The former interior minister of The Gambia, dubbed the “torture commander” of exiled former dictator Yahya Jammeh, is on trial in Switzerland accused of crimes against humanity
Ousman Sonko fled to Switzerland after the fall of Jammeh’s regime in 2016 posing as an asylum seeker but was located in a refugee center and arrested the following year.
His trial began in the Federal Criminal Court in Bellinzona on Monday where Sonko is accused of multiple counts of murder, torture, and rape of military officials, politicians, journalists, and political opponents during his time in office in the West African nation.
Evidence of such crimes was reportedly submitted to federal authorities by Trial International, a non-governmental organization that seeks to bring those who commit crimes against humanity to justice. The evidence spans two decades under Jammeh’s reign from 2000 to 2016.
Sonko was reportedly in charge of the Gambian police, intelligence agencies, the prison service, and the notorious death squad known as the Junglers who hunted down Jammeh’s political opponents. However, his leading defense attorney Philippe Currat claims his influence over these departments has been exaggerated.
Just some of the accusations against him include the murder of a military official allegedly plotting a coup against Jammeh, and the subsequent repeated rape and torture of his victim’s widow.
Another count relates to the torture of a victim in March 2006 where Sonko ordered electrical shocks to be imposed on the man’s genitals.
The involvement of the disgraced Gambian politician in Jammeh’s oppressive regime was first considered by the Gambian Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) in 2019 where it was found Sonko played a leading role in the massacre of 56 West African migrants by the Junglers.
“According to the TRRC, Ousman Sonko also allegedly planned, in collaboration with Yahya Jammeh, the execution of numerous detainees in 2012 and is personally responsible for multiple acts of sexual violence, including numerous rapes from the year 2000s,” Trial International wrote in a press release.
The first day of the trial was largely procedural with Sonko’s defense counsel submitting several arguments in relation to jurisdiction and contesting a number of historic counts on the indictment.
The trial is ongoing and is expected to last until Jan. 30.