For a country in the hands of a human rights lawyer; Nana Akufo-Addo, many had expected an impressive “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices” from the United States Department of State but that is not the case with the 2021 report.
The Americans, have poorly rated Ghana’s human rights records, saying despite its constitutional democracy, there are “significant human rights issues” including “credible reports of arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government.
They also took with “harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists”, adding there are “substantial interference with freedom of assembly; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence”.
Also captured in the reports are “crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor”.
The report released this month said that “there were a few reports that the government or its agents committed arbitrary or unlawful killings. Offices charged with investigating security force killings include the Special Investigations Branch of the Ghana Armed Forces and the Police Professional Standards Bureau”.
It mentioned that “on June 26, unidentified perpetrators beat #FixTheCountry movement supporter and social activist Ibrahim “Kaaka” Muhammed in Ejura, Ashanti Region. On June 28, he died in the hospital from his injuries. Muhammed, who was also a member of the Economic Fighters League (EFL), was a vocal anti-corruption activist, and #FixThe Country had protested against restrictions on freedom of assembly. EFL reported that Muhammed had received threats due to his activism, and police had warned him prior to his beating and death against disturbing the peace. An investigation into Muhammed’s death continued. On June 29, during protests in the wake of his death, security forces shot and killed two persons.
“During the 2020 election period, authorities, media, and observers reported as many as eight killings, with at least two killed by the National Elections Security Task Force (NESTF), composed of military and police units, and at least two deaths from civilian violence. Investigations continued into these deaths.
On disappearances, there were no reports of disappearances by or on behalf of government authorities, however, on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, “while the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused detained suspects and other citizens. Victims were often reluctant to file formal complaints. Police generally denied allegations or claimed the level of force used was justified”.
Impunity remained a significant problem in the Ghana Police Service, and the investigation and complaints processes did not effectively address reports of abuses and bribery.
Corruption, brutality, poor training, lack of oversight, and an overburdened judicial system contributed to impunity. Police often failed to respond to reports of abuses and, in many instances, did not act unless complainants paid for police transportation and other operating expenses. The Office of the Inspector General of Police and the Police Professional Standards Board investigated claims of excessive force by security force members.
Prison and detention center conditions, the report said that “Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of medical care, physical abuse, and food shortages.
It said that in September the Ghana Prisons Service reported prison overcrowding stood at 135 percent of capacity, with a prison population of 13,480 compared to a total prison capacity of 9,945 inmates, a 20 percent reduction in overcrowding from 2019. The Ghana Prisons Service held women separately from men.
Although, authorities sought to hold juveniles separately from adults, there were reports detainees younger than age 18 were held with adults. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicts but generally in separate cells, although due to overcrowding in convict blocks, Nsawam Prison held some convicts in blocks designated for pretrial detainees. The nongovernmental organization (NGO)-led Justice for All program with the support of the government continued to expedite judicial review for many pretrial (remand) prisoners, including virtually, reducing their numbers significantly. Paralegals and civil society were heavily involved in the program.
While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on charitable donations and their families to supplement their diet. The prisons public relations officer identified feeding of inmates as a key problem. The Ghana Prisons Service facilitated farming activities for inmates to supplement their feeding. Authorities did not provide pretrial detainees food or changes of clothes. If community or family members were not able to provide them, prisons officers paid with their own funds.
Officials held much of the prison population in aging buildings or abandoned public or military buildings, which despite improvements had poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Ghana Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons. There were not enough toilets available for the number of prisoners, with as many as 100 prisoners sharing one toilet, and toilets often overflowed with excrement. There were no facilities to support intersex or transitioning persons.
On arbitrary arrest or detention, the report said that “the constitution and law provide for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government frequently disregarded these protections”.
On arrest procedures and treatment of detainees, the law requires detainees be brought before a court within 48 hours of arrest in the absence of a judicial warrant, but authorities frequently detain individuals without charge or a valid arrest warrant for periods longer than 48 hours. Officials detained some prisoners for indefinite periods by renewing warrants or simply allowing warrants to lapse while an investigation took place. The constitution grants a detained individual the right to be informed immediately, in a language the person understands, of the reasons for detention and of his or her right to a lawyer.
Most detainees, however, could not afford a lawyer. While the constitution grants the right to legal aid, the government often did not provide it. The government has a Legal Aid Commission that provides defense attorneys to those in need, but the commission was often unable to do so. Defendants in criminal cases who could not afford a lawyer typically represented themselves. The law requires that any detainee not tried within a “reasonable time,” as determined by the court, must be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to compel the person’s appearance at a later court date. The definition of “reasonable time,” however, has never been legally determined or challenged in the courts. As a result, officials rarely observed this provision. The government sought to reduce the population of prisoners in pretrial detention by placing paralegals in some prisons to monitor and advise on the cases of pretrial detainees, and assist with the drafting of appeals, and by directing judges to visit prisons to review and take action on pretrial detainee cases.
The law provides for bail, including those accused of serious crimes, but courts often struggled to come to timely decisions concerning bail or used their unlimited discretion to set bail at prohibitively high levels.
On arbitrary arrests, it said that the general practice of holding detainees without proper warrant or charge continued, and revealed that on May 20, police arrested 21 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) activists in the city of Ho on spurious unlawful assembly charges. Authorities released the activists on June 11, and dropped the case on August 5.
On Pretrial Detention, it said that “lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. In September the Ghana Prisons Service indicated 1,595 prisoners, approximately 12 percent of all prisoners, were in pretrial status. The government kept prisoners in extended pretrial detention due to police failure to investigate or follow up on cases, case files lost when police prosecutors rotated to other duties every three years, slow trial proceedings marked by frequent adjournments, detainees’ inability to meet bail conditions that were often set extremely high even for minor offenses, and inadequate legal representation for criminal defendants. The length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime in numerous instances.
Inadequate recordkeeping contributed to prisoners being held in egregiously excessive pretrial detention, a few for up to 10 years. Judicial authorities continued implementing a case tracking system on a trial basis in seven different regions. The system tracked cases from initial arrest to remand custody in the prisons, prosecution in the courts, and incarceration or dismissal. The system was envisioned to be used by all judicial and law enforcement participants, including police, public defenders, prosecutors, courts, prisons, the Legal Aid Commission, the Economic and Organized Crimes Office, and NGOs, with the intention of increasing transparency and accountability. Some commentators believed the tracking system could be used to press for release of remand prisoners held for lengthy periods.
On a detainee’s ability to challenge the lawfulness of detention before a court, the law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but lack of legal representation for detainees inhibited this right.
Political Prisoners and Detainees “there were no reports of political prisoners or detainees, adding citizens had access to courts to bring lawsuits seeking damages for, or cessation of, human rights abuses. The constitution states the Supreme Court is the final court of appeal. Defendants, however, may seek remedies for allegations of human rights abuses at the Economic Community of West African States Court of Justice.
On freedom of expression, including for members of the press and other media, “the constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press and other media, and the government generally respected this right, although security forces committed isolated acts of violence and harassment against journalists.
Although, “Independent media were active and expressed a wide variety of views without restriction, “there were isolated attacks on journalists by members of security forces as well as by unknown assailants and occasional threats and intimidation.
It cited how “in April authorities arrested online news editor David Tamakloe, allegedly working on corruption stories concerning prominent members of the government. Authorities released him without charge. Media advocates characterized the arrest as a “preemptive move” and a “clear abuse of power” as no story had been published at the time of the arrest.
On May 11, Ministry of National Security officers, detained and allegedly brutalized Caleb Kudah, a journalist with Omni Media Limited (OML), operator of Accra-based Citi FM radio and Citi TV.
Authorities accused Kudah of filming a fleet of vehicles that had allegedly fallen into despair as a result of neglect at the Ministry of National Security facility, a restricted site.
The security officers who detained Kudah reportedly beat and abused him during interrogation. On the same day, a SWAT team reportedly entered the OML offices in an attempt to arrest Zoe Abu-Baido, Kudah’s colleague. The Ministry of National Security accused Baido of possessing video files sent to her by Kudah immediately before his detention. Following public outrage the Ministry of National Security announced an internal probe into the incident which led to the suspension of the officers involved.
Less than a week after his suspension, Ministry of National Security leadership re-assigned Lieutenant Colonel Acheampong, identified as the commander of the operation that apprehended and reportedly abused Kudah, to serve as commanding officer of a different unit of the Ghanaian Armed Forces.
On July 9, Assin Central Region Member of Parliament (MP) Kennedy Ohene Agyapong, called for Erastus Asare Donkor, a journalist with Luv FM, to be “beaten and whipped” during a live television interview.
The Media Foundation for West Africa and 642 professional journalists and supporters of press freedom presented a petition to the office of the speaker of parliament to request parliamentary debate on what they considered the deteriorating press freedom situation.
On censorship or content restrictions, the law provides for criminal penalties for those who post false or misleading information online, with penalties of up to five years in prison and substantial fines.
On May 5, radio station Angel FM suspended popular morning show host Godsbrain Smart for allegedly slandering senior government officials, in accusing them of inaction on corruption and calling them “fools.” Media commentators and political observers suggested the station owner feared loss of non-media business opportunities, and the suspension contributed to a “growing culture of silence” among media outlets.
On Internet freedom, it said “the government did not restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal authority”, adding “there were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events” either.
The law provides criminal penalties for corruption by government officials, but the government did not implement the law effectively, and officials frequently engaged in corrupt practices with impunity. There were numerous reports of government corruption. Corruption was present in all branches of government, according to media and NGOs, including recruitment into the security services. Since the first special prosecutor took office in 2018, no corruption case undertaken by that office resulted in a conviction. When the new special prosecutor took office in August, his staff included one investigator and one prosecutor, both seconded from other offices.
The government took steps to implement laws intended to foster more transparency and accountability in public affairs. In July 2020 authorities commissioned the Right to Information (RTI) secretariat to provide support to RTI personnel in the public sector; however, some civil society organizations stated the government had not made sufficient progress implementing the law.
The country continued use of the national anticorruption online reporting dashboard, for the coordination of all anticorruption efforts of various governmental bodies, however, “a June report by the auditor-general revealed widespread corruption and waste of public funds remained pervasive problems. For example, the honorary consul general and the Ghanaian consulate in Washington D.C. could not account for visa fees totaling $355,000. The Free Senior High School Secretariat misspent more than $3.16 million. A former minister of tourism retained three official vehicles for personal use after leaving office. The report concluded that corrupt practices resulted in $340 million of financial mismanagement, including misapplication and misappropriation of funds, theft, and procurement mismanagement”.
On August 31, the Ghana Center for Democratic Development released highlights from a survey conducted between May 23 and June 3. Less than 30 percent of respondents were optimistic regarding the government’s ability to fight corruption. Approximately one-half were confident in the government’s ability to uphold the rule of law, 53 percent believed the government did not adequately protect financial resources and 62 percent doubted government efforts to address corruption and official impunity. Transparency International’s Global Corruption Barometer published in 2019 found 59 percent of respondents claimed there was rampant corruption in the Ghana Police Service, more so than any other government institution.