"For centuries the death penalty, often accompanied by barbarous refinements, has been trying to hold crime in check; yet crime persists. Why? Because the instincts that are warring in man are not, as the law claims, constant forces in a state of equilibrium." - Albert Camus ( second youngest Nobel Peace Prize for literature recipient in history)
It is baffling and thought-provoking to consider that Ghana of all countries has not abolished the death penalty, considering how hospital and welcoming we are as a country. Although indeed Ghana is an abolition country in practice it still contains in its books the death penalty and this is very worrying because it means that on any day the president can sign an Executive Order for the inmates on death row to be executed.
Over 40 years now, Amnesty International has made many great efforts to get the death penalty abolished and it has seen remarkable progress in that regard. Sub Sahara Africa has been no exception to these efforts as many countries have abolished the death penalty both in law and in practice. Despite this feat, more work needs to be done as most countries have only abolished the death penalty in practice but still maintain the provisions in their various constitutions. In 2017, Guinea became the 20th country in Sub Saharan Africa to abolish the death penalty in all forms.
Ghana has not executed anyone on death row since July 17, 1993 after the execution of some 19 prisoners on that day and as at now, there are a total number of about 180 inmates locked up and forgotten, waiting to die and ready to be executed any time the government wishes. Although no government has mustered the courage to execute the inmates, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment noted in 2014 that several inmates on death row "show[ed] signs of severe mental and physical trauma."
An Amnesty International research into life on death row in Ghana, as captured on their death penalty report; Locked Up and Forgotten: the need to abolish the death penalty in Ghana, showed that many of the inmates have "been convicted after trials where they did not receive proper legal representation. Most of the death row prisoners told researchers that they had ineffective legal representation during their trials." Some did not even have the opportunity to meet their lawyers in order to prepare their case.
Despite these challenges and more, Former President John Agyekum Kufuor who was regarded as the “good giant of Africa” for his abolitionist stance and frequent usage of the presidential prerogative of mercy to commute death sentences to life imprisonment or granting amnesty to prisoners, commuted the sentences of 179 prisoners who had served at least 10 years on death row in 2003. Also, in honor of Ghana’s 50th anniversary of independence in May 2007, he again commuted 36 death sentences to life imprisonment. Following in his stead, formed President John Dramani Mahama in 2013 commuted 33 death sentences to life imprisonment, and, in commemoration of Ghana’s 54th Republic Day Anniversary, in 2014, he commuted 21 more. Former President Mahama again commuted 14 death sentences in 2015.
In December 2011, the Constitution Review Commission under the Chairmanship of Professor Albert Fiadjoe, an elite Professor of Law at the University of West Indies submitted a report to government recommending the replacement of the death penalty with life imprisonment without parole, which is a stiffer penalty than the current practice. Among the reasons it cited for its recommendation were the irreversible consequences of executing wrongfully-convicted individuals, the failure of the death penalty as a deterrent, the barbaric nature of the punishment, the fact that executions do not necessarily provide closure to victims’ families, the arbitrariness of the punishment, the dehumanizing effect of executions, and the need to focus instead on rehabilitation. Yet in 2014, the then government rejected the recommendation of the Constitutional Review Implementation Committee to abolish the death penalty, or to adopt a formal interim moratorium on executions, or yet still, to ratify the ICCPR-OP2.
The government rather agreed, however, to put to a referendum all recommendations of the CRC requiring amendment of the Constitution, including death penalty abolition, which is an entrenched provision in the Constitution, and thus required a referendum. Although the Constitution Review Implementation Committee submitted a draft bill for the required constitutional amendments, the bill was not approved by the Cabinet, Parliament, or Council of State, as required before a referendum could be held.
October 2015 saw the Accra Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice publishing a survey of public opinion on capital punishment in a broad cross-section of the capital's residents. The survey’s most important finding was that, contrary to popular belief, a majority of the residents of Accra are opposed to the death penalty. 54.3% of respondents were strongly opposed to the death penalty, compared with 9.7 % who expressed strong support, while 36% were moderately in support of the death penalty.
When asked specifically about abolition of the death penalty for murder, 61.7% expressed support for abolition while 39.3% opposed abolition for murder. Other significant findings include the fact that the public has very limited knowledge of the type of crimes that attract the death penalty and that a high level of education is correlated with higher support for abolition. The study found no evidence that abolition would have a backlash effect in the form of vigilante violence in the country.
So now this research, and stance by government begs these few questions;
Why would we still maintain the provisions of death penalty in our books whilst we have ratified the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights in the year 2000? Is there anything preventing the president from ratifying the Second Optional Protocol aiming at the abolition of the death penalty (ICCPR-OP2) even after being quoted saying he is against the death penalty? Why is there so much delay in giving the green light for a referendum to be organised to determine the fate of death penalty in the country? Why would the government fail to give cognizance to the pleas of the citizens and other international organisations to abolish the death penalty? why isn't the council of state considering the appeal for the abolishment of the death penalty?
I do believe that all conditions have been met and the time is right for the government to take steps to abolish the death penalty in Ghana. But for the mean time, we shall continue to appeal, petition and do all we can in our power and our might to make sure that the death penalty is totally abolished or a moratorium is declared on executions on the country.
Indeed, we want the death penalty abolished. When do we want it? Now!!!