The Office of the Attorney General in Switzerland has indicated that the case of Ousman Sonko, ex-Gambian Interior minister, would be among two cases that would proceed to trial on charges of crimes against humanity.
Ousman Sonko was Gambia’s Interior minister under Yahya Jammeh from 2006 and 2016 – a period when grave crimes against humanity and human rights violations were committedunder his watch. He was suspected of taking part in torture, including in detention centres.
“The speaker of the Federal Prosecuting Office indeed reportedly announced that the Sonko’s case would go to trial,” said Benedict de Morerloose, lawyer and head of Investigations & Criminal Law Division at Trial International, the Swiss based international justice NGO that lodged complaints against Sonko.
“In my opinion, it is a bit of an early announcement since the investigations are still ongoing, but it shows that the federal prosecutors already believe that the file is strong enough to lead to a trial. It is difficult to say when [exactly] the trial will take place,” Benedict said, adding that trails can be expected in about a year.
Sonko after falling out with Yahya Jammeh in September 2016, fled The Gambia for Senegal, then to Sweden where he applied for asylum. He also went to Switzerland after his first application for asylum got rejected in Sweden. It was there that the Swiss NGO lodged a complaint with the Bernese prosecuting authorities on Jan. 25, 2017.
Their authorities ordered Sonko’s arrest the next day, in accordance with the Convention Against Torture and the Swiss Criminal Code.
Since then, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Switzerland opened an investigation into Sonko’s alleged crimes in The Gambia. Despite his efforts to get bail while investigations were ongoing, the Federal Supreme Court upheld a request made by the Swiss Attorney General’s Office to keep the ex-minister in custody until the investigations are completed.
The Gambian government also agreed that the trial of Ousman Sonko should take place in Switzerland instead of extraditing him to The Gambia.
“We wish to respect the integrity of the Swiss process and not interfere in any way, apart from providing assistance to the Swiss authorities,” Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou was quoted as saying to Rundschau, a news programme on Swiss public television SRF.
With the collaboration of Gambian Justice Ministry, several witnesses have since made it to Switzerland to file complaints against Ousman Sonko.