Side Event – “Complementarity in Action: Bringing Yahya Jammeh to Justice in Ghana” (co-hosted by Australia, the Netherlands, Norway, the United Kingdom and Africa Legal Aid)

Overview by Sally Eshun, intern PILPG NL


  • The side event focused on addressing the human rights violations committed under the authority of former Gambian president Yahya Jammeh. 

  • With two victims being present, the need for redress for and support to these victims was emphasised as a pressing issue.  

  • Martin Kyere, the only survivor of the 2005 massacre, and Ayesha Jammeh, niece of Yahya Jammeh, gave impressive recounts of the violence that reigned under the Jammeh administration. 

By recalling the principle of complementarity, the moderator of this event, Evelyn Ankumah (Africa Legal Aid – AFLA) noted that “justice needs to be done at home, or at least close to home”. With the Jammeh case, Ankumah indicated that Jammeh can be held accountable in Ghana, as it is geographically close to The Gambia and because Ghana has an interest in the case, due to the fact that the majority of the victims were of Ghanaian nationality.  

The first panellist to speak was Reed Brody, a human rights lawyer working with Human Rights Watch. Most notably, he has also worked in the Habré case in Senegal.  During his talk, he recalled the Hissène Habré trial and how victims of Jammeh were inspired by the courage of the victims of the former Chadian president, as well as the various obstacles they had to overcome in their path to seek justice. In October 2018, the Gambia established the Truth, Reconciliation and Reparations Commission with a mandate for two years. Brody hopes that it will serve as a catalogue for the crimes committed under Jammeh’s presidency and that it provides a platform for victims to make their voices heard. He continued by stating that he, on behalf of Human Rights Watch, has been cooperating with civil society actors in Ghana and that they held a meeting with current Ghanaian president Nana Akufo-Addo – who pledged support for this endeavour. Yahya Jammeh is currently located in Equatorial Guinea, where the president Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogohas affirmed that he would “protect” Jammeh from extradition. Brody emphasised that this case is of high importance as it is also a sign that crimes against migrants will not go unpunished. 

Fattoumah Sadeng is the daughter of Solo Sadeng, a Gambian activist who was murdered by individuals under the command of Jammeh.  She shed light on the impact such tragic loss has had on families and entire communities. Her family had to flee The Gambia to Senegal for safety reasons.  As the niece of Yahya Jammeh, Ayesha Jammeh explained that not even the immediate family was safe from Jammeh’s institutionalized violence.  For instance, Ayesha’s father spoke up to his village about resisting the abuse of the government – thinking that he would be safe from his own brother.  He was nevertheless killed by Jammeh’s men, thus proving not only that dissent was unwelcomed during Jammeh’s term and that even people close to him are not safe. 

William Nyarko, Executive Director of the African Centre for International Law and Accountability, explored Ghana’s jurisdiction in this case. Ghana does not try criminal cases under the passive personality principle, which usually grants jurisdiction to a state if its own nationals are affected. In light of this, Mr. Nyarko indicated, however, that other national provisions – such as the Courts Act of 1993 or the Criminal Offences Act of 2012 – could be possible avenues to try Jammeh in Ghanaian courts.  As concluding points, he raised the issue of financing the trial and the conscious decision not to prosecute the case in Equatorial Guinea – as Jammeh enjoys the alliance of the president there.