Lawyer of ex-interior minister Sonko says Swiss court denies client’s right to fair trial


Philippe Currat, the lawyer of Gambia’s former interior minister on trial for crimes against humanity in Switzerland, has criticised the decision of the Swiss Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona for imposing German as the sole language of their proceedings.

In 2016, Sonko fell out with ex-president Yahya Jammeh and fled to Switzerland. He was arrested in Bern in January 2017, a day after the Geneva-based rights organization— Trial International— filed a criminal complaint against him. He was formally indicted by the Swiss Office of the Attorney General before the Federal Criminal Court in April 2023.

The Swiss Attorney General’s office, along with ten plaintiffs, accused the former minister of torture, murder, false imprisonment, rape, and deprivation of liberty. The trial began on January 8 but the pleadings were moved to the first week of March.

Though translations were allowed for Gambian witnesses who spoke in national languages and English during the trial, the peladings was strictly done in German.

“We consider that the strict use of German as the sole language of the proceedings affected our client’s access to justice. He stated that clearly at different stages of the proceedings,” said Currat.

“According to Art. 32(2) of the Swiss Federal Constitution, a defendant must be put in a position to effectively allow him to assert the rights of the defense, which is not the case if he does not understand the language of the proceedings, even if he is assisted by a lawyer.”

Sonko raised a similar concern as he made his final statement in the court. “You ordered that I be provided with a written translation, which has not been done to date, so I have no idea what you were told by the Federal Prosecutor,” said Sonko.

“The pleadings of the plaintiffs were not translated for me, either orally or in writing, so I have no idea what was said during this week of pleadings. I am therefore not in a position to comment on the conclusions reached by each of the people who pleaded before my defence.”

The March hearing marks the end of the trial but the court is yet to announce the date of the verdict.