Ghana: The challenge of implementing the ICCPR, between tradition and modernity

The review by the Human Rights Committee of the initial report of Ghana on the implementation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights was completed on 24th June 2016. The dialogue was very cordial and Ghana demonstrated goodwill in terms of respecting and promoting human rights in the country. Nevertheless, many issues remain worrisome. Committee members requested explanations regarding the death penalty, the human rights abuses at prayer and camps, discrimination against the LGBT community and the criminalisation of abortion.

"The Constitution protects the right to life but Ghanaian legislation states that the death penalty is compulsory in cases of very serious crimes"

- Ghana's Constitution and Criminal and Other Offences Act (1960)

Status of the death penalty

Committee members invited Ghana to abolish the death penalty and to ratify the OP2. Even though no executions have been carried out since 1997, judges continue to sentence people to capital punishment. The Constitution protects the right to life but also states that the death penalty is compulsory in cases of very serious crimes. The head of the delegation explained that in order to amend the Constitution, a referendum must take place and result in 70% of the population in favour of the abolition. He regretted that this would be impossible for the moment because the population needs to change its mind before it would even be conceivable to arrive at a such result. In response to this, Committee members argued that respect of human rights must not be subjected to referenda.

Witch camps and prayer camps

Moreover, the Committee expressed concerns regarding the existence of witch camps and prayer camps. Indeed, in Ghana, women suspected of witchcraft are sent to so-called witch camps, after which they cannot return to their communities because they risk discrimination and persecution. The closing of these camps must be carried out along with holistic actions ensuring that these women are properly reintegrated back into society, including generating community awareness in order to stop this practice. For the moment, the State is endeavouring to provide the women with basic services such as health care and food.

On the other hand, prayer camps are places where people with mental disabilities are sent and sometimes detained against their will without any possibility to challenge their detention. It is alleged that serious human rights abuses are committed in these places. However, families continue to send their relatives to prayer camps instead of to official mental health institutions, both because of a lack of such institutions as well as to avoid the stigma of having a relative with a mental disability.

Attitudes to LGBT

Committee members and the delegation also took the opportunity in the review to have a very constructive debate regarding the LGBT community. Indeed, any form of “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner”  is criminalized, thus implying any sexual relation which is not that of the relation between a man and a woman. The delegation was very open regarding this issue and explained that these kinds of relations are contrary to their traditional values. Nevertheless, the delegation recognised that the LGBT community should be protected against discrimination and regretted that the promotion of the rights of LGBT persons in Ghana is very difficult because the mindset of the population does not accept it.

Maternal mortality and abortion

The Committee also expressed concern regarding maternal mortality rates and the lack of access to legal and safe abortions. In fact, Ghanian law allows exceptions to the criminalisation of abortion in cases of rape, incest, risk of death for the mother and fetal abnormality. Moreover, the risk of danger to the mental health of the women is also recognised as an exception. However, clandestine abortions are still a significant cause of maternal mortality. The delegation stated that maternal mortality is decreasing and efforts are being made in that regard.

Women's rights

Regarding women’s rights, the Committee pointed out several human rights abuses such as cases of violence against women, discrimination against sex workers, harmful practices such as “trokosi” (ritual servitude) or early and enforced marriage.

The delegation answered that the government is fighting these practices, for example by providing training in human rights to police officers and law enforcement agents. Moreover, the government has decided to reinforce the protection of women victims of conjugal violence by refusing to take into account a second withdrawal of a complaint by the women herself (often carried out due to fear of reprisals). The delegation noted that, nowadays, female genital mutilation affects only 3% of women and assured the Committee that they are going to pursue their efforts to eliminate all harmful practices.  The Government has also decided to provide financial help in order to discourage families from sending their children to work, or to practice “trokosi”.

The debate became a little more intense over the issue of polygamy, because the Committee considers this to be a form of discrimination against women, whereas the delegation regarded it as a traditional practice. Moreover, the head of the delegation considered monogamy to be a western tradition, exported as a result of the colonisation in Ghana. These words were contradicted by a Committee member.

Representatives from Ghanian human rights NGOs

The debate was closed with a recognition of the difficulty of harmonising the implemention and promotion of human rights with a State’s culture and traditional values. Indeed, it is always a great challenge to change the mindset of people to fully respect human rights. However, this is also possible as has been demonstrated by the drastic decrease in FGM thanks to awareness raising-campaigns amongst communities.

Recommendations of the Committee

The Concluding Observations for which the State should provide information on the implementation within one year, concern:

  • Non-discrimination and Traditional Harmful Practices: The State party should, inter alia: strengthen its awareness-raising and education programmes in relation to this issue; further enhance efforts to prevent, eradicate and investigate cases of traditional harmful practices; and ensure access to effective remedies and adequate protection, rehabilitation and reintegration mechanisms for victims.
  • Persons with Disabilities and Psychiatric Treatment: The State party should, inter alia, ensure: the implementation of the Mental Health Act; registration, regulation and control of “prayer camps”, with a view to preventing ill-treatment; effective and independent monitoring and reporting of relevant institutions; effective investigation, prosecution and victim compensation in cases of abuse; and the prohibition of non-consensual psychiatric treatment.
  • Conditions of Detention and Violence among Inmates: The state party should, inter alia, ensure accordance with the Mandela Rules, including on issues of conditions, treatment and overcrowding in prisons. The State party should expedite its efforts to establish a national mechanism for the prevention of torture as soon as possible, in line with its recent ratification of the OP-CAT.

The next (second) periodic report of Ghana should be submitted by 15 July 2020.

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