Ousman Sonko was a member of the Gambian army under the regime of Yahya Jammeh, former President of the Republic of The Gambia from 1994 to 2016. He was appointed Commander of the Presidential Guard, an elite unit of the Gambian armed forces. He then served as Inspector General of Police, before being appointed Minister of the Interior in 2006. He held this position until September 2016, when he was dismissed from office and left The Gambia.
While serving as Minister of the Interior, Sonko allegedly committed crimes, such as commanding a special squad known for its brutality against citizens or facilitating torture and killings in official and unofficial detention centers.
Dismissed from office in September 2016, Ousman Sonko fled Gambia for Senegal and then Sweden, where he sought asylum. His application was rejected. He then came to Switzerland where he also applied for asylum
Alerted of his presence, TRIAL International lodged a criminal complaint with the prosecuting authorities in Bern on 25 January 2017. The authorities ordered his arrest on the following day, in accordance with the Convention against Torture and the Swiss Criminal Code.
Following his arrest, the Bernese authorities questioned Sonko and decided to keep him in custody. The charges against Ousman Sonko were requalified from torture to crimes against humanity and the case was transferred to the Office of the Attorney General of Switzerland. Two victims of torture have already filed a complaint against him at this point.
On 3 May 2017, the Court of Coercive Measures of the canton of Bern decided to extend his detention by three months.
On 19 October 2017, the Swiss Federal Tribunal confirmed the seizure of Ousman Sonko’s assets. They are worth approximately 14’000 USD and should be used to cover the costs of legal proceedings in Switzerland.
On 2 November 2017, the Court of Coercive Measures of the canton of Bern extended once again his detention by three months.
Ousman Sonko’s detention was extended by six months in January and August 2018, and again in February and September 2019.
Gambia was under the control of Yahya Jammeh from 1994 to 2017. For more than two decades, political opposition was being brutally repressed; torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances were widespread.