The status afforded them by the government is shrouded in secrecy; whether they are visitors, refugees, asylum seekers or another category altogether. They do not appear to have the right to work and to family reunion. Worse still, they are actually not permitted to leave Ghana for 2 years.
On January 6, 2015, Mahmud Umar Muhammad bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih al-Dhuby, two Yemeni nationals held at Guantanamo Bay prison without charge for almost 14 years, were released for resettlement in Ghana. Their release, which followed an agreement between the Ghana and United States governments, was described by US officials as further evidence of President Obama’s resolve to close down Guantanamo Bay and bring to an end the flagrant human rights violations that facility represents. The Ghanaian government has also explained that admitting the two gentlemen is in fulfilment of the country’s responsibility to assist in international crises situations.
However, Ghanaian public reaction to the news has been predominantly angry. A principal concern among the furious comments expressed across the country’s media is the view that the government has brought ‘terrorists’ into the country. Such fears evidently ignore the fact that the two men have never been charged with or convicted of terrorism despite being imprisoned and interrogated for more than a decade; under torturous conditions.
I am, nevertheless, very troubled by the transfer of the two Guantanamo Bay detainees to Ghana (and to Uruguay, Estonia, Kazakhstan, Oman and other countries which have also agreed to resettle former detainees). To be clear, I am in full support of the facility’s closure and concede that living in Ghana will be much better for the two gentlemen than being kept at that prison. The men have themselves echoed this point, thanking the government of Ghana and its people for taking them in. My apprehension concerns the conditions under which the two men have been admitted and will be living in Ghana, after purportedly being freed from their 14-year unlawful imprisonment. The press release from both governments gave scant details about the terms of their transfer, but what is known thus far ought to raise serious concerns for all concerned about civil liberties and human rights.
First, it can be inferred that the two former detainees have been moved to Ghana under an inter-governmental arrangement in which they had little or no say. It seems highly improbable that given a choice about where they wanted to be resettled, Mahmud Umar Muhammad bin Atef and Khalid Muhammad Salih al-Dhuby would have chosen Ghana, a country with which they have zero social, cultural, economic or political ties. This disconnection in addition to the intense public anger being expressed about their presence in the country raises concerns about their safety and well-being. To put it quite bluntly, their transfer has been carried out under conditions which are quite illiberal and have minimal regard for their well-being.
The illiberal nature of the arrangement is even more apparent in the conditions under which they have been admitted into the country. Speaking to Radio Gold, a local radio station, the Foreign Minister of Ghana, Hannah Tetteh, pointed out that the men are ‘free’ and are at liberty to go where they want in the country. And yet, as she went on to explain, they ‘cannot just get up and go’; they will be kept under strict surveillance at all times and require instructions on what to do before they can go even to the mall. The status afforded them by the government is shrouded in secrecy; whether they are visitors, refugees, asylum seekers or another category altogether. They do not appear to have the right to work and to family reunion, among others. Worse still, they are actually not permitted to leave Ghana for 2 years! Their departure from the country at any point before or after this period requires authorisation from the United States government, as reported in the media.
To my mind, what has been presented as a worthy action by President Obama and a humanitarian gesture by the Ghanaian government is turning out to be ‘detention lite’ or the continuous violation of the rights of former Guantanamo Bay inmates by the United States with the collusion of Ghana this time.
* Dr. Sam Okyere is currently a lecturer in Sociology at the University of Nottingham. He is mainly interested in critical analyses of human rights, child rights and social justice issues from sociological and policy perspectives.
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