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Bringing Yahya Jammeh to Justice in Ghana

Franklin Oduro
Al Hadji Yahya A.J.J. Jammeh, President of the Gambia, addresses the general debate of the sixty-fourth session of the General Assembly. 24/Sep/2009. United Nations, New York. UN Photo/Erin Siegal.

Former President of The Gambia, Yahya Jammeh, speaks at the United Nations General Assembly. (Photo via Flickr Commons)

Introduction: The Launch of a Campaign

On May 16, 2018, a group of Ghanaian civil society organizations (CSOs)[i]launched a campaign requesting the Government of Ghana to seek the extradition of Yahya Jammeh, the former president of The Gambia, to face justice in Ghana for the 2005 massacre of 44 Ghanaian migrants in The Gambia. The campaign, "Jammeh2JusticeGhana," has the primary objective of persuading the Government of Ghana to extradite Yahya Jammeh's from Equatorial Guinea in order to prosecute him in Ghana. This campaign is a part of a larger effort to seek accountability for Jammeh's alleged crimes and human rights violations. The launch of this campaign, hosted by the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana), follows a wider campaign effort by The Gambia Center for Victims of Human Rights Violations and other local and international human rights organizations[ii] to ensure that Jammeh and members of his regime are brought to trial in a court of competent jurisdiction.

Both campaigns (in Ghana and The Gambia) have become possible following Jammeh's exit from office and subsequent exile to Equatorial Guinea due to his defeat in the 2016 Gambian election. Significantly, these campaigns follow new evidence produced by the Human Rights Watch (HRW) and TRIAL International from interviews with former officials of the Gambian security forces, including officers directly involved in the massacre of the 44 Ghanaians. The report brings revelations regarding the "Junglers," a state paramilitary unit formed by Jammeh that receives direct instructions and command from him. This revelation implicates Jammeh in the murders.

The 2005 Massacre of the Ghana 44

In 2005,  56 African migrants, 44 of whom being Ghanaian migrants, were suspected of being mercenaries, and were captured and summarily killed in The Gambia. Some of the dead bodies were reportedly dumped into wells and cemented in a village in Senegal, and in a compound in Kanilai (near Jammeh's compound) in The Gambia. Gambian security authorities failed to investigate the murders until the Government of Ghana officially lodged a complaint and sought for an investigation. Following a joint United Nations (UN) and Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) team investigation report in 2009, which concluded that the Gambian government was not directly or indirectly involved in the deaths and disappearances, but rather that "rogue elements" in Gambia's security services were responsible. This resulted in no justice for the victims.

The Ghana campaign, "Jammeh2JusticeGhana," is being championed by the sole Ghanaian survivor of the massacre, Martin Kyere, as well as the families of the victims. The campaign will seek to establish the case against Jammeh and those who were involved in the massacre. It will further advocate for the Ghanaian government to demand Jammeh's transfer from Equatorial Guinea in order to stand trial for the murder and forced disappearance of the Ghana 44. Already in The Gambia discussions are underway for setting up the Gambian Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission (TRRC) which will address human rights injustices committed under the reign of Jammeh.

The Ghana campaign is similar to the victim-driven model that led to the successful trial of Hissène Habré, the former Chadian dictator in Senegal, and his subsequent conviction in May 2016. Already, there are differences in opinion as to whether Ghanaian courts can entertain such a request. Arguably, because the incident occurred on Gambian soil, it may appear that the courts in Ghana may not have jurisdiction over the matter and may not be able to respond to this request. Preliminary assessments, however, suggest that the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance to which Ghana is a signatory, and the Ghana Criminal Offences Act (Amendment) 2012 may provide some grounds for a trial by Ghanaian courts.[iii] The Courts Act in Ghana gives Ghanaian court's jurisdiction over an offense, which is authorized by a convention or treaty that Ghana is a signatory to, allowing prosecution and punishment in Ghana regardless of where the offense was committed.

The issue of extradition presents an interesting scenario and political issue. Currently, there is no treaty between Ghana and Equatorial Guinea on extradition. Nonetheless, we know that in the absence of an extradition treaty between two countries, a case of reciprocity can be invoked. Already the Ghanaian government, following the launch of the campaign, has responded positively by indicating that both the foreign and justice ministries have been tasked to study the request by the CSO Coalition and advise the government. Coincidentally, the death of the 44 Ghanaians took place at a time when Ghana's current president, H.E. Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, was the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Indeed, he was the leader of the Ghanaian government delegation that traveled to The Gambia to investigate the murders. Equally notable is that, the current Inspector General of the Ghana Police Service, Mr. David Asante-Appeatu, led the investigative team that traveled to The Gambia to investigate the incident. It is expected that these two individuals, particularly the president of Ghana, who has been a well-known human rights activist and campaigner, will show interest and commitment in this case.

Moving on and Building a Global Coalition

The formal launch of the Ghana campaign, "Jammeh2JusticeGhana," is only the start to a long and possibly tedious process. The "Jammeh2JusticeGhana" campaign will require broad sub-regional and international support. The campaign would do well to coordinate and complement its activities with the global #Jammeh2JusticeCampaign, as the two work nationally, regionally, and internationally to seek accountability for Jammeh's alleged crimes. There is also a need to reach out to other victims in Senegal, Togo, and Nigeria who were among the 56 African migrants murdered. The involvement of ECOWAS is important if this quest is to succeed. As much as this is a legal matter it is equally a political one.

As a first step, it would do well for the CSO Coalition championing the campaign to have Jammeh brought to justice, petitioning the UN and ECOWAS to revisit and re-open the investigations conducted in 2009 following new information brought out by Human Rights Watch (HRW) and TRIAL International. Second, the African Union (AU) could consider petitioning to be involved in this campaign. Already, the African Union's Department of Political Affairs has incorporated human rights and transitional justice in its mandate, recognizing the importance of seeking justice for victims of human rights abuses. Third, the interest and support of the international community in seeking justice for victims of Jammeh's atrocities would help, as it is a moral, legal, and political obligation. The UN and pro-bono global human rights advocacy organizations, particularly those located in the United States, could offer support for the cause and ensure that Jammeh is brought to justice. There is an absolute need to keep leaders accountable and hold them responsible for their actions, noting that justice will prevail no matter how long it takes.


Without a doubt, the course taken by Ghanaian CSOs to seek justice for victims of alleged Jammeh brutalities can be both politically and legally challenging. Notwithstanding the potential legal and political obstacles that the campaign may face, the launch of the Ghana campaign is both a moral and a legal obligation that the Ghanaian government should consider pursuing. Linking the local campaign to the wider (Gambian victims-led) campaign for justice for Jammeh's victims is important and the support of sub-regional, continental, and international communities is even more critical. Exploring all possibilities for identifying an appropriate jurisdiction for organizing a fair trial for Jammeh and his associates who bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes of his government, is a necessity worth pursuing.

Franklin Oduro is the Director of Programs and the Deputy Executive Director for the Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD-Ghana). CDD-Ghana is a member of the Southern Voice Network for Peacebuilding (SVNP).

[i] The civil society coalition leading efforts in Ghana to seek justice for Yahyah Jammeh's victims is comprised of CDD-Ghana, which serves as the secretariat for the Coalition, the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI), the Africa Center for International Law and Accountability (ACILA), Amnesty International Ghana, POS Foundation, Human Rights Advocacy Center (HRAC), and Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA). The Coalition also has individual human rights activists, the Ghanaian survivor, and victims' families.

[ii] The wider "Campaign to Bring Yahya Jammeh and his Accomplices to Justice" — ("#Jammeh2Justice") includes the Institute for Human Rights and Development in Africa,  Article 19 West Africa, Coalition for Change in Gambia, TANGO, EG Justice (Equatorial Guinea), TRIAL International (Switzerland), Human Rights Watch,  Guernica 37 International Justice Chambers, AIDS-Free World, and La Fondation pour l'égalité des chances en Afrique.

[iii] Ghana is not a state party but a signatory to the international convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance. Ghana's amended Criminal Offences Law makes provisions on 'enforced disappearance' as a crime.


About the Author

Franklin Oduro

Franklin Oduro

Deputy Executive Director/Director of Programs , Ghana Center for Democratic Development (CDD)

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and US-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial US-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in US-Africa relations.    Read more