By Mustapha K Darboe with New Narratives
Bellinzona, Switzerland—On Thursday, *Fatou Ceesay, a rape victim and plaintiff, took the stand in the crimes against humanity trial against Gambia’s former interior minister Ousman Sonko in the Swiss city of Bellinzona.
Sonko was the police chief under ex-president Yahya Jammeh from 2005 to 2006. In the latter part of 2006, he was appointed minister of interior, a position he held from November 2006 to February 2012 and from May 2012 to September 2016.
The Swiss Attorney General’s office, along with 10 plaintiffs from Gambia, is accusing Sonko of torture, murder, false imprisonment, rape, and deprivation of liberty, allegedly perpetrated against Gambians during the 22-year rule of Gambia’s former dictator Jammeh.
*Ceesay, who requested not to use her real name, was accused of being involved in a foiled coup led by the army chief of defense staff Col. Ndure Cham. In the aftermath of the coup, several people—military officers and civilians—were rounded up, including Ceesay, who was a civilian.
A panel was established and composed of various heads of security institutions. Sonko allegedly sat on it, Ceesay testified. Several investigations, including one by the country’s Truth Commission, established that such panels are confession exercises accompanied by the beating of Junglers, a paramilitary hit squad operating on the orders of Jammeh.
“They took me to a room. They removed my glasses, put a plastic bag over my head, and started beating me from all directions. That went on for a long time. They do this until you can’t breathe,” said Ceesay. After the beating, she was allegedly raped by one of the Junglers.
“One of them came in and turned off the light,” she said. “The whole room was dark. I thought I was going to be beaten again. I saw a Jungler with a mask. He jumped on me, opened my legs and started molesting me. He raped me,” said Ceesay.
Emotional scars of the incident
Ceesay had no means of identifying the person who raped her, and she is not accusing Sonko personally. According to Ceesay, Sonko, who at the time of her arrest was the police chief, formed part of the panel that supervised her torture and maltreatment. (Binta Jamba, the first plaintiff to take the stand against Sonko on Wednesday, is accusing Sonko personally of raping her.).
Ceesay, who broke down several times, told the court the rape left a lasting physical and emotional scar. “I could not bear to come close to a man. I had to end the relationship with a man I was about to marry,” Ceesay said. “Until now, I can’t sleep with the lights off. I am afraid of the dark,” she said.
Ceesay was the second plaintiff to testify in connection to the torture that occurred in the aftermath of the 2006 coup. The first to take the stand was Lt Col Bunja Darboe. “Jammeh’s government was a dictatorship. There were a lot of human rights violations. Jammeh had a lot of enablers. Ousman Sonko was one of them,” Darboe told the court on Thursday. The trial continues tomorrow with the testimony of Demba Dem, a torture victim.
Sonko has contested all allegations against him.
This was a collaboration with New Narratives as part of the West Africa Justice Reporting Project.