then as inspector general of the police, and finally as a minister.
This historic trial could pave the way for an appearance by Jammeh himself, the man ultimately responsible for The Gambia’s years of terror.
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