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01.12.2005 General News

The courts have failed to protect the vulnerable- Kuenyehia

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Accra, Dec. 1, GNA - Ghanaian courts have failed to protect and promote the rights of the vulnerable in society to the maximum and in a holistic manner, Professor Akua Kuenyehia, First Vice President of the International Criminal Court, The Hague, said on Thursday.

Presenting a paper on: "Legal Aid: A Tool for Promoting and Protecting the Rights of the Vulnerable in Society", Prof Kuenyehia said the slow pace at which cases were handled defeated the purpose of seeking protection from the courts.

The presentation formed part of FIDA-Ghana's 20th anniversary lecture. Prof Kuenyehia said: "The snail-pace at which cases are handled, of which human rights cases are no exception, defeats the whole purpose of seeking legal protection from the courts."

She said: "As equity aptly states, justice delayed is justice denied and this is more so in human rights cases."

Prof Kuenyehia, one of the founding members of FIDA-Ghana, noted that judgements delivered by the Judiciary were often without reference to international and regional human rights instruments, which Ghana had ratified.

She urged the Judiciary to take note of the fact that a large number of such norms were now considered as part of customary international law.

"It is gradually becoming customary even within the Sub-Saharan African context to see judgements that take cognisance of international or regional norms of human rights," she said.

Prof. Kuenyehia said the failure of the Judiciary to incorporate international human rights standards into their decisions was a sad omission as human rights based decision would go a long way to contribute to the human rights jurisprudence in Ghana.

"It is little wonder that public interest litigations has not gained as much grounds in Ghana as it has in countries such as South Africa and Botswana where courts have handed down ground breaking decisions on various issues using human rights norms," she said. She, therefore, called on the judges to take a more progressive approach to human rights issues that came before them.

Prof Kuenyehia, praised FIDA for being a trailblazer in legal aid saying they had not only helped people who would otherwise not had had access to the courts, but had also encouraged and challenged other organisations to take up the issue of providing aid to the vulnerable in society.

She said the increase in number of legal aid providers was gradually making them less effective, hence the need for such providers to network.

"The failure of these groups to network more often rendered them less effective than they would otherwise would have been in their combine fight for the rights of the vulnerable," she noted She urged the legal aid providers to consider extending their services to the aged too and not to leave issue relating to their welfare to Help Age, a nongovernmental organisation, alone.

Touching on the issue of women, Prof Kuenyehia said women had always been categorised as vulnerable because they had been subjected to all forms of discrimination since time immemorial, simply because they were women.

She attributed the problem mainly to the fact that a number of women still lacked education both formal and informal and were marginally poor and lacked the ability to fight for their rights.

Prof Kuenyehia said literacy was a fundamental skill that empowered women to take control of their lives, engage directly with authority and access the wider world of learning.

She, therefore, urged the legal associations such as Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF), African Women Lawyers Association (AWLA) and Legal Resource Centre (LRC) to strengthen their advocacy roles, by organising awareness training programmes and education to help marginalized women. 1 Dec 05