Following the revelations of his active role in the repressive regime of ousted president, Yahya Jammeh, former Gambian interior minister, Ousman Sonko, has been arrested by the Swiss authorities.
Sonko was arrested yesterday, 26 January in an asylum centre in Berlin following a case of crimes against humanity filed against him by the human rights organisation TRIAL International. The Geneva-based NGO fights impunity for international crimes.
“We welcome the arrest of Mr. Sonko and the reaction of the Swiss authorities,” says Philip Grant, Director of TRIAL International. “We now encourage them to follow through with an inquiry. The law is clear: Switzerland has the obligation to immediately open an inquiry on torture suspects present on its soil. “
Sonko had applied for refugee protection in Switzerland and has been staying in the asylum centre in the Canton of Bern since November 2016, police chief Hans-Juerg Kaeser revealed on Wednesday, 25 January.
After the revelation, several human rights groups called on the Swiss government to arrest Sonko, who has been accused of participating in the torture and extra-judicial killing of perceived political opponents of Jammeh.
The Swiss prosecuting authorities will now have to determine whether Ousman Sonko has participated in these crimes, TRIAL International said in a statement.
“Since the early 2000s, the international community has repeatedly denounced the brutality of the Gambian regime. The United Nations, NGOs and regional courts have all outlined the numerous exactions committed by the State,” the statement continued.
“One of the regime’s strongmen, Ousman Sonko, is currently in Switzerland. This former Minister of Interior (2006-2016) was head of the police and of detention centres. Could he really have been unaware of the ongoing human rights violations?”
Sonko was implicated in the murder of journalist Deyda Hydara by some former regime members. The prominent journalist and publisher is one of the hundreds of Gambians who disappeared during Jammeh’s 22-year iron-fisted rule.
Analysts say Sonko is an information encyclopaedia on Jammeh’s oppressive regime and rights abuses, “having coordinated and directly participated” in them.
After he was sacked by Jammeh on 16 September 2016, Sonko fled to Senegal and then to Sweden, where his asylum application was rejected. He entered Swiss territory on 10 November 2016, where he is seeking for asylum.
Sonko’s arrest will gladden the hearts of Gambian victims of the Jammeh dictatorship who have been calling for the prosecution of members of the regime responsible for the widespread abuse of human rights during their reign.
Jammeh, who ruled the small West African nation for 22 years with an iron fist, had refused to step down after he was defeated in the December election. He finally left for Equatorial Guinea on Saturday, 21 January after weeks of pressure from ECOWAS leaders including the incursion into the country of a regional intervention military force.
An understanding reached with Jammeh before agreeing to step down and leave the country precludes his prosecution and that of his key aides. However, some members of the new government have said that the agreement does not have the force of law.