Twelve men stood staring down the barrel of a gun. They stood staring into their inevitable fate with the knowledge that their murderers were not only above the law, they were fully supported by it. All twelve were charged with armed robbery or murder – serious crimes that require serious punishment. But the moment the executioners squeezed the triggers and the twelve bodies collapsed to the ground, a greater crime had been committed.
Seventeen years have passed since the Ghanaian government ordered the execution of 12 men in July 1993. Since then, the use of execution has been imposed, revoked and imposed again. According to figures from the Ghana Prisons Service, 97 male and two female convicts await execution.
2010 has presented abolitionists with a unique opportunity to finally end this brutal practice. As part of the ongoing Constitution Review in Ghana, the government has invited civil society groups and ordinary Ghanaians to submit their suggestions for reform. Now is the time for President John Evans Atta Mills to abolish the death penalty in law and ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. In doing so, Ghana can join the growing group of abolitionist states in the very near future.
The need for change
Mr. Vincent Adzahlie-Mensah, Chairman of Amnesty International Ghana explains:
“The lessons from our national reconciliation exercise show that reformation, rehabilitation and forgiveness are preferable to retribution. The idea that this policy deters crime is merely a mirage, yet the death penalty is kept as part of our legal system because it makes the government appear tough on crime.”
In 2009, Ghana was one of 58 states which retained the right to execute its citizens. The death penalty has been on Ghana's statute books since English common law was implemented in 1874. The country has had a de facto moratorium on the death penalty since 1993, but still retains the punishment for armed robbery, treason and first degree murder.
Despite the lack of use, the threat of death still hangs over Ghanaians. For this reason, Lawrence Amesu, Director of AI Ghana, believes it should be abolished:
“Wrong does not correct wrong so we cannot kill in order to correct a killing. The death penalty is not known in any human society to have any deterrent effect on the acts of criminals. Neither can it be justice, since the denial of a fundamental human right, the right to live, cannot fulfil, in any means and circumstances, the definition of justice. Human beings by nature are fallible and therefore all judges as humans are also fallible; but death is irreversible.”
A chorus of dissent
Many influential individuals have voiced their opposition to the use of the death penalty in recent years. In April 2008, the former Minister of Justice and Attorney General in Ghana, Joe Ghartey, along with members of Parliament, underlined the need for a debate on the death penalty. Mr. Ghartey often expresses his belief that the death penalty does not deter crime:
“The punishment of death does not reverse the death of the victim.”
Janet Adama Mohammed, Director of West Africa Human Rights and Democratisation Programme IBIS West Africa, Accra and recipient of the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Peace and Social Justice is equally critical of the practice:
“The death penalty is undemocratic, inhumane and should not be given space in a civilised and modern society. Life is a divine gift and should not be taken by another mortal not by law or otherwise. There should be a better way of fighting criminality not by death penalty.”
In comparison, Burundi and Togo both embrace this attitude and abolished the death penalty in 2009, reflecting the changing view in West Africa. That Ghana continues to sentence people to death highlights how backward Ghanaian justice has become.
As of 2009, 139 countries are abolitionist in law or practice. In other words, more than two-thirds of the nations in the world do not execute their citizens.
What can you do?
Ghana has been a leader in the fight to protect human rights in Africa. Its execution policy is a brutal exception. Write to President Mills urging him to take the final steps towards abolition in Ghana and prove he is committed to the protection of human rights.
The time for action is now. Join us in the fight for human rights and write a letter today. Help bring hope to the 97 Ghanaians currently languishing on death row.
By writing letters of support to the President, the Executive Secretary, the Chairman of the Constitutional Review Commission, Hon. Betty Mould Iddrissu and The Hon. Speaker, you can help end this archaic practice. For more information, visit www.amnestyghana.org.
Send your letter to the following Ghanaian authorities:
Prof. John Atta Mills
Republic of Ghana
The Castle Osu
The Executive Secretary
Constitutional Review Commission
Dr. Raymond Atuguba
Constitutional Review Commission
Professor Albert K. Fiadjoe
Hon. Betty Mould Iddrissu,
Attorney General and Minister of
Ministry of Justice & Attorney General's
The Hon. Speaker,