Feb 03, 2023

Western Togoland : UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention Declares Arbitrary the detention of George Nyakpo

The United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued its opinion on the case of Western Togoland self-determination activist George Nyakpo, finding that the Ghanaian government violated the latter's rights when imprisoning him for charges of sedition. The WGAD has reminded the Government of Ghana, that self-determination activists who pursue their political goals peacefully are protected under Article 25 of the ICCPR specifically the right to "take part in the conduct of public affairs" as well as by their right to form and join associations concerned with political and public affairs. 

UNPO and the Western Togoland Homeland Study Group Foundation welcome the ruling and attention afforded to this case hope that this ruling shines a light on the practice of release and re-arrest prevalent in West African countries as well as all methods used by governments around the world to silence self-determination activists. UNPO detailed this phenomenon within our Tools of Repression Report. 

With the firm belief that George Nyakpo’s case was yet another example of the criminalization of self-determination movements and the tactics employed by states to silence Self determination movements worldwide the UNPO submitted a complaint to the UN in January 2022. 

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 suspicion of participation in serious crimes such as treason, held without charge for extended periods and then released without charge. 

Nyakpo’s case, as leader of the Western Togoland Homeland Study Group Foundation, is indicative of a new and even more dangerous trend surfacing in Ghana. In his case, the Ghanaian authorities interned Nyakpo accusing him of organizing a rebellion. After being held 56 days without charge, 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. 

Responding to those charges, the WGAD issued a legal opinion indicating that: "Laws that are vaguely and broadly worded may have a deterrent effect on the exercise of the rights to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, freedom of opinion and expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and association, participation in political and public affairs, equality and non-discrimination, and protection of persons belonging to ethnic, religious or linguistic minorities, as they have the potential for abuse, including the arbitrary deprivation of liberty. The Working Group considers that this is precisely what has happened in the case of Mr. Nyakpo and notes the uncontested allegations that there exists a pattern of such cases in Ghana." 

In the letter, the WGAD makes it clear that the HSGF's activities, so long as they are in line with principles of nonviolence and general engagement in democratic society, are protected and the government's actions are in direct violation of fundamental human rights: "The Working Group observes that Mr. Nyakpo belongs to HSFG, an organisation which has been openly engaging on the subject of Western Togoland since 1994 and that no action appears to have ever been taken to designated HSGF as a prohibited organisation or to prosecute HSGF members under the Prohibited Organizations Act (see para. 19) until relatively recently, when the HSGF members have reportedly been targeted under the provisions of national criminal law for peaceful expression of their political views." On the grounds of that, the WGAD "urges the Government to define any crimes in precise terms and to take legislative measures to introduce an exemption from criminal responsibility for those who peacefully exercise their rights guaranteed by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Covenant."   

In the opinion, the UN experts found that "the detention of Mr. Nyakpo resulted from his peaceful exercise of freedoms of expression and opinion, and freedom of association, as protected by articles 19 and 22 of the Covenant and articles 19 and 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights." Furthermore, the members of the WGAD noted that "Mr. Nyakpo’s arrest was directly linked to his engagement in the movement for self-determination of Western Togoland" and that such action was protected under Article 25 of the ICCPR, specifically the right to "take part in the conduct of public affairs" as well as by his right to form and join associations concerned with political and public affairs.   

The WGAD stated that "Given its finding that the deprivation of liberty of Mr. Nyakpo was arbitrary under category II, the Working Group wishes to emphasize that no trial of Mr. Nyakpo should take place. Indeed, while Mr. Nyakpo has been released, it remains unclear whether all charges against him have been duly dismissed.

Furthermore "The Working Group is particularly mindful of the threats by the prosecutor to arrest him again, should he continue with his activism, and observes that this follows the pattern of harassment suffered by members of the HSGF. The Working Group considers that Mr. Nyakpo was targeted because of his peaceful activities and recalls that when a detention results from the active exercise of civil and political rights, there is a strong presumption that the detention also constitutes a violation of international law on the grounds of discrimination based on political or other views." 

The WGAD highlighted the need for Ghana to clarify its position and implement reforms in its criminal code and procedures to better respect the rights of its citizens. 

The follow up to the recommendations included questions over: 

(a) Whether Mr. Nyakpo has been unconditionally released and, if so, on what date; 

(b) Whether compensation or other reparations have been made to Mr. Nyakpo; 

(c) Whether an investigation has been conducted into the violation of Mr. Nyakpo’s rights and, if so, the outcome of the investigation; 

(d) Whether any legislative amendments or changes in practice have been made to harmonize the laws and practices of Ghana with its international obligations in line with the present opinion; 

(e) Whether any other action has been taken to implement the present opinion. 

Ghanaian authorities have so far refused to respond to requests for further information from both the UN and other actors. Currently Mr Nyakpo continues to be subject to intimidation tactics by security forces in Ghana. UNPO and the HSGF hope that UN pressure will force the Ghanean central authorities to take the issue seriously.