The Federal Court of Switzerland has said it found “sufficient suspicions of crimes against humanity” committed by the former Gambian Interior Minister, Ousman Sonko.
“This decision does not presume guilt in the trial of former Jammeh aide. Rather, it validates Sonko’s provisional detention because of ‘sufficient suspicions of crimes’ as charged by prosecutors,” judicial sources in Switzerland said.
Sonko is accused of torture, which would constitute crime against humanity if committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against the civilian population. Under international jurisdiction principles, Switzerland is mandated to try these crimes even if they were committed outside its territory.
In a ruling on Thursday, 31 August, the court rejected Sonko’s appeal.
“On the basis of the investigation carried out to date, the Federal Criminal Court could rightly admit the existence of sufficient suspicions of crimes against humanity,” the Court said.
Sonko served as Minister of the Interior of The Gambia under ex-President Yahya Jammeh from 2006 to 2016. He was also Chief of Police and Commander of the Presidential Guard in 2003. During these periods, several crimes were alleged to have been committed against civilians with direct involvement of Sonko, or under his supervision.
The Swiss Federal Court said it relied on two independent reports of UN Special Rapporteurs on torture and extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions in The Gambia to admit the existence of sufficient suspicion.
“Contrary to what Ousman Sonko claims, the report on torture was not examined unilaterally or biased,” it added.
Under Yahya Jammeh, Gambian authorities and the security forces were indulging in human rights violations with impunity, in particular torture, which was systematically practiced as the court found out at the beginning of the pre-trial detention of Sonko.
However, it would not specify details of crimes allegedly committed by Ousman Sonko or testimonies of witnesses during the proceedings, especially considering the international dimension of the investigations.
The Court also found that the provisional detention of Ousman Sonko since January “appears proportionate in terms of its duration”. The detention came on the heels of indictments by Geneva-based NGO, Trial International.
On 21 April, the Court granted the Prosecutor’s request for an extension of the provisional detention of Sonko until 25 July, which was again extended until 25 October.