Sonko trial: what can we expect from Swiss justice?

In this podcast produced with Asymmetrical Haircuts, two Justice Info correspondents take the floor. Mariam Sankanu, who is covering the post-Truth Commission period in Gambia. And Hannah el Hitami, who in Germany has covered several major universal jurisdiction trials, including the latest against a Gambian, Bai Lowe, sentenced to life imprisonment. They recount their experiences of these trials, and explain, along with two legal experts, what we can expect from the trial of former minister Ousman Sonko, which opens in Switzerland on 8 January.

Sonko trial in Switzerland - Photo : Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Sonko at a conference on cluster munitions in Oslo (Norway) in 2008.
Gambian Interior Minister Ousman Sonko at a conference on cluster munitions in Oslo (Norway) in 2008. © Gunnar Mjaugedal
1 min 44Approximate reading time

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This week we speak to journalists and legal experts covering a number of universal jurisdiction cases regarding The Gambia. The country was ruled by the former soldier turned President Yahya Jammeh, whose brutal 22-year regime was marked by widespread abuses, including forced disappearances, extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detention.

In Germany, the first case using universal jurisdiction to tackle the human rights violations committed during the Jammeh era has just ended. Two more trials are upcoming; one in Switzerland and the other in the United States. All concern alleged accomplices of Jammeh.

At the end of November, a German court convicted Bai Lowe, a former driver for the military unit known as the Junglers. He was charged with crimes against humanity and sentenced to life in prison over his participation in the death squad that assassinated opponents of Jammeh. We sat down with German-Egyptian journalist Hannah El-Hitami, who has followed the trial and asked her about the verdict.

Up next we spoke to Benoit Meystre, Legal Advisor for Trial International about the upcoming case of former Interior Minister Ousman Sonko. Sonko is accused of having committed multiple crimes, including torture, kidnapping, sexual violence and killings perpetrated between 2000 and 2016. The trial will start in January 2024.

The third case is of Michael Sang Correa, another alleged member of the Junglers. He was indicted in June 2020 after being arrested in the United States for overstaying his visa. He has been charged with multiple counts of torture and is awaiting trial. Ela Matthews, a Senior Staff Attorney for the Center for Justice & Accountability, gave us a rundown of the case and explained why these ‘torture cases’ are rarely seen in the United States.

We also spoke to Gambian journalist Mariam Sankanu, who has been closely following all these trials. She stressed the importance of making these trials accessible to the Gambian people and including victims in the process as much as possible.

Asymmetrical Haircuts podcastASYMMETRICAL HAIRCUTS

This podcast has been published as part of a partnership between and Asymmetrical Haircuts, a podcast on international justice produced from The Hague by journalists Janet Anderson and Stephanie van den Berg, who retain full control and independence over the contents of the podcast.

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