THE DEATH PENALTY ABOLITION IN GHANA: A JOURNEY OF 38 YEARS
In 1977, when Amnesty International started its global campaign against the death penalty, only 16 countries had abolished the death penalty for all crimes.
Amnesty International Ghana started its campaign in 1985 and at the time, no country in Africa had abolished the death penalty for all crimes. As of August 2023, 29 countries on the continent have done so. The Central African Republic is the most recent country in Africa to abolish the death penalty.
The death penalty breaches human rights, in particular the right to life and the right to live free from torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment that cannot be reverted even when an alleged person is exonerated. These rights are protected under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), adopted by the United Nations in 1948.
Initial Strategy – Amendment of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution
The Constitution Review Commission, a presidential Commission of Inquiry, was set up in January 2010 to consult with the people of Ghana on changing certain outdated parts of the 1992 constitution. In 2011, one of the recommendations of the committee was to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment. Initially, Amnesty’s campaign against the death penalty was to have the executive arm of government abolish the death penalty through the implementation of the Constitution Review Commission’s (CRC) recommendations.
From March 25, 2008, to April 1, 2008, AI Ghana hosted a three-member delegation from the International Secretariat to do collaborative work on the death penalty and to meet with key government officials regarding the possibility of placing a moratorium on the DP towards its abolition.
The campaign to abolish the death penalty by Amnesty International Ghana is prove that every human right win is possible.Francis Nyantakyi, Board Chair , Amnesty International Ghana
The delegation visited the Nsawam medium security prison where condemned prisoners are often held in detention. There were other strategic visits in 2008 to the Office of the President, the Ghana Bar Association, Office of the Commissioner, Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice then Anna Bossman; Office of the Minister of Interior, Hon. Kwamena Bartels; Office of the Country Director for Journalists on Human Rights.
In January 2009, the President of Ghana, His Excellency John Agyekum Kufour before ending his term commuted all death sentences in the country to life imprisonment. Amnesty international welcomed the action and urged the in-coming president the late H.E. John Atta Mills to seize the moment and take immediate steps to abolish the death penalty in law.
That same year, a round table discussion was organized in Accra with Ghanaian human rights defenders on the way forward to organize an effective campaign on the death penalty.
Emergence of a New Campaign Strategy
Through consultation with experts in law, Amnesty International Ghana decided to find a more strategic approach to abolish the death penalty in Ghana. As the Constitution Review Commission’s recommendation would require a referendum to amend the constitution. Referendums are not only expensive but a long and tedious process: it was obvious that this was not a priority for Ghana at that moment. Amnesty International consulted with a private legal practitioner, a constitutional lawyer and human rights advocate Lawyer Martin Kpebu, to discuss an alternative approach to the abolition of the death penalty in Ghana. Lawyer Kpebu suggested that it would be more strategic and a shorter process to pass through parliament to amend the criminal offences Act 1960 Act 29 by a simple majority vote. The amendment would achieve at least 96% abolition of the provisions relating to the use of the death penalty for ordinary crimes.
Based on Martin’s endorsement of this new strategy, Amnesty International Ghana held a first consultative meeting with key stakeholders with the support of the Australian High Commission in Ghana in 2019 to seek views and support for the new approach.
A second consultative meeting of key stakeholders was held at the Centre for Democratic Development’s office in 2019 where lawyer Francis-Xavier Sosu was invited to also make a statement on the new proposal and its feasibility. It was at this meeting that the strategy of amendment of the criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) through a Private Member’s Bill was proposed by Lawyer Francis-Xavier Sosu.
On February 14, 2020, Amnesty International Ghana led a delegation together with Lawyer Martin Kpebu and other Civil Society Organisations against the death penalty to the President of the Republic of Ghana – H.E Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to discuss the new strategy to abolish the death penalty. At this meeting, a petition with recommendation was made to him to consider a bill through the Attorney General to parliament to amend Sections of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) to abolish the death penalty.
During the 2021 Death Penalty Report launch Cape Coast in April same year, Mr. Lawyer Martin and Hon. Sosu further pushed strongly the amendment of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29) through a private member bill in parliament.
On June 29, 2021, Hon. Francis Xavier Sosu – now a Member of Parliament (MP) for Madina Constituency, officially introduced a Private Members’ bill to parliament, to abolish the death penalty. Hon. Sosu was seeking the legislature’s assistance to amend sections 46, 49, 49A, 180, 194 and 317A of the Criminal and Other Offences Act, 1960, (ACT 29). Hon. Sosu added the Ghana Armed Forces Act, 1962. Ghana. Act 105 amendment Bill as well.
On February 24, 2022, Amnesty International Ghana honoured the invitation of the Judicial Committee of Parliament of Ghana to discuss and present to them our work on the Abolition of the Death Penalty. The meeting was held at the Parliament House. In attendance was the select committee of the Judicial Committee and six representatives from Amnesty International Ghana. As part of the role of the Judicial Committee to suggest an amendment to the laws of Ghana, an opportunity was given to Amnesty International to engage with the committee and answer questions on our work on the death penalty abolition.
On the May 24, 2022, Amnesty International Ghana launched the Global Death Sentences and Executions report at the Coconut Groove Regency Hotel Accra with much focus on Ghana’s statistics of prisoners on death row and the progress made in the campaign so far.
The Death Penalty Report was launched with the aim of highlighting the progress of the Campaign Against the Death Penalty and the proposed Bills in Parliament to amend the Criminal Offences Act, Act 29 (1960) and the Ghana Armed forces Act 105 (1962), to substitute the death penalty with life imprisonment. As part of the launch the guest speaker Honourable Francis Xavier Sosu spoke on the way forward on the amendment bills.
On July 25, 2022, Amnesty International Ghana welcomed the news that the two Amendment Bills; Armed Forces (Amendment) Bill, 2022 and the Criminal Offences (Amendment) Bill, 2022 had been laid on the floor of parliament of Ghana during its first reading and referred to the Parliamentary Affairs, Legal and Constitutional Committee for consideration by the speaker of parliament.
The Steps after the First Laying of the Bills in Parliament
In August 2022, Amnesty International Ghana and its Partner-CSOs held a meeting to develop a plan called “The Next Steps”. The Next Steps agenda is an Action Plan developed jointly by Amnesty International Ghana (AI Ghana), the Australian High Commission in Ghana (AHC), the British High Commission in Ghana (BHC) and the office of the Member of Parliament for Madina – Honourable Francis Xavier Sosu.
These activities were intended to keep up the momentum the death penalty campaign has generated in recent times and to also galvanize enough support for the passage of the two Bills.
Media Editors’ Forum on the Campaign to Abolish the Death Penalty in Ghana
In September 2022, Amnesty International in collaboration with our stakeholders engaged with news editors from various media houses to share the progress on the death penalty campaign, discuss and appreciate our campaign, and to request for media support by raising awareness on the negative impact of the death penalty in Ghana on their platforms.
Courtesy Call on the Speaker of Parliament
Amnesty International Ghana led a delegation to call on the Speaker of Parliament of Ghana Rt. Honourable Alban Kingsford Sumana Bagbin to support the passing of the bills for the abolition of the death penalty. Other members of the delegation included Lawyer Martin Kpebu, Hon Francis Xavier Sosu, MP for Madina; Williams Nyarko, Executive Director for the Africa Centre for International Law, and Accountability; Bernard Ahiafor, Member of Parliament for Akatsi South and ranking member of the Constitutional Legal and Parliamentary Affairs; and Nelson Kyeremeh ranking member of the Constitutional Legal and Parliamentary Affairs.
Rt. Hon. Alban Kingsford Sumana Bagbin emphasized his support to abolish the death penalty in Ghana.
Courtesy Calls to Request Organizations to Submit Memorandum to Parliament.
As part of the next steps’ implementation in the campaign to abolish the death penalty in Ghana, Amnesty International Ghana continued engaging other stakeholders at their various offices encouraging and assisting them to submit individual memoranda or join Amnesty and its partners to submit a joint memorandum to the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee. A total of fourteen organisations joined Amnesty to submit a joint memorandum to the committee on September 12, 2022. Other religious organisations such as the Catholic Bishops Conference and the World Miracle Outreach also submitted memoranda.
Commemoration of World Day Against the Death Penalty 2022 10th October 2022
The aim of the World Day Against the Death Penalty is to raise awareness on the use of the death penalty, strengthen anti-death penalty activism and act towards the goal of its global abolition.
Amnesty International Ghana joined abolitionist NGOs, networks, activists, and institutions around the world to commemorate the 20th World Day Against the Death Penalty which is dedicated to reflecting on the relationship between the use of the death penalty and torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment.
The main objective for the gathering was to appeal to our stakeholders to join Amnesty International in submitting a joint memorandum to the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee in support of the two bills laid before the committee to substitute the death penalty with life imprisonment.
Courtesy Call on the President ahead of the United Nations General Assembly Moratorium
On 4th November 2022, Amnesty International Ghana had the honour to meet with his Excellency Nana Addo Danquah Akuffo Addo to appeal to the President for Ghana to vote in favour of the UNGA draft resolution on the moratorium on the use of the death penalty. Representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration the Attorney General, Minister of Justice, Godfred Yeboah Dame and the Minister of State Protocol were all present
In December 2022, Ghana voted for the first time in many years in favour of the moratorium on the death penalty at the United Nations General Assembly.
2022 Report Launch on Death Sentences and Executions
On May 24, 2023, Amnesty International Ghana launched the Global Death Sentences and Executions report which gave an overview of Ghana’s statistics of prisoners on death row and the progress made in the campaign so far.
Meeting with the Constitutional, Legal, and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament on the Second Consideration of the Private Member’s Bills on the Death Penalty
The second consideration of the Criminal Offences Amendment Bill and the Armed Forces Amendment Bill took place in Koforidua on May 27 and 28 2023 organized by the Constitutional, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Committee of Parliament. Majority of the Committee members supported the call to substitute the death penalty with life imprisonment. The committee also recommended that the process continued until the final abolition in parliament. All stakeholders and Government representatives (Justice of the Supreme Court, CHRAJ (Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice), Ghana Armed Forces, Prisons Service, and the Ghana Police all supported the amendments.
Two weeks leading up to the vote on the two amendments in Parliament, the coalition against the death penalty set out to engage the media on radio and television to increase the advocacy around the death penalty and appeal to the parliamentarians to vote in favour of the amendments.
July 21, 2023, Amnesty International Ghana sent letters to the Majority and the Minority Chief Whips in Parliament to encourage their members of parliament to vote in favour of the two bills to abolish the death penalty in Ghana.
July 25, 2023, Ghana’s Parliament voted and abolished the death penalty for all ordinary crimes in the Criminal Offences Act, Act 29 (1960).
On July 27, 2023, the Parliament of Ghana also voted to amend the Armed Forces Act, also abolishing the death penalty for all military crimes.
Ghana became the 29th country to abolish the death penalty in Africa.
August 2, 2023, the President Nana Akufo-Addo assented to the bills abolishing the death penalty in Ghana.
The journey to abolish the death penalty would not have been complete without the support of our stakeholders and partners who share the same vision with us during all levels of engagement: POS Foundation; the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, African Centre for International Law and Accountability; Ghana Centre for Democratic Development; Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative; Legal Resources Centre; Catholic Bishops Conference; Action Chapel; World Miracle Outreach; Action by Christians against Torture; Africa Institute for Crime, Policy and Governance Research; Human Rights Reporters Ghana; World Vision Ghana; Human Rights Advocacy Centre; Crime Check Foundation; Extra Helping Hands Foundation; Women in Law and Development in Ghana (WiLDAF), Ghana Integrity Initiative to mention but a few
Abolishing the death penalty for ordinary crimes is not just a win for Ghana, It’s a win for humanity!Genevieve Partington, Country Director, Amnesty International Ghana
We commend the Justices of the Supreme Court for their important interventions. The Commissioner, the Deputy Commissioner and the Director for Human Rights at the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) for their invaluable support throughout the campaign. We also acknowledge the various roles played by the Ghana Armed Forces and Ghana Prisons Service. We acknowledge all other groups and individuals that played a crucial role in this campaign including members of Amnesty International.