By Omar Bah
International human rights defender Reed Brody, famous for hunting dictators and bringing them to justice, has welcome Swiss prosecutors’ decision to charge Gambian former interior minister Ousman Sonko with crimes against humanity.
Yesterday, Swiss prosecutors said they have charged Sonko with crimes against humanity for his alleged role in years of repression by the country’s security forces against opponents of its long-time dictator Yahya Jammeh.
Reacting to this development in a Standard exclusive yesterday, Brody, who successfully worked to bring former Chadian dictator Habrè to justice and is working to achieve similar success against Jammeh, said: “The long arm of the law is catching up with Yahya Jammeh and his accomplices around the world. Jammeh’s henchmen have been indicted in Germany, Switzerland and the United States, and the Gambia government has committed itself to the prosecution of his accomplices in The Gambia, and of Jammeh himself, now in Equatorial Guinea.”
Sonko served as Gambia’s interior minister from 2006 to 2016 under former president Yahya Jammeh. He applied for asylum in Switzerland in November 2016 and was arrested in January 2017.
The Swiss attorney general’s office said the indictment, which was filed Monday in Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona, covers alleged crimes between 2000 and 2016.
Sonko “is accused, in his various capacities and positions, of having supported, participated in and failed to prevent systematic and generalised attacks as part of the repression carried out by the Gambian security forces against all opponents of the regime,” the office said in a statement.
Jammeh, who seized control in a 1994 coup, lost Gambia’s 2016 presidential election but refused to concede defeat to Adama Barrow. He ultimately fled amid threats of a regional military intervention to force him from power.
Barrow’s government last year announced that it was setting up a special prosecutor’s office to investigate for severe human rights violations and potentially charge Jammeh. The investigation came in response to recommendations from a truth, reconciliation and reparations commission, which said Jammeh should face prosecution for murder, torture and sexual violence under his rule.
Sonko, who joined the Gambian military in 1988, was appointed as commander of the State Guard in 2003, a position in which he was responsible for Jammeh’s security, Swiss prosecutors said. He was made inspector general of the Gambian police in 2005.
Sonko was removed as interior minister in September 2016, a few months before the end of Jammeh’s government, and left Gambia for Europe to seek asylum.
Swiss prosecutors said they conducted numerous interviews with the suspect, as well with about 40 interviews with plaintiffs, witnesses and others providing information, and made six trips to Gambia during their investigation.
The attorney general’s office said it “accuses the defendant in particular of having, in the context of five events between 2000 and 2016, participated, ordered, facilitated and/or failed to prevent killings, acts of torture, acts of rape and numerous unlawful detentions.”