The government of Switzerland has said there has not been any anomaly in issuing a visa to former Gambian Interior minister Ousman Sonko which enabled him to travel to Europe following his sacking by President Jammeh.
Commenting on the saga of Mr Sonko who is seeking asylum in Switzerland and is currently in detention for suspected crimes against humanity, Thomas Aeschi, a Swiss government spokesperson, yesterday said the country’s Federal Council has not detected any problems with visas issued to Sonko.
He explained that during his term as Minister of Interior, Ousman Sonko attended several international conferences in Geneva, in particular organised by the United Nations (UN) and was issued visas.
The last visa – a multiple entry document – dates back to 29 September 2015, issued by the Swiss Ambassador to Dakar and valid from 3 October 2015 to 2 October 2016. “Switzerland has issued visas to Ousman Sonko exclusively as a Minister of the Interior, as a representative of his country, for journeys made during international conferences or bilateral meetings with representatives of the Swiss Federal Administration.”
According to him, it is normal for members of a government to be granted visas for official travel unless sanctions have been issued against them and that was not the case, then, of Mr Sonko.
He said Switzerland, as a host country and “to enable the good functioning of international Geneva”, ensures “the independence and the freedom of action of international organisations”. However, it is up to the latter to “decide who they intend to invite to their conferences and other events”.
As far as Sonko’s asylum application is concerned, Mr Aeschi said the State Secretariat for Migration (SEM) was aware of the profile of the former Gambia minister and “took the necessary measures. No special statutes were granted to Sonko and no privileged treatment was reserved for him”.
He said the procedure for issuing a multiple entry visa is governed by the Schengen visa code and Mr Sonko’s visa was issued on this basis since he had repeatedly used a number of Schengen visas for activities related to his function, no personal interview was necessary.
Sonko’s arrest on January 26 came as a result of a criminal complaint filed by an NGO based in Geneva, Trial International.
The Gambia government has expressed its desire to see Mr Sonko extradited to face alleged crimes he is accused of having committed in The Gambia.