Ousman Sonko was the Minister of Interior under the Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh from 2006 to 2016. During this period he is suspected of taking part in acts of torture, including in detention centers.
Dismissed from office in September 2016, Ousman Sonko fled the Gambia for Senegal, then Sweden, where he sought asylum. His application was rejected. He then went to Switzerland where he also applied for asylum.
Alerted of his presence, TRIAL International lodged a criminal complaint with the Bernese prosecuting authorities on 25 January 2017. The authorities ordered his arrest the following day, in accordance with the Convention against Torture and the Swiss Criminal Code.
Following his arrest, the Bernese authorities questioned him and decided to keep him in custody. The charges against Ousman Sonko were requalified as 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.
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 case’s expenses in Switzerland.
Between 2017 and 2020, the Court of Coercive Measures of the Bern canton extended the former minister’s detention on numerous occasions. Currently, the measures of constraint remain in force until 25 January 2021. Ousman Sonko’s appeals against several of these decisions to the Federal Criminal Court and then to the Swiss Federal Court have so far always been rejected. As have the requests for provisional release made by his lawyers.
Throughout 2020, several witnesses were heard by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) of Switzerland.
In 2021, the OAG continued its investigation of the case. The Swiss authorities travelled again to The Gambia in June 2021 to gather more evidence. Throughout the year, several witnesses were heard by the OAG, including through mutual legal assistance. Sonko’s detention has been renewed several times throughout 2021 for three-month periods.
Gambia was under the control of Yahya Jammeh from 1994 to 2017. For more than two decades, all opposition was brutally repressed: torture, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances were widespread.
Ousman Sonko was commander of the Presidential Guard (elite corps), then a member of the Gambian army. He was finally the Inspector General of Police.
After the re-election of Yahya Jammeh in September 2006, Ousman Sonko was appointed Minister of Interior. He held this position until September 2016, when he was dismissed from office and left Gambia.