UNPO submits complaint to UN on detention of Western Togoland activists
The Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) has filed a complaint to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention alleging that the government of Ghana is systematically misusing the criminal justice system to target the non-violent self-determination movement for Western Togoland led by the Homeland Study Group Foundation (HSGF). The case specifically relates to George Nyakpo, a leader in the movement, who faced 156 days in detention in 2021.
Over the last few years the Ghanaian authorities have conducted countless arbitrary arrests and detentions of members for acts as innocuous as wearing T-Shirts in support of independence of Western Togoland, or for participating in demonstrations or meetings in support of it. A pattern of practice has emerged through which HSGF members are arrested under a claimed suspicious of participation in serious crimes such as treason, held without charge for extended periods and then released without charge. Often, these same people are later re-arrested on the same grounds starting the process again. Ultimately, this process is serving to choke out the non-violent movement for self-determination for Western Togoland, embodied in the HSGF, and has helped create space for more violent elements to emerge.
Mr. Nyakpo’s case is indicative of a new and even more dangerous trend surfacing in Ghana. After being held 56 days without charge, Mr. Nyakpo, along with eight other HSGF members, were indicted under a disused decree issued in the 1970s by the Supreme Military Council, a military junta that briefly and brutally ruled Ghana. In contravention of basic human rights law, the decree, the “Prohibited Organisations Act”, bans outright all organizations seeking self-determination in Western Togoland, irrespective of whether its activities otherwise comply Ghanaian law or not. And it criminalizes, with a sentence of up to five years in prison, all persons who engage in any way with such an organization.
Ghana transitioned to democracy in 1992 with a new constitution that guaranteed human rights and required all existing laws to conform with it. In 1994 the late Charles “Papavi” Korme Kudzorzi had set up the Homeland Study Group Foundation first as a cultural emancipatory movement and then as a self-determination movement. Mr Kudzorzi and the HSGF have repeated declared his intention to pursue independence from Ghana through non-violent means and through the democratic process in Ghana. The Prohibited Organisations Act does not appear to ever have been used during this period, including against the HSGF. This makes sense. A draconian, repressive measure like the Prohibited Organisations Act has no place in a modern democracy such as Ghana. Its re-emergence in Mr. Nyakpo’s case is greatly concerning.
In our submission to the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the UNPO directly challenges the use of the Prohibited Organisations Act, requesting that it be repealed. We also challenge Mr. Nyakpo’s detention more generally. Leaving aside the use of the Prohibited Organisations Act his detention violates human rights law. Numerous procedural irregularities and the pattern of practice of misusing criminal law to silence protected speech mean that Mr. Nyakpo was arbitrarily detained for 156 days in violation of his guarantees under the Constitution of Ghana, the Criminal Procedure Code and international law.
Mr. Nyakpo was released from detention in December. But the case against him persists. And he has been threatened with immediate arrest should he speak about the right to self-determination in Western Togoland. His case is yet another example of the criminalization of self-determination movements and the tactics employed by states to silence them that we are seeing worldwide. As a result, the UNPO hopes that this complaint will shed light on the malpractice that Ghanaian authorities continue to engage in and will serve to establish a precedent that can prevent the further spread of this state practice.
You can read our letter to the Working Group here.