Country Listing

Ghana Table of Contents



Ever since Nkrumah's regime, successive Ghanaian governments have devised policies to contain or to destroy political opposition. Observers, both domestic and international, point to the Preventive Detention Act of 1958 as the first major official act of human rights infringement. Subsequently, international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Africa Watch have reported many cases of abuse.

The NLC, which ousted Nkrumah in 1966, used authoritarian tactics against real and imagined adversaries. The Busia government, which followed the NLC, also employed harsh measures against its opponents. Beginning in 1972 when Acheampong seized power, respect for the state and its institutions and laws withered, a development that in turn caused an increase in human rights violations. In 1979 Jerry Rawlings sought to redress this situation by launching an army mutiny, which led to several executions, including those of three former heads of state.

Following a second coup on December 31, 1981, Rawlings promised to put power in the hands of the people by revolutionizing the country's political and economic system. To achieve this goal, Rawlings suspended the constitution, banned political parties, and arrested numerous party leaders. On February 18, 1983, the Rawlings government promulgated PNDC Law 42, the Provisional National Defence Council (Establishment) Proclamation (Supplementary and Consequential Provisions) Law, which was retroactive to December 31, 1981. According to Amnesty International, this law gave the PNDC and its chairman, Rawlings, "wide and apparently arbitrary power over the citizens of Ghana." Additionally, Amnesty International voiced concern about the establishment of public tribunals to try political criminals, the detention without trial of suspected government opponents, the imprisonment after an unfair trial of such people, reports of arbitrary killings by armed forces personnel, and the beating and ill-treatment of political opponents and criminals by armed forces personnel.

Since the late 1980s, Ghana has continued to experience human rights problems. These include restrictions on such basic rights as freedom of speech, freedom of the press, freedom of religion, and freedom of assembly; the right of citizens to change their government; and due process of law. In June 1989, Ghanaian authorities established regulations for registering all religious organizations, froze the assets of four churches, and expelled expatriate missionaries who were Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons. Additionally, the PNDC detained the president and the secretary general of the Ghana Bar Association without charge for more than a week after the association announced its intention to hold a conference commemorating the 1982 murder of three judges by soldiers. After the association canceled its plans, the government released the president and the secretary general.

Ghanaian authorities also arrested numerous American citizens, who belonged to a religious group known as the Black Hebrews, and held them without charge for lengthy periods. In September 1989, the Ministry of Defence ordered the imprisonment of Major Courage Quarshigah and four others for "their alleged involvement in activities which could have compromised the security of the state," that is, for having attempted a coup. Eventually, the government detained another group of five people in connection with the socalled Quarshigah Affair. By the end of 1989, there were about 200 political detainees and prisoners. The government failed to respond to appeals by Amnesty International to investigate reported mistreatment of these detainees and prisoners.

Significant restrictions on personal freedoms continued in 1990. Summary arrests and detention without formal charges were also numerous. Additionally, Lebanese and other resident foreign businessmen were jailed and held without formal charges and without benefit of trial. In August 1990, authorities charged the chairman and other officials of the Movement for Freedom and Justice, a political party that advocates greater respect for human rights and democratization, with conspiracy and publication of a false statement regarding their detention. The movement's officials later retracted their charge of illegal detention and apologized to the government.

According to Africa Watch, the Ghanaian government in 1991 continued to hold at least seventy-six political prisoners and other detainees. In a radio interview on May 31, 1991, Secretary for Foreign Affairs Obed Asamoah claimed that some of these detainees were subversives. If they were brought to trial, Asamoah added, they would be convicted and executed. In late 1991, the PNDC arrested several opposition leaders for criticizing the Rawlings regime. Human-rights advocates also reported various examples of mistreatment of prisoners, such as keeping them in isolation for long periods and in dark, small cells without clothes or bedding. During political demonstrations, the police were often accused of using excessive force against antigovernment elements.

With the introduction of the 1992 constitution, some observers hoped that Ghana's human rights record would improve because the new constitution contains a system of checks and balances, it guarantees basic human rights and freedoms, and it provides for an autonomous organization called the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice. This commission, established in September 1993, is empowered to investigate alleged human rights violations, and it may take action to remedy proven abuses.

When the commission uncovers a human rights violation, it can seek resolution through negotiation, report the incident to the attorney general or auditor general, or institute proceedings. As of late 1994, the commission had received some 2,500 complaints and petitions from Ghanaians with human rights grievances against present and past governments, of which about 1,000 had been dealt with.

Another prominent human rights organization is the Ghana Committee on Human and People's Rights. Established in early 1991 specifically to watch for and to publicize violations of basic freedoms, it was credited with contributing to an improved human rights climate in the early 1990s.

Data as of November 1994

Country Listing

Ghana Table of Contents