Human Rights Organization, Amnesty International Ghana(AIG) has launched its 2018 Reports on Death Penalty and Executions with the call on parliament and government to explicitly abolish the death penalty in the constitution for all crimes in Ghana.
The local chapter of the global Human Rights Organization, made up of over 4000 people together with its abolitionist friends and partners have also petitioned parliament among other requests, to support efforts towards ensuring the replacement of death penalty with the death sentence as punishment for crime in the penal code of Ghana.
The launch which preceded the petitioning of parliament was held at the Accra International Press Centre on Wednesday, April 11, 2019.
Present at the event were various dignitaries from embassies in the country, Government Officials, Representatives of UN Organizations, Ghana Police and Prisons Services, Civil Society Groups, Non-Governmental Organizations, Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice(CHRAJ), the Ghana Journalists Association(GJA), Human Rights Reporters Ghana(HRRG) including other stakeholders and the general public.
Speaking at the launch, International Member of Amnesty International, Mr. Vincent Adzahlie-Mensah said, “on the occasion of launching this report, we want to take a stand for all death row inmates and to call that their situation be taken into consideration and their cases reviewed as appropriate”.
He described the report as a product of meticulous research that has generated data and is very useful not only for human rights campaigning but to expose issues related to death penalty which academics, the media, policy makers, donor communities including the general public can make use of to speak to the question of death penalty and its abolition.
According to Mr. Adzahlie-Mensah, the 53 pages’ book report depicts a categorization of the world into various regions which highlighted information on the sub-Saharan Africa, vividly captured in page 41 of which Africa is portrayed as doing well on the question of death abolition.
“But for Ghana, it remains a shame, a national shame to us that all countries surrounding us have abolished death penalty and we stand alone line an island”, he stressed.
The Amnesty International Global Report on Death Sentences and Executions give statistics on death sentences and executions carried out around the world. The report identifies countries that have made significant steps towards abolishing the death sentence whilst giving further information methods of execution and so on.
Following a change to its anti-narcotics laws, executions in Iran – a country where the use of the death penalty is rife – fell by a staggering 50%. Iraq, Pakistan and Somalia also showed a significant reduction in the number they carried out. As a result, execution figures fell globally from at least 993 in 2017, to at least 690 in 2018.
China remained the world’s top executioner – but the true extent of the use of the death penalty in China is unknown as this data is classified as a state secret. Amnesty International believes thousands of people are sentenced to death and executed each year.
In an unprecedented move, death penalty figures were made publicly available by authorities in Viet Nam, who reported that at least 85 executions took place in 2018. This tally confirms its place within the world’s top five executing countries: China (1000s), Iran (at least 253), Saudi Arabia (149), Viet Nam (at least 85) and Iraq (at least 52).
This year’s report indicated that Global executions fell by almost one-third, to the lowest figure in at least a decade. The statistics assess known executions worldwide except in China, where figures thought to be in their thousands remain classified as a state secret.
Global trend towards abolition
The Overall, 2018’s figures show that the death penalty is firmly in decline, and that effective steps are being taken across the world to end the use of this cruel and inhuman punishment.
For example, Burkina Faso opted a new penal code that effectively abolished the death penalty in June. In February and July respectively, Gambia and Malaysia both declared an official moratorium on executions. In the US, the death penalty statute in the state of Washington was declared unconstitutional in October.
Death penalty in Ghana and in Africa
Ghana is considered abolitionist in practice by Amnesty International because it retains the death penalty for ordinary crimes such as murder but has not executed anyone in the last 10 years and is believed to have established practice of not carrying out executions.
Although no official moratorium on execution is in place, Ghana has not carried out an execution since 1993 and no President is known to have signed an execution warrant since then. In addition, successive Presidents in the lasts 15 years have granted clemency to death row prisoners. Also, the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC), in its report on 20 December 2011, recommended that the death penalty be abolished under a new Constitution and replaced with life imprisonment without parole.
The Ghana Prisons Service informed Amnesty International that 12 people had been sentenced to death in 2018, and no executions were carried out. At the end of the year, 172 people were under sentence of death, including seven foreign nationals from Benin (1), Burkina Faso (2), Nigeria (3) and Britain (1).
Twenty countries in sub-Saharan Africa have already abolished the death penalty for all crimes, seven of which are in West Africa. In 2018, two countries made significant progress towards full abolition of the death penalty. Burkina Faso abolished the death penalty for ordinary crimes in June 2018 when it removed the death penalty from its new Penal Code and the country has included a death penalty abolition clause in a draft new constitution which is yet to be adopted.
On the other hand, Gambia moved closer to fully abolishing the death penalty by entrenching its commitment to abolition. In February 2018, President Adama Barrow announced the establishment of an official moratorium on executions. In September 2018, Gambia ratified the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty.
For his part, Country Director of Amnesty International Ghana(AIG), Robert Akoto Amoafo hinted that it is a clear evidence that all countries in the ECOWAS Sub-Region (for example Togo, Benin, Ivory Coast and Burkina Faso) have made significant progress to either totally abolish the death penalty or have made legal changes towards the total abolishment of the death penalty. He is convinced that time is right for Ghana to join the league of abolitionist countries in Africa and the world by abolishing the death penalty for all crimes.
Mr. Amoafo therefore appealed to parliament and government to among all others expressly abolish the death penalty in the Constitution for all crimes, commute the death sentence of all death row prisoners to terms of imprisonment and provide all death prisoners, regardless of means, with adequate and effective legal aid to pursue any appeals against their convictions and death sentences.
He has also among other requests called for replacement of death sentences, as punishment for any crime, with prison terms in the Criminal Code and other relevant legislation as well as establishment of an official moratorium on executions.
Ms Jillian Suggate, Second Secretary and Consul at the Australian High Commission, adding her voice to the calls urged countries that practices capital punishment to cease executions and establish a moratorium on the use of death penalty.
She also appealed to governments, including the government of Ghana, to improve prison conditions, including for prisoners on death row.
Death Penalty in Australia
Australia abolished the death penalty in all jurisdictions in 1985, with the last execution occurring in 1967. In 2010, the federal government passed legislation prohibiting the re-establishment of capital punishment by any Australian state or territory. Since that time, Australia has advocated for the abolition of the death penalty across the globe. As a member of the UN Human Rights Council for 2018-20 term, Australia will continue its strong commitment to full abortion.
Justifying the reason why Australia opposes the death penalty in all circumstances, for all people, Ms Suggate said, “Firstly, the death penalty is irrevocable and no legal system is free of error. If the convicted is later found to be innocent, that is miscarriage of justice that cannot be rectified. Secondly it removes any possibility of rehabilitation for the convicted individual. It brutalizes our societies, degrades our citizens, and is an affront to our shared human dignity”.