UNLAWFUL DETENTION OF WOMEN AND CHILDREN FROM BUDUBURAM REFUGEE CAMP- CHRI
On 18 March 2008, a team of human rights advocates and lawyers from the Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (CHRI) and the Legal Resources Centre went on a fact-finding mission to the Buduburam Refugee Camp, in response to the arrest of approximately 650 women and children on the morning of 17 March 2008. The women had been staging a peaceful protest since 19 February, over the current repatriation settlement offered by the UNHCR for refugees to return to Liberia .
The refugees are appealing either for resettlement to a third country, or for US$1000 per refugee, in order to facilitate the rebuilding of their lives in Liberia . The refugees submitted a petition on 8 January to the UNHCR detailing a breakdown of these costs. However, UNHCR was only prepared to increase the repatriation offer to US$100 per adult, and US$50 per child. In order to discuss the reasons behind the protest, the women agreed to attend a meeting on 11 March with the Minister of the Interior, the Chairman of the Ghana Refugee Board, the country representative of the UNHCR and the Inspector General of the Police. The women felt they did not receive adequate time to voice their concerns, and felt that they needed to continue their protest
On 17 March, between 5-6am the football park where the women and children were sited was surrounded by armed police. The women and children were ordered onto buses and trucks in order to convey them to the Kodeabe Voluntary Training Centre, in order for them to be detained. We have particular concern about the manner in which the women were ordered on to the vehicles. According to the police they boarded the buses voluntarily; however, many women stated that they were ordered to the buses whilst weapons were pointed in their direction. When the women asked about the reasons for their arrest, none of the women were given specific reasons for their detention, as is proscribed by law. Some were told that they had violated the laws of Ghana , which in itself is insufficient, whilst others were given no reasons whatsoever.
CHRI believes this to be a violation of one's right to be informed immediately of the reason for their detention, in contravention of Article 14 of the 1992 Constitution, protecting the right to liberty. Additionally, following their continued detention, the 48 hour time limit for detention following arrest imposed by law has now elapsed. They are now being detained illegally and their right to liberty infringed. At the detention centre, police were only able to say that they were acting upon orders, and were able to provide no information as to the status of the detainees.
CHRI would like to express concern about possible breaches of detainees' constitutional right to respect of their dignity and the internationally recognised right to family life. A team from the CHRI visited the Kodeabe Voluntary Training Centre, and the advocates confirmed the basic situation of the compound. It is situated in a forested area in Eastern Region, where the women are forced to sleep on mats or the bare floor. Many are left open to the elements due to the lack of formal accommodation, where they are also susceptible to harassment from insects and animals, particularly scorpions and snakes.
Concerns are also raised about the limited supplies available to the women, of food, water and also of the sanitary conditions. Some women reported being followed to, and watched while using the toilet, something we believe to be a serious breach of a person's dignity. In response to the conditions, several of the women have gone on hunger-strike since their arrival at the centre, whilst others expressed specific concerns about the lack of food available.
CHRI would also like to express their concern about this situation, particularly because of the number of children being held, many of whom had been taken to the detention centre without their mothers. When questioned about the number of children at the centre whom had been separated from their mothers who remained at the camp, the police officers at the centre were unable to provide any numbers, and confirmed that they had no system in place in order to assess the situation.
Further concerns are raised about the provision of healthcare at the centre. Many women are suffering from a variety of medical ailments, particularly diarrhoea brought on by the conditions at the centre. We have received reports that two women have miscarried since the arrests. In addition, Article 27 of the 1992 Constitution provides for specific provisions to mothers for a reasonable time before and after childbirth. Heavily pregnant women are being detained at the centre, and their continued detention in the conditions being experienced at the centre is a blatant disregard for the need to make special provisions for them.
These basic human rights are ones which are afforded to all persons regardless of their gender, race or nationality. CHRI calls for the immediate release the women from their unlawful detention, in order to ensure the protection of their liberty. Alternatively, they should fully inform them of the specific reasons for their detention, and apply to the courts for an extension of time on which to hold them, or charge the women with the offences of which they are accused. CHRI also makes an appeal to the authorities at the centre to return unaccompanied children to their mothers at Buduburam Refugee Camp, and also for the release of mothers whose children have been left unattended at the camp. Particular concern is raised for those mothers detained who are still nursing, and their continued detention prevents one of the most basic rights a human can possess.