Ousman Sonko was interior minister from 2006 to 2016 when he fled to Sweden and on to Switzerland, where he applied for asylum.
Switzerland’s attorney general has filed an indictment against The Gambia’s former interior minister for crimes against humanity committed under former authoritarian leader Yahya Jammeh, it said in a statement on Tuesday.
Ousman Sonko is accused of having supported, participated in and failed to prevent “systematic and generalised attacks” as part of a repressive campaign by security forces against Jammeh’s opponents, the Office of the Attorney General said.
Sonko’s lawyer, Philippe Currat, told Reuters on Wednesday that his client disputed the charges and that some of the alleged acts occurred before articles on crimes against humanity came into force in the Swiss Criminal Code.
Sonko was interior minister from 2006 to 2016 when he fled to Sweden and on to Switzerland, where he applied for asylum.
In January 2017, he was arrested by Swiss police after the Geneva-based legal group TRIAL International filed a complaint under the principle of universal jurisdiction that allows for the prosecution of the most serious crimes irrespective of where they were committed.
Sonko has been held in Switzerland ever since.
The case is set to be heard by Switzerland’s Federal Criminal Court at an unspecified date. It will be the country’s second-ever crimes against humanity trial.
“We are very satisfied that this is going ahead,” said Philip Grant, executive director of TRIAL International.
“We hope this will generate momentum and that the trial will put pressure on Equatorial Guinea to eventually extradite Jammeh,” he added. The Gambia’s former president fled there after a political crisis in 2017.
Human rights activists in The Gambia welcomed the indictment.
Sheriff Mohammed Kijera from the Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations said the indictment set a precedent for The Gambian government to “take its responsibility to bring Yaya Jammeh and his henchmen to face justice.”
“Today we rejoice that finally, justice has caught up with one of the key perpetrators against Gambians, whose victims continue to live in pain and misery,” said Madi Jobarteh, a human rights activist.
Former President Jammeh ruled the West African country of 2.5 million for more than two decades, a period marked by authoritarianism and alleged abuses. Jammeh has denied allegations of wrongdoing.