Have you ever paused to think what it will feel like to hold a door knob and have it opened from the opposite end? Spend a night behind bars and you will begin to appreciate the privilege of holding a door knob and opening it at will.
Human Rights as a subject is very broad, one which is sometimes taken for granted. However it's a major subject in international quarters, being discussed on various platforms, with organizations like Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Centre for Human Rights and Civil Liberties, amongst others, spearheading the cause.
For the purpose of our colloquium today, we will limit the issue of human rights to our borders and further narrow it down to the plight of suspects in Remand. We shall also discuss the role of the judicial arm of government, which has arbitral powers and is the citadel of justice in this democratic era.
The Judiciary and its allied professions have a major role to play as the interpreters of the law. This is imperative because for the fundamental human rights of an individual to be made real, the person must know his/her rights before he/she can insist on such constitutional rights.
In cases where the rights are abused and there is lack of cooperation from the various parties involved, it then becomes prudent to refer the matter to the courts which are set up for the purposes of dispute resolution. So it becomes even more dismal when the human rights of individuals are being abused by the very custodians of the law.
My attention was drawn to a feature on page 46 of the Daily Graphic of 17th February, 2009, attributed to the Center for Human Rights and Civil Liberties (CHURCIL), which I decided to follow-up on. An attempt to locate the offices of CHURCIL took me on an expedition of Asylum Down in Accra. And after successfully meandering through the detours in the area, I was warmly received by Messrs. Femi, Graham and Ahmed.
I was later left in the able hands of Mr. Ahmed, who stated that CHURCIL was an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit human rights advocacy centre, whose principal objectives were ensuring the protection and promotion of human rights, mental protection, rule of law, good governance and campaign finance for all citizens of Ghana and the international community.
Under the 'ACCESS TO JUSTICE' project, CHURCIL hopes to implement the 'AID REMAND PROGRAM' (ARP) which falls under the general project category of criminal justice and penal reforms.
In the said feature, there were a total of 50 longest-serving remand inmates, 25 from Nsawam Medium Security Prison and another 25 from the Kumasi Prison.
For the sake of the forum, I will list the profiles of a few from each prison and the circumstances that led to their arrests and subsequent imprisonments, as provided by CHURCIL.
LONGEST SERVING REMAND PRISONERS AT THE NSAWAM MEDIUM PRISONS
Suit No: CC NO. 482/93
Date Remanded: May 1993
To date spent: 15yrs and 9mths
Lawyer: None. But used to have one called Ahwoi (from the Cocoa Affairs court) Court Appearance: Twice, 19th May, 1993 and in 2004. His case has not been called since.
Offence: Suspected robbery
Court: Cocoa Affairs Court 4 (1993) and Osu Magistrate Court (2004)
Judge: Nuhu Bila (1993). Mr. Moshie has not seen the judge since 2004 Prosecutor: Unknown
Investigator: Mohammed (0244653564)
Police Station: Regional CID
Facts of the case: He was an illegal porter at the Kotoka International Airport. During a swoop to flush out illegal porters, he was arrested together with three others. They were arranged before an Accra Circuit Court and charged with robbery.
They were subsequently granted bail of five hundred Old Ghana Cedis (500,000) GH¢50.00 each with a surety. The others were bailed out. But Mr. Moshie did not have anyone to sign his bail bond and so he was dumped at the Nsawam Prisons. All efforts by members of CHURCIL to get his record of proceedings at the Osu Magistrate Court have proved futile.
EKOW FRANK SAM & EDWIN EGHAN
Date Remanded: 30th April, 1998
To date spent: 9yrs 10mths
Lawyer: Used to have Adjei Mensah, Ebo Smith and the late Takyi Michael Offence: Robbery
Court: Regional Tribunal, Fast Track Court 1, Cocoa Affairs, Fast Track Court 2 and High Court 2
Prosecutor: Asiamah Sarpong
Police Station: Headquarters
Facts of the case: They were arrested together with two others who have passed away in custody. Some items alleged to have been stolen were found in Kwabena's bar (one of the deceased) when questioned. He said the things were given to the sales girl at his bar for safekeeping. According to Kwabena when he was arrested, he did not know anything about the items.
Ekow was arrested because he was a witness to the incident and had challenged the policemen when they came to arrest Kwabena.
Edwin was a taxi driver. He was arrested when he escorted his master to the police station. His master was also arrested. The master died in prison custody. His vehicle was said to have been used for the operation.
ABASS IDDRISU, ABUBAKR IDDRISU, KOJO ATTAH PANYIN & BRIGHT YAW S. BENFO
Suit No: 667/99
Date Arrested: 8th July, 1999
To date spent: 9yrs 7mths
Date Remanded: 29 September, 1999
Offence: Suspected robbery
Court Appearance: Can't remember
Judge: Mrs. Jennifer Tagoe (Chairperson), Mr. Dorkenoo and Major Fia (Rtd) panel members.
Police Stations: Regional Police Station, Achimota, Headquarters and Central Police Station, Adabraka
Investigator: Insp. Ayawtey (transferred)
Facts of the case: Bright Benfo, a taxi driver, picked up Kojo from Nsawam because he had asked for a ride to Accra. On their way, they picked Abubakr and Abbas (brothers) at Medie as passengers
Upon reaching the Police barrier, they were stopped and accused of being armed robbers who had robbed someone at Legon less than an hour before, and had made away with 21 million Old Ghana Cedis (GH¢2100.00). They were arrested and taken to different police stations.
Educational Level: No formal education
Marital Status: Has a Wife and three (3) children
Date Remanded: 2000
To date spent: 9yrs
Court: Nsawam Magistrate
Court Appearance: Has been to court several times. The last was on the 25th of June, 2008.
Investigator: Frank (transferred), Amiru (Court police)
Police Station: Nsawam
Facts of Case: While returning from the farm with his pregnant wife, he asked his wife to go home while he went to town to get something. On his way home, he met an enemy's daughter who needed his help to carry some firewood. He refused, but his friends who knew what was between them forced him to help her.
Suddenly, the girl's mother appeared on the scene and said she could not comprehend what was happening. She started insulting the accused person and threatened him. Later in the day, the girl's mother came to his house with some police officers and accused him of raping her daughter. He was arrested and charged with rape.
According to him, he has been in and out of court for about eight (8) years. The case is constantly adjourned because the court is still waiting for the medical report of the victim. It is worth noting that neither the victim nor the accused has ever testified in court.
LONGEST SERVING REMAND PRISONERS INTERVIEWED AT
THE KUMASI CENTRAL PRISONS
Suit Number: CC No 85/1999
Marital Status: Single
Educational Level: No formal education
Date Remanded: 15/07/99
To date spent:9yrs 6mths
Court: Ejura Magistrate Court
Court Appearance: Several
Investigator: Sgt. Nyame
Police Station: Ejura
Facts of Case: The suspect left the Northern Region to Kumasi in search of a job.
He met a man from the same village who offered him one as a laborer on a plot of land he was also working on with the assurance that on clearing the land, he will be paid an amount of seven thousand cedis (7000 old cedis), now seventy pesewa (70ps).
Eliasu was near completion of the job when the man refused to give him any money. On the fateful day, he was on the plot working when he felt a loud bang on his back.
He had no idea what it was, so he used the cutlass he was working with to slash whatever it was. He turned around only to realize that the cutlass had chopped off the head of the son of the man who had offered him the job. He was subsequently arrested and charged with the offence.
MOSHIE GASHITEY IDDRISU
Suit Number: T.C No 65/01
Marital Status: Married with two children
Educational Background: No formal education
Date Remanded: 12/12/00
To date spent:8yrs 1mth
Last Court Date: 23/06/08 (expired)
Court: Nkawie Circuit Court
Court Appearance: Fifteen times
Investigator: A. Frimpong
Police Station: Nyinahin
Facts of Case: He was on his way to the farm with his friend. His friend was holding the basket, cutlass, etc., whilst he held the gun. Halfway through the journey, he slipped and in the process of his friend assisting him, the gun went off hitting his friend.
He carried him with the assistance of some onlookers and reported to the nearest police station. He was detained whilst his friend was sent to the hospital. Some hours later, he was informed that his friend had passed away. He's been on remand since the year 2000.
KUMA KWAKU AHETO
Suit No: T.C 22/2001
Marital Status: Single
Educational level: No formal education
Date Remanded: 17/09/01
To date spent:7yrs 4mths
Last Court Date: 26/06/08 (expired)
Court: Nkawie Circuit Court
Court Appearance: Four times
Investigator: Cpl Shaibu Ahmed
Police Station: Nyinahin
Facts of case: The accused resides in a village near Nyinahin. One morning around 4:00a.m, whiles he was asleep, some unknown people attacked him in his room. He defended himself by picking a cutlass and slashing it against the ankle of one of his attackers. At day break, he reported the incident to the police and came back home.
Some hours later, he was arrested and charged with murder since the one who sustained injuries had died from his wounds. He claims he has not seen the body of the deceased or any evidence of his death (pictures or a post mortem report) to indicate that the person is really dead.
Suit Number: No.110/2002 Age: 34years Marital Status: Single Educational Level: Technical School Form 2 Occupation: Plumber Date of Remand: 03/07/02 To date spent:6yrs 10mths Offence: Attempted robbery Court: Konongo Odumase District Court Police station: Konongo Investigator: S. Yankyera (transferred), Sulley Facts of Case: The accused says he wore the uniform of an uncle who is a soldier and went with a friend to distribute some narcotic drugs.
On their way, a misunderstanding ensued between them, over money. The friend called the police, who upon arrival, confronted and arrested them, when they realized he wasn't a real soldier. His friend managed to pay himself free. He goes to court frequently.
Suit Number: CC No 155/02 Age: 45
Marital Status: Married with four children Educational Level: Secondary Form 2 Occupation: Farmer Date Remanded: 15/08/02 To date spent:6yrs 4mths Offence: Murder
Court: Offinso Circuit Court Court Appearance: Several times Investigator: F. Ackom Police Station: Akomadan
Facts of Case: He got home heavily drunk on the 7th of June, 2002. He wife was not pleased, since he had left home early in the morning to go and sell his yams. His wife requested to see the money he had made from the sales, but he became furious and this resulted in a brawl between them.
According to him, his wife was the one who first picked up a cutlass. In the process of disarming her he lost control and it infringed multiple wounds on his seven-year-old daughter who was standing by. The girl was rushed to the hospital but died days later.
Suit No: CC No 189/2002 Age: 32
Marital Status: Single but has a child Educational level: Junior Secondary School
Occupation: Farmer Date Remanded: 30/12/02 To date spent: 6 yrs 1mth Offence: Murder Court: Mankranso Circuit Court Court Appearance: Several times Investigator: Insp C. Mensah Adjeng
Police Station: Mankranso Circuit Court
Facts of Case: On December 21st, 2002, at about 5p.m., the suspect went out with his friends to a cocoa drying shed to have a chat whilst his son was with him. A passerby drew his attention to the fact that his wife and sister-in-law had been murdered on their farm. He became confused but managed to hand his son over to a neighbor and rushed to the scene of the crime. On arrival, there were a lot of people.
His grandmother advised him to go to the outskirts of the town so that later they could find the way forward. Later in the evening, his family feared he might also attempt to take his life due to the shock, so some committee members were asked to keep surveillance as well as protect him.
Days passed, he was at home one morning when he was informed that he had a visitor, and he went out only to be arrested by the police. The suspect and his wife had lived separately, and the suspect claims that on the day in question, he was with his friends who can attest to the fact.
The profiles of these people vary in age (ages indicated are their ages at the time of arrest), marital status, educational backgrounds, etc. These are real people who could have been pursuing careers, educating themselves and/or their children, and raising families.
However, they have been put behind bars for all these years for offences, such as suspicion of robbery. What happened to the saying, 'Innocent until proven guilty?' Are these not cases of 'Guilty until proven innocent?' That is for you my reader to decide.
Now, according to the laws of our land, it is illegal to hold a suspect under warrant (in remand) for more than 14 days, after which the warrant expires and will have to be renewed if the suspect is to continue in remand custody. As per the abovementioned cases, all the warrants have expired and therefore these suspects are being held unlawfully at the prisons.
The question then is this: Why are these suspects being held in custody if the government has no legal basis to continue holding them? It might interest you, my reader, to note that since October 2008, when the plights of the remand prisoners were brought to the attention of the Attorney-General through the work of CHURCHIL, nothing has so far been done.
A survey was done and it was evident that there were 1,223 remand prisoners whose warrants had expired at the Nsawam Prison alone, with another 1,748 nationwide.
This is just obnoxious for a country that seeks to reach middle-income status by 2015, yet its citizens in their prime and productive years are languishing behind bars illegitimately and indefinitely.
These suspects are languishing in jail because of two main reasons: issues of missing dockets and Ghanaians' poor attitudes to work, which I will explain shortly.
As per the law, cases of 1st degree felony, like murder, manslaughter, armed robbery, etc., cannot be tried in the lower courts, which are the Circuit and District Courts, so these cases, after being presented to the lower courts, will have to be referred to a higher court by the judge at the lower court. This process of case referrals is carried out by sending the dockets to the Attorney-General's Department for advice.
It is this process that brings about delays in the execution of justice in our country. Why do I say this? These felony cases are between the state and the suspects, even if there are others who are victims, so these suspects must be tried on concrete evidence only.
When the investigator is unable to submit necessary evidence and declares that the case is 'under investigation,' the lower court is unable to proceed and will therefore have no choice but to continue to place the suspect in remand.
In other cases, the suspect is granted bail but has no relatives to sign the bail bonds and therefore continues to be in remand, as is the case with ASUMAH MOSHIE (the longest serving remand prisoner today).
Another reason is the attitude of the police officers assigned to these cases, who sometimes secrete these dockets so that relatives of the accused will come and 'see them,' of course to milk their palms so that the cases will be thrown out. When this set objective is not achieved, then the suspect continues to be remanded in custody, of course, with the docket declared 'missing.'
In the case of the police I also believe that the lack of motivation is to blame. I say this for the reason that if the policeman is well paid, he will not be waiting for suspects to grease his palm. The lack of logistics is also a factor that cannot be overlooked. Imagine having to move a suspect from Nsawam Prison to a court in Accra and back with no vehicle at your disposal.
The officer might do it once or twice and when he/she is certain that the case is not going to be heard anytime soon, he would relieve himself of the inconvenience of moving the suspect to and from the courts without any real progress being made. In some cases the judge may not find it pressing to hear that particular case anytime soon.
All these problems are to the detriment of young men and women in their prime of life, who are being locked up behind bars and filled with the uncertainties of tomorrow. Now, another interesting point is the fact that there is no clear line of succession amongst the junior ranks of the police service.
If one person is transferred or retires, no other policeman feels responsible to take over the case where the former left off. Of course, bearing in mind that the police service is seriously understaffed, very few officers are willing to take up additional responsibilities.
Thirdly, the attitude of the staff of the Attorney-General's Department who do not expedite action on these cases is also a major factor, but I will be quick to indicate that the blame cannot be put solely on the shoulders of the staff but also on the Government.
I say this due to the obsolete filings systems still being used in the public sector, thereby making it difficult, if not impossible, to track documents and dockets, for that matter, that are brought in for their attention and subsequent action.
To put it bluntly, the dockets simply get lost in the stack. Well, who do we blame here?
When I started this article, I resisted the idea of talking about the human rights situation in our police cells. I made a deliberate effort to exclude that in this piece hoping that I will get back to it another day.
The stuffy, overcrowded police cells in most police stations do not even have cells for females. Thus, seeing the article on the back page of the Ghanaian Times of 20th February, 2009, entitled 'Two sisters defiled in police cell,' I could not just let it pass without a comment.
This story is said to be under investigation by the regional branch of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice. Two sisters were detained by the police after being arrested over a scuffle that ensued between them and another woman.
The two were defiled as per the doctor's report. Two friends of the policeman on duty that night came in and escorted the girls to another room in the police station, which had two mattresses laid on the floor. The girls were instructed to spend the night there, obviously due to the lack of a female cell in the said police station.
They were sexually assaulted by the two friends of the policeman on duty, as he, the police officer, sat at the counter unconcerned. Have our police stations now become hotel rooms? Or are our policemen now working as pimps? This is just a repulsive situation which ought to be seriously investigated by the police administration.
Flowing from the above, it then becomes necessary for the Government to set up an Independent Commission to have oversight responsibilities for the Judiciary, the Attorney-General's Office, Prisons, and the Police Service, in order for these services to be up to the task of protecting and defending the rule of law in our beloved nation.
It may also be necessary for prison courts to be se tup to clear the backlog of cases that have been pending for years. So far as I am informed, CHURCIL does have a group of volunteer lawyers ready to defend our brothers and sisters who loiter in the prisons with no hope of coming out anytime soon, even though they are being held illegally.
It is said, 'Justice delayed is justice denied.' It is therefore important for the judiciary which has the expertise to handle these matters to do so expeditiously.
In conclusion, my dear friends, if we all become aware of the fundamental human rights of the individual in our society, the issues of justice delayed and therefore justice denied will be one of the past, and our society will be a serene and harmonious place to live, as one person's human rights begins where another's ends.
Deuteronomy 16:20a says 'Justice and Justice only shall thou pursue.…'
Can we, as a nation, take on the challenge of pursuing Justice for all citizens? Time will be the only determinant in this case!
My gratitude goes to Messrs. Femi, Ahmed and Graham, all of CHURCHIL, for helping make this article a reality and to my learned friend Mr. Aboagye for filling me in on the legal bites.