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April 9 2009 | GHANA


Minister of Justice: no immediate plans of abolishing death penalty. A newspaper calls for a referendum

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Public Agenda -Accra

Ghana: Death Penalty Will Not Go for Now

Ebenezer Hanson

3 April 2009

The Attorney General and Minister for Justice, Mrs. Betty Mould-Iddrisu, has revealed that the government has no immediate plans of repealing the death penalty, at least for now, from the statute books.

She told Public Agenda in an interview that if anything, it might be considered in future.

The Minister's stance comes after Amnesty International (AI), Ghana Chapter, reinforced the need for capital punishment to be expunged from the country's statutes books at a news conference on Tuesday, March 24.

"There is no policy directive from government for a review of the Death Penalty during this legislative term. It might be considered in future," she stressed.

She however, added that since the inception of democratic governance in 1993, the death penalty has not been carried out in the country.

That notwithstanding, Amnesty International(AI) argues that it is hypocrisy on the part of Ghana to retain death penalty on the statute books and yet fail to apply it. AI argues that the death penalty is the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment in modern times incompatible with human rights standard and has to be abolished.

In 2008, three people were sentenced to death in Ghana and according to AI there were approximately 105 prisoners on death row including three women. But before former President John Agyekum Kufuor left office, he commuted all death sentences; some to total pardon and others to various sentences. Thus the AI has appealed to President John Evans Atta Mills to "seize the moment and take immediate steps to abolish the Death Penalty".

AI says there is empirical evidence that the death penalty does not deter people from committing homicide-the act of deliberating killing another- and that long prison sentences which may reform convicts will serve the interest of the nation.

"What is the use of retaining a law and not applying it, it smacks of hypocrisy," the President of the Ghana Section of AI, Vincent Adzahile-Mensah, declared at the news conference on why Ghana has to abolish the Death Penalty.

He explained that the Death Penalty was not only irreversible but also a flagrant violation of the fundamental human right to life. He adds that there is evidence to show that many convicts who subsequently became victims of the death penalty suffered miscarriage of justice. "But the execution could not be reversed."

Tuinese Edward Amuzu , Executive Director of Legal Resources Centre in Accra described the death penalty as injustice and that the "The only thing worse than injustice is tolerating injustice."

He stressed that the "Death Penalty was not and could not be a solution to crime but that the Death Penalty is rather the most heinous violation of human rights."

Mr. Amuzu was of the view that the absence of death penalty must be, among other things, the pre-eminent measure of civilization, of humility on the part of any government; of the human centredness of any government and of measure for pacesetting.

Justices of the Supreme Court of Ghana even differ on whether the death penalty should be abolished or not.

Last year the issue was brought into sharp focus when four Appeal Court Judges who appeared before the Appointment Committee of Parliament in respect of their nomination by the President to the Supreme Court, were sharply divided over the issue: two were for its repeal, while the other advocated its retention.

Justices Rose Constance Owusu and Paul Baffoe-Bonnie submitted that capital punishment should be maintained, while Justices Anin Yeboah and Jones Dotse were of the view that it should be expunged from the Statue books.

The posture of the Appointments Committee members favours that of abolition of the law and they argue that that is the contemporary thinking and Ghana should not be left behind.

Advancing arguments for the retention, the 64-year-old Ms Justice Owusu, a staunch Presbyterian and 20 years of service at the bench, said her stance was rooted in the Biblical injunction by the Lord Jesus Christ: "He who draws the sword must die by the sword."

According to her, she does not see the reason why an accused that had gone through a fair trial and having been proven beyond reasonable doubt that he was guilty of murder should not be asked to face the same fate.

But the then Minority Leader, Hon. Alban S. K. Bagbin, a Catholic by faith, felt Justice Owusu was misapplying the Scriptures and drew her attention to the Bible passage which says that "Vengeance belongs to God"; alluding to the fact God has not conferred the power of taking the life of any human being into the hands of another.

Justices Anin and Dotse agreed with members of the committee that history is replete with stories from other jurisdictions where people have been executed for murder and later evidence had proved that they were not guilty of the offence. But it "was too late" because the affected persons could not be resurrected.

The death penalty has been on Ghana's statute books since the inception of English common law in the country in 1874. Ghana still retains the death penalty for armed robbery, treason and first-degree murder. Under Article 72 of the Constitution the president may exercise the Prerogative of Mercy and grant amnesty.

According to human rights activists and the Ghana Bar Association, at least 155 people were executed between 1984 and 1993 when former President Jerry Rawlings headed the Provisional National Defence Council government. Many were soldiers suspected of coup plotting.

But the situation has changed now. In April 2000, 100 people had their death sentences commuted to life terms. In February 2001, the then Justice Minister, Nana Akufo-Addo, spoke out publicly against the death penalty. In June 2003, nearly ten years after the last execution, ex-President John Agyekum Kufuor, granted amnesty to 179 prisoners that had spent at least ten years on death row.

No executions have taken place since the 90s, when 12 prisoners who had been convicted of armed robbery or murder were executed by firing squad. Executions may also be carried out by hanging but Ghana's last hanging was performed in 1968.

On March 6, 2007 ex-President Kufuor, freed or commuted the sentences of 1,206 prisoners to mark the 50th anniversary of independence, according to an Interior Ministry statement. Thirty-six prisoners who were on death row have had their sentences commuted to life in prison.

Three prisoners who were serving life sentences had their jail terms reduced to 20 years. And 1,167 detainees serving lesser sentences were freed. Ghana's prison population stands at just under 12,000.

On December 18, 2007 Ghana abstained on the Resolution on a Moratorium on the Use of the Death Penalty at the UN General Assembly.

Ghana: Put Death Penalty to a Referendum

3 April 2009 - editorial

The death penalty continues to trigger heated and controversial debates across the globe, with the number of countries still keeping it on their statute laws shrinking each year, except in Africa and Asia.

Ghana remains one of several African countries still keeping the law on her books, despite years of campaigns to have it expunged. Last week, the Ghana Branch of Amnesty International renewed its call on the new government to come clean on the controversial law.

And in response, the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mrs. Betty Mould-Iddrisu, says the NDC government has no immediate plans of repealing the death penalty, at least for now (See full report on front page).

The Attorney General says as at now, there is no policy directive from government for a review of the law during this legislative term.

As Amnesty International argues, it is indeed hypocritical on the part of Ghana to retain death penalty on the statute books and yet fail to apply it. Statistics indicate that since the inception of democratic governance in 1993, the death penalty has not been carried out. The last killings by firing squad were done in 1990. This is an indication that Ghanaians now respect the right to life and the rule of law, but the fact that the law remains on our books though we have been reluctant to apply it indicates our abhorrence for the law.

As has been argued in many circles, the death penalty is inhuman and degrading in modern times and incompatible with human rights standard. Empirical evidence suggests that the death penalty does not deter people from committing crimes, it rather hardens them. Instead, long prison sentences which may reform convicts will serve the interest of the nation.

The penchant for any government to use the law to put fear in its opponents is enough reason for any government not to want to repeal the death sentence. This newspaper therefore suggests that the controversial death penalty should be put to a referendum for all Ghanaians to decide. When that happens, it would be binding on future governments.


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