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27.06.2005 Crime & Punishment

Lawyer speaks out against torture

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Ho, June 27, GNA - Mr Saviour Dzikunu, a private legal practitioner, has said unless public opinion was aroused to draw attention to torture, tenets of the constitution and other laws meant to protect people against the practice could remain as platitudes. "We must build a strong opinion against those who do it as a way of getting compliance and also encourage people to seek redress from the courts to get perpetrating individuals and institutions to stop the practice", he said on Sunday.

Mr Dzikunu was delivering a lecture on manifestation of torture in the Ghanaian society, organised in Ho by Action By Christians Against Torture (ACAT-Ghana) to mark the UN Day of Support for Victims of Torture that is marked on June 26 every year.

He said the practice by the police to strip suspects to their underwear before putting them in cells was outmoded and also blamed the emaciated look of people just returned from Ghanaian prisons on the overcrowding and poor living conditions of inmates. Mr Dzikunu, who is a past Chairman of Amnesty international-Ghana, listed beating, denial of food and water, application of electrical current to parts of the body, being held in darkness or under ultra bright lights and being drugged as some of the forms of torture meted out to suspects and prisoners.

He said torture did not exist only in state institutions but was also prevalent in the traditional setting where under the guise of customary rites, people were sometimes taken through tormenting moments such as girl genital mutilation. Mr Dzikunu expressed the hope that the spread of general education would change the belief system that sustained negative customs. Mr Goerge Hornuvor, acting Volta Regional Director of the Commission on Human rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), said the trend for religious leaders and some chiefs to orchestrate accusations of witchcraft against others and order forms of trial and punishment was disturbing. He said in some cases, alleged witches or wizards were made to drink urine of women in their menses and also go under some other weird rites to exorcise their alleged sorcery.

Mr George Adjovie, Principal Investigation Officer of CHRAJ, said bullying in schools was a form of torture that must be fought. Mr Rockson Damali, Chairman ACAT-Ghana, said the movement, which was started by two Protestant women in France in 1978 in reaction to mass torture of people during wars, operates in 36 countries. He said ACAT-Ghana, formed in Ghana in June 2002, is the first in an Anglophone country south of the Sahara.