The fight against impunity is moving ahead!
A message from Benoit Meystre, Legal Advisor (International Investigations and Litigation program) and Philip Grant, Executive Director.
In the past few months, we’ve witnessed breakthroughs in several international crime cases supported by TRIAL International.
Early next year, the Federal Criminal Court (FCC) in Bellinzona is expected to begin a trial of significant international importance as it will try Ousman Sonko, the former Gambian Interior Minister accused of participating in the commission of crimes against humanity during Yahya Jammeh’s dictatorship. The case started with a complaint filed by TRIAL International, which has extensively documented the alleged crimes and supported the victims in their quest for justice. The upcoming trial marks a crucial step in the transitional justice process in Gambia, where efforts are also underway to hold accountable those responsible for the atrocities committed during President Jammeh’s era. Mr. Sonko’s trial will only be the second to take place before the FCC based on the principle of universal jurisdiction. But more than anything, Mr. Sonko will be the highest-ranking official ever tried in Europe under this principle!
Additionally, two decade-old criminal complaints for alleged war crimes and even crimes against humanity filed by TRIAL International against high-ranking individuals have seen significant progress over the summer. First, it was announced on 16 August 2023 that Swiss authorities had issued an international arrest warrant against Rifaat al-Assad, the uncle of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, for his alleged role in massive war crimes committed in 1982 in the city of Hama. Less than two weeks later, the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland indicted the former Algerian Defense Minister, Khaled Nezzar, for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Both cases resulted from comprehensive investigations, with criminal complaints filed by TRIAL International in 2013 and 2011, respectively. Finally, they seem to be making progress!
We’ve witnessed three important steps forward, but unfortunately also one step back. On 28 September 2023, a court in Saint-Gallen acquitted Yuri Harauski. Mr. Harauski was a former member of an elite hit squad of Belarus President Aliaksandr Lukashenka. TRIAL International filed a complaint against Mr. Harauski after we located him in Switzerland, for his participation in the enforced disappearances of three prominent political opponents in 1999. Despite his repeated public confessions, the court surprisingly ruled that his involvement in the crimes couldn’t be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. We will continue to support the families of the victims, including during the upcoming appeal phase. Nevertheless, the trial set a historic precedent: for the first time ever, a court has ruled on crimes committed by the security apparatus of Belarus’ dictatorship based on the principle of universal jurisdiction.
Finally, a civil lawsuit was filed recently by a Swiss-based company against TRIAL International and Public Eye, following a 2020 report which shed light on the alleged involvement of this company in gasoil trading activities in Libya. Although this suit will consume time, financial, and human resources, we’re confident about the outcome. Rest assured, it won’t hinder our fight against impunity!
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We’d be both delighted and proud to count you among our supporters!
Benoit Meystre, Legal Advisor (International Investigations and Litigation program) and Philip Grant, Executive Director