Switzerland’s Office of the Attorney General has taken over the case involving a former Gambian interior minister suspected of crimes against humanity. Until now, the Bernese cantonal authorities had been handling the case as the man’s asylum proceedings were Bern-based.
Last week, Bern’s chief public prosecutor asked the federal authorities to accept jurisdiction of the case. Now the Office of the Attorney General (OAG) will handle the criminal investigation of Ousman Sonko, who served under Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh.
“The elements presented in the request would not rule out a suspicion of crimes against humanity; since 2011, these international offences have been subject to federal jurisdiction,” announced the OAG in a statement on Mondayexternal link. “As always, the presumption of innocence applies in these criminal proceedings.”
Sonko, who commanded a Gambian squad known for its brutality, fled to Europe after Jammeh sacked him. In September 2016 he unsuccessfully applied for asylum in Sweden. He then moved on to Switzerland, which took over his asylum application in November and assigned him to an asylum centre in canton Bern.
TRIAL International, based in Geneva, filed a criminal complaint against Sonko asking the authorities to prosecute him for alleged brutality against opponents through detentions, beatings and killings.
“It appears that TRIAL International gathered valuable information relevant to the criminal proceedings,” said the OAG, noting, however, that the political situation in Gambia is in flux – “which will have implications for the functioning of the Gambian justice system and possibly for any cooperation with the Swiss prosecution authorities”.
In December, Gambia elected a new president and Jammah headed for Equatorial Guinea, denying any allegations of torturing or killing opponents during his 22 years in power. Sonko has been in Swiss police custody since January 28. Now it will be up to the OAG to determine whether he is guilty, and of what, exactly.
“The OAG will continue its investigations in the coming weeks and until the end of the three-month period of remand authorised by the court, in particular with a view to establishing whether there are sufficient grounds to establish crimes against humanity,” reported the OAG in its statement.