Editorial Human Rights Legal Matters News

The sentencing of Ousman Sonko, the former Gambian Interior Minister, delivers a stark warning: no matter the attempts to flee or hide, justice will prevail. The delivery of justice marks the cessation of impunity.

Fatoumatta:The conviction of Ousman Sonko, the former Gambian Interior Minister, offers profound lessons. On May 15, 2024, the Swiss top court sentenced Sonko to 20 years in prison for crimes against humanity, linked to the repression by Gambia’s security forces against the regime’s opponents. The charges spanned his 16-year tenure under President Yahya Jammeh, a period notorious for human rights abuses such as arbitrary detention, sexual abuse, and extrajudicial killings. This verdict serves as a stark reminder to all Gambians of the potential consequences of actions taken, especially given the prevalent belief in the country that anything is possible. It underscores the importance of considering the long-term effects of pursuing personal goals at the expense of ethical conduct.

The Gambia has been critically lacking in fundamental humanistic values, allowing perpetrators to become aggressors and openly attack their victims, while culprits audaciously continue to offend by not acknowledging or showing remorse for their crimes. The absence of public outrage to challenge this impunity within the halls of power is alarming. What a state of affairs for a country!

However, the world is not trending in that direction, as the case of Ousman Sonko demonstrates, with unexpected shocks always a possibility. It is high time for Gambians to reject the culture of impunity and adhere to due process. On May 15, 2024, Switzerland’s highest criminal court found him guilty and delivered its verdict.

Fatoumatta: The ordeal of Osman Sonko garners human compassion. In light of Ousman Sonko’s conviction, three objectives come to mind: justice, healing, redemption, and the cessation of impunity. The conviction of Ousman Sonko serves as a testament to the sanctity of the rule of law, which must prevail at all times, regardless of the individual involved. This case underscores the principle that no one is above the law, affirming that both the wealthy and the less fortunate stand equal before its judgment. The most significant lesson for Gambians from this conviction is the necessity for the criminal justice system to be applied uniformly to all, irrespective of social status. Practically, it has been observed that the affluent may evade severe punishment while the impoverished face harsh consequences for minor offenses, ostensibly to demonstrate the efficacy of the criminal justice system. Moreover, the presence of comprehensive laws, including those against human trafficking, has not translated into consistent enforcement and prosecution. The ordeal of Ousman Sonko has highlighted that such equitable enforcement is not always the case elsewhere. To assume otherwise would be to risk the same fate as Sonko.

The rule of law must prevail in Gambia; without it, the country risks descending into chaos and anarchy. It is imperative that the judiciary be reinstated to its central role within the nation’s governance, as it is the essential institution responsible for delivering justice. As the maxim goes, “Fiat justicia ruat coelum” (Let justice be done though the heavens fall). St. Augustine once remarked that without justice, what remains is but grand larceny.

The convictions of Ousman Sonko and Bai Lowe,a soldier and member of the presidential elite killers the “Jungullars” convicted in Germany for crimes against humanity should motivate Gambian authorities to establish swift and fair justice to deter impunity. Had there been an independent judiciary with executive political will, figures like Sonko and Lowe might have enjoyed impunity or amnesty. Ordinary Gambians often suffer in prison for minor thefts, while corrupt officials, powerful businesspeople, and favored individuals guilty of corruption live without consequence. The Gambia ranks high among nations where many lack access to affordable, free legal representation, exacerbated by the exorbitant fees charged by most Gambian lawyers.

Although the Gambia government has received the reports and recommendations of both the Truth, Reconciliation, and Reparation Commission and the Janneh Commission, along with a White Paper, the true test of its commitment to justice and equality for all lies in promoting reconciliation. In the Gambia, truth-telling is crucial for achieving the objectives outlined in the White Paper and other community initiatives. It is often said that there can be no peace without truth, and no justice without truth.

Furthermore, it is heartening to note that historically, truth and reconciliation commissions have helped wounded societies heal and recover from deep-seated divisions and injustices, as seen in South Africa post-apartheid and in the redressal provided to the victims of the Kenyan Mau-Mau uprising. This was after the UK government acknowledged the injustices committed during the 1950s land disputes that led to the uprising.

The UK government’s admission on June 6, 2013, through former Foreign Secretary William Hague, that Kenyans were tortured and the expression of sincere regret for the abuses during the Mau-Mau revolt, reinforces my conviction that the Gambia government’s dedication to truth-telling can build an equitable society that welcomes individuals regardless of their background, faith, or creed.

Truth, aligned with fact and reality, drives me to express the truths of Gambia’s history and current state. I believe that now is the time for truth in Gambia, to confront the historical injustices and human rights violations of previous administrations, as well as the current senseless loss of lives and destruction of property within the country.

It is anticipated that President Barrow is thoroughly informed about the Truth Commission’s recommendations and the investigations carried out over the years, including the indicted individuals, agencies, and corporate entities. It is hoped that the president is ready to act accordingly because the period of grace is ended, and the Gambian people are demanding answers. The questions posed by Gambians are not about whether human rights abuses and corruption took place under past and present administrations. They are not absolving him of responsibility while holding former presidents accountable for these injustices. The Gambian people are no longer waiting for President Barrow to learn from mistakes; they are questioning why the impoverished must bear the consequences of the criminal actions of these individuals and companies.

Fatoumatta: As the government pursues an economic reform agenda, it is essential to acknowledge that no economy can prosper with unchecked criminality. True economic reform is only possible through economic justice, which entails imposing the burden of reforms on those responsible for the issues, rather than on the citizenry.

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