Gambia: Yahya Jammeh’s Ex-Minister Detained in Switzerland in Crimes Against Humanity Inquiry

Yahya Jammeh campaign
Then-incumbent Gambian President Yahya Jammeh arrives escorted by his bodyguards for an electoral rally in Bikama on November 24, 2016. One of Jammeh's former ministers has been detained in Switzerland. MARCO LONGARI/AFP/Getty

Swiss authorities have detained Gambia’s former interior minister, who served under exiled ex-president Yahya Jammeh for 10 years, and are investigating him for crimes against humanity.

Bern prosecutor Christof Scheurer told AFP Thursday that Ousman Sonko, who was Jammeh’s interior minister from 2006 until he was sacked in September 2016, had been detained after a complaint was lodged by Swiss rights group TRIAL International.

Scheurer said that Sonko was being investigated under article 264a of Switzerland’s criminal code. The article covers crimes against humanity, including torture and other human rights abuses.

Human rights organizations have long accused Jammeh, who seized power in Gambia in 1994, of restricting freedom of expression and torturing political opponents. Several opposition politicians, including Solo Sandeng of the United Democratic Party, reportedly died in detention ahead of the December 2016 election, in which property developer Adama Barrow clinched a shock victory over Jammeh.

Sonko served in Jammeh’s elite presidential guard before being made interior minister, where he oversaw the country’s police and detention centers. Following his dismissal in September 2016, he had fled to Sweden, where he had an asylum application rejected, according to TRIAL.

The rights group said that Sonko is thought to have entered Switzerland in November 2016. The group lodged a complaint after being made aware that he was in Swiss territory.

“As the head of detention centers, Sonko could not have ignored the large-scale torture that political opponents, journalists and human rights defenders suffered there,” said Benedict de Moerloose of TRIAL in a statement.

Jammeh only left Gambia Saturday, having rejected the result of the election and declared a state of emergency in the country. West African forces threatened to remove the 51 year old by force, but Jammeh eventually stepped down and is being hosted in Equatorial Guinea.

Barrow returned to Gambia Thursday, having been sworn in as president on January 19 in the Gambian embassy in Dakar, Senegal, due to security concerns. Barrow told Newsweek Tuesday that he plans to install a truth and reconciliation commission in the country in order to take account of alleged abuses under Jammeh, before deciding whether to attempt to prosecute the former president.