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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Ghana

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - Ghana, 30 January 1995, available at: [accessed 9 October 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.


Ghana continues its transition from a single-party, authoritarian system to that of a constitutional democracy. Flight Lieutenant (retired) Jerry John Rawlings became the first President of the Fourth Republic, following the controversial elections of 1992. This ended 11 years of authoritarian rule under Rawlings and his Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), who had seized power from an elected government in 1981. The Constitution calls for a system of checks and balances, with an executive branch headed by the President, a unicameral Parliament, an independent judiciary, and several autonomous commissions, such as the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice. While acknowledging irregularities, international monitors accepted the validity of the election results. Four opposition parties, however, claimed massive fraud in the presidential election and boycotted the December 1992 Parliamentary elections, leaving the President's coalition in full control of the Parliament and the Government.

Several security organizations report to various government departments. The police are responsible for maintaining law and order and come under the jurisdiction of an eight-member Police Council. The Bureau of National Investigation (BNI), under the Minister of the Interior, handles cases considered critical to state security. Allegations continue that police have been involved in human rights abuses, especially in areas remote from the capital. Although the security apparatus is controlled by and responsive to the Government, monitoring, supervision, and education of the police in particular are poor. With the majority of the population illiterate and unaware of their rights, human rights abuses such as beatings and detention without charge still go unreported.

After years of economic mismanagement, Ghana is attempting to rebuild its industrial base. More than 60 percent of the population still draws its livelihood from the land. Gold, cocoa, cocoa products, timber, and energy are major traditional sources of export revenues. The Government is making slow progress in its efforts to privatize state-owned enterprises, and annual economic growth has averaged 4.5 percent since the inception of an economic recovery program in 1983.

The number and severity of human rights abuses continued to decline. The small but independent press, human rights monitoring groups, and opposition parties were vigorous and outspoken in criticizing various aspects of government policy. However, the government-owned media, which reach by far the largest audience, did not often criticize government policies. Except for journalist Gershon Dompreh, who continues to serve a prison sentence for writing a press article deemed to be "economic sabotage," there are no known political prisoners or detainees. Discrimination and violence against women, however, remained significant problems, as well as abuses stemming from pretrial detentions.


Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There was one report of an extrajudicial killing. In April a 7-year-old boy from Adiembra in the Brong Ahafo Region died after sustaining injuries during a joint police/military frontier demarcation exercise. A police report said that the operation had been peaceful, but following rumors of the boy's death, the Government ordered BNI to investigate. The BNI reported that there had been excesses, but failed to specify who was responsible. The Regional Administration found the report inconclusive and ordered a new investigation.

On August 30, the High Court in Accra convicted the police inspector and constable charged with beating a prisoner to death on June 7, 1993, at Elmina of manslaughter but sentenced them to only 18 months in prison. The journalist Kwesi Pratt was unsuccessful in his efforts to persuade the Government to investigate extrajudicial killings in the early years of PNDC rule, despite police professions in 1993 of willingness to investigate such killings.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

c. Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Constitution states that the dignity of all persons shall be inviolable and that no one shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, or any other condition that detracts from his dignity and worth as a human. Nonetheless, police continued to beat prisoners and other citizens. The authorities stated that some abuses by police were investigated but announced no results; there were no known instances of police being tried and convicted for such abuses. Prisons are in most cases antiquated, and conditions are extremely harsh. Most prisons are overcrowded; nutrition and sanitation are poor. Although the Government has occasionally commuted the sentences of ill or aged prisoners, failure to provide adequate and timely medical care to prisoners has resulted in deaths.

The Government allows monitoring of prison conditions by members of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The Constitution provides protection against arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile, and it states that an individual detained shall be informed immediately, in a language he understands, of the reasons for his detention and of his right to a lawyer and to an interpreter, the latter at state expense. It also requires judicial warrants for arrest and provides for arraignment within 48 hours. In practice, however, many abuses occur, including detention without charge for longer than 48 hours and failure to obtain a warrant for arrest. The court has unlimited discretion regarding the setting of bail, which can be excessive. It may refuse to release prisoners on bail and instead remand them without charge for an indefinite period, subject to weekly review by judicial authorities. It is common to remand a prisoner into investigative custody. The Constitution requires, however, that a detainee who has not been tried within a "reasonable" time shall be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to ensure that he appears at a later date for court proceedings. Approximately 30 percent of the prison population consists of pretrial detainees. Despite the provisions of the law, abuses occur. People are sometimes detained for trivial offenses or unsubstantiated accusations. There were no known political arrests in 1994. The Government does not practice forced exile and continues to encourage Ghanaians with valuable skills who are living abroad to return, including dissidents. In some cases the Government has offered amnesty. Some former government and discredited PNDC officials have returned and resumed careers and political activities.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution establishes two basic levels of courts: superior and lower. The superior courts include the Supreme Court, the Appeals Court, the High Court and regional tribunals. Parliament may decree lower courts or tribunals. Legal safeguards are based on British legal procedures. Defendants are presumed innocent, trials are public, and defendants have a right to be present, to be represented by an attorney (at public expense if necessary), to present evidence, and to cross-examine witnesses. In practice, authorities respect these safeguards.

The Constitution provides for a Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice to investigate alleged violations of human rights and take action to remedy proven violations. The Commission was sworn in during October 1993 and has established offices in regional capitals and districts. It has held workshops to educate the public on human rights issues.

The traditional courts operate alongside the regular courts. The Chieftaincy Act of 1971 gives village and other traditional chiefs powers in local matters, including authority to enforce customary tribal laws dealing with such matters as divorce, child custody, and property disputes. Traditional courts fail to meet accepted standards of fairness and due process.

After losing a series of significant cases in 1993, the Government posed no serious challenges to judicial independence during the year. There were no charges of judicial corruption. So far as is known, there are no political prisoners with the exception of Gershon Dompreh, a journalist serving a 20-year sentence for economic sabotage.

The Government dropped its case against Kwesi Pratt, a political activist and journalist, and Professor Albert Adu-Boahen, leader of the New Patriotic Party. The authorities had charged them with obstruction of justice for refusing to testify in a public tribunal.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

Observers assume the Government continues to engage in surveillance of citizens engaged in activity which it deems objectionable. In the past, this included monitoring of telephones and mail.

Although the law requires judicial search warrants, police do not always obtain them. The Constitution provides that a person shall be free from interference within the privacy of his home, property, correspondence, or communication. This article has yet to be tested.

g. Use of Excessive Force and Violations of Humanitarian Law in Internal Conflicts

During the ethnic conflict in the Northern Region, which began in February, police used excessive force in a number of cases. In the regional capital of Tamale, security forces trying to disperse a crowd fired into it, killing at least 1 person and injuring 30 to 40 others. Police also beat villagers indiscriminately during the course of the conflict. In response to the inability of the police to control the situation, the Government declared a state of emergency and deployed regular army units to restore order. Parliament voted to lift the state of emergency in August, at which time the army units handed authority back to the police.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

The Constitution provides for freedom of speech and press, and opposition political parties and others have used it vigorously in criticizing the Government. However, the authorities continued to pressure the government-run media for conformity. The Government dominates the print and electronic media, owning the radio and television stations and the two daily newspapers. The official media continue to emphasize the positive aspects of government policies, although they also cover charges of corruption or mismanagement in government ministries and state-owned enterprises. In general, the state-owned media do not criticize government policies or President Rawlings. The Government occasionally subjects journalists to discipline or dismissal for articles deemed unacceptable. As a result, the official media practice self-censorship. There were occasions when the government-owned media carried editorials critical of the Government but did not criticize top officials.

Most Ghanaians obtain their news from the government-owned electronic media and British Broadcasting Corporation radio. Under the Constitution, individuals are free to own radio and television stations. The Government has to date, however, issued no private broadcast licenses. One firm, the Independent Media Corporation of Ghana, began broadcasting after having waited for almost 1 year without result for its application for a license. The Government confiscated the firm's radio equipment, effectively shutting the radio station down. The matter is now before the courts.

The independent press continues to publish unimpeded, with newspapers and magazines critical of the Government, including personal attacks on the President, his wife, and his close advisers. However, independent newspapers and magazines tend to be small, poorly financed, and not widely distributed outside Accra. Moreover, the Criminal Libel Law, enacted in 1960 and based on the British model, holds the potential for inhibiting freedom of the press. The law states that anyone who communicates a false report injuring the credit or reputation of the State is guilty of a felony punishable by imprisonment. Foreign periodicals are sold in Accra and other major cities. Issues containing articles critical of the Government circulate freely.

In general, the Government has not suppressed freedom of speech, press, or academic freedom on university campuses. The National Union of Ghanian Students (NUGS), one of the more vocal critics of the Government, is allowed to organize and hold meetings.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Constitution provides for freedom of peaceful assembly and association; it does not require permits for demonstrations.

Students injured by security forces during a March 1993 demonstration have been compensated, but the authorities did not punish the police officers involved.

c. Freedom of Religion

There is no state-favored religion and no apparent advantages or disadvantages attached to membership in any particular sect or religion. Foreign missionary groups have generally operated throughout the country with a minimum of formal restrictions.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

Ghanaians and foreigners are free to move throughout the country without special permission. Police checkpoints exist countrywide to prevent smuggling, but most are left unmanned during daylight hours. Roadblocks and car searches are a normal part of nighttime travel in Accra. Ghanaians are generally free to travel internationally, to emigrate or to be repatriated from other countries. Of the 10,000 Ghanaians who sought refuge in Togo following the ethnic conflict in the Northern Region, it is estimated that half have returned. As members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ghanaians may travel without visas for up to 90 days in member states.

Ghana continues to host a substantial refugee population, some 94,000 Togolese who fled to Ghana in 1993. Ghana also provides refuge to an estimated 20,000 Liberians. In addition, over 15,000 Ghanaians residing in Liberia returned to their home villages, often imposing great strain on government social services.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

Ghanaians last exercised the right to change their government through the democratic process in presidential elections held in 1992. International observers noted serious problems in the electoral process but concluded, on balance, that they did not change the outcome. However, opposition parties protested the results by boycotting subsequent parliamentary elections.

Thus, except for two independent members, all 200 members of Parliament belong to one of the three parties that supported President Rawlings, whose PNDC party won 95 percent of the seats. The Government took some steps to bring the opposition into the political process, including electoral reform.

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of gender and there are no obstacles to the participation of women in government. Several ministers and Council of State members are women. There are 16 women parliamentarians. Although all ethnic groups are represented in the Government, members of the Ewe ethnic group of which President Rawlings is a member, are overrepresented in high-level public positions.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigations of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Human rights organizations continued to grow in number and strength and operated without government interference or restriction.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, language, or social status. The courts are specifically empowered to enforce these prohibitions.


Ghanaian women continue to experience societal discrimination. Women in urban centers and those with skills and training encounter little overt bias, but resistance to women in nontraditional roles persists. Women in the rural agricultural sector remain subject to traditional male dominance and difficult labor conditions.

Violence against women (including rape and wife beating) remains a significant problem. It usually goes unreported and seldom comes before the courts. The police tend not to intervene in domestic disputes. The media increasingly reported cases of assault and rape. Women's rights groups are active in educational campaigns and in programs to provide vocational training, legal aid, and other support to women. The Government is also active in educational programs in support of women's rights.


Within the limits of its resources, the Government is committed to protecting the rights and welfare of children. There is little or no discrimination against females in education, but girls and women frequently drop out due to societal or economic pressures. Statistics show an equal male/female ratio in school enrollments in Grade 1, dropping to 2 to 1 by Grade 6, 4 to 1 at the secondary level, and 9 to 1 at university level.

There are traditional discriminatory practices against females which are injurious to health and development. In particular, female genital mutilation (FGM) is a serious problem. According to one study, the percentage of women who have undergone this procedure may be as high as 30 percent, although most observers believe 15 percent to be more accurate. Such mutilation is practiced mostly in the far northeastern and northwestern parts of the country. In August Parliament passed a law making FGM illegal. In September the Government charged a practitioner of FGM with causing harm after circumcising four girls, one of whom was taken to hospital bleeding severely. The prisoner is still in police custody.

Another practice, found primarily in the Volta region, constitutes abuse of children. The tro-kosi (or "vestal virgin") system is a traditional practice in which a young girl, usually under the age of 10, is made a virtual slave to a fetish shrine for offenses allegedly committed by a member of the girl's family. The belief is that if someone in a family has committed a crime, such as stealing, members of the family may begin to die in large numbers unless a young girl is given to the local fetish shrine to atone for the offense. The girl becomes the virtual property of the fetish priest and may become his wife. These girls are seldom allowed to go to school and must work on the priest's farm and perform other labors for him. When the fetish slave dies or reaches maturity, the family is expected to replace her with another young girl for the fetish shrine.

The practice of tro-kosi is clearly illegal but persists because traditional beliefs are deep-seated. There has been some minimal success in encouraging the substitution of sacrificial animals in place of girls. It is estimated that there may be 1,000 fetish slaves bound to various shrines.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although the Government plays down ethnic differences, its opponents occasionally complain that it is dominated by the Ewe ethnic group from Eastern Ghana. Like the President, many of his close advisers are Ewe, but many ministers are of different ethnic origins.

People with Disabilities

The Constitution specifically provides for the rights of people with disabilities, including protection against exploitation and discrimination. It also states that "as far as practicable, every place to which the public has access shall have appropriate facilities for disabled persons." In practice, however, this provision has yet to be implemented.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

This right is restricted, as the Trades Union Ordinance confers broad powers on the Government to refuse to register a trade union. However, the PNDC did not, and the present Government has not, interfered with the right of workers to associate in labor unions. The law prohibits civil servants from organizing or joining a trade union, bargaining collectively or striking.

About 10 or 15 percent of workers belong to unions. The Industrial Relations Act (IRA) of 1965 still governs trade unions and their activities. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) is the only existing confederation, though it has no legal monopoly. In recent years it has been led by experienced union leaders who, aided by a revised union constitution and by-laws, continued to define an autonomous role for the TUC within the PNDC regime. In the last 3 years, the TUC has taken a somewhat more confrontational stance vis-a-vis the Government and has been quite critical of some of its economic policies.

The law recognizes the right to strike. Under the IRA, the Government established a system of settling disputes, first through conciliation, then arbitration. A union may call a legal strike if negotiations and mediation fail. However, because no union has ever gone through the complete process, there have been no legal strikes since independence. Nevertheless, the Ghana Medical Association, the Ghana National Association of Teachers, and the University of Ghana's porters, drivers, and phone technicians staged major strikes in 1994 without government retribution. The IRA prohibits retribution against strikers, and this is enforced. There has been no progress in implementing the Government's declared intention to establish labor tribunals to arbitrate industrial disputes certified as deadlocked.

The TUC is affiliated with the Organization of African Trade Union Unity (OATUU), headquartered in Accra and is a member of the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The IRA provides a framework for collective bargaining and some protection against antiunion discrimination as well. Trade unions engage in collective bargaining for wages and benefits with both private and state-owned enterprises without government interference. The Government, labor, and employers negotiate together, however, through a tripartite commission to set minimum standards for wages and working conditions. The law requires employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination to reinstate workers fired for union activities. No union leaders have been detained in recent years for union or other activities. There are no functioning export processing zones in Ghana.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor, and it is not known to be practiced except in the tro-kosi system (see Section 5). The International Labor Organization (ILO) continues to urge the Government to revise various legal provisions that permit imprisonment with an obligation to perform labor for offenses that are not countenanced under ILO Convention 105.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Labor legislation sets a minimum employment age of 15 and prohibits night work and certain types of hazardous labor for those under 18. In practice, child employment is widespread, and young children of school age often perform menial tasks during the day in the market or collect fares on local buses. Observance of minimum age laws is eroded by local custom and economic circumstances that encourage children to work to help their families. Officials occasionally punish violators of regulations prohibiting heavy labor and night work for children. Inspectors from the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare are responsible for enforcement of child labor regulations. They visit each workplace annually and make spot checks whenever they receive allegations of violations.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

In 1991 minimum standards for wages and working conditions were set by a tripartite commission composed of representatives of the Government, labor, and employers. The minimum wage rate combines wages with customary benefits, such as a transportation allowance. The current daily minimum wage of $0.76 (739 cedis) is insufficient for a single wage earner to support a family. In most cases households have multiple wage earners, some family farming, and other family based commercial activities. The law sets the maximum workweek at 45 hours, with one break of at least 36 consecutive hours every 7 days. Through collective bargaining, however, the basic workweek for most unionized workers is 40 hours. Occupational safety and health regulations are in effect, and the Labor Department of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare occasionally imposes sanctions on violators. Safety inspectors are few, however, and poorly trained. They take action if matters are called to their attention, but lack the resources to seek out violations. Workers have the right to withdraw themselves from dangerous work situations without jeopardy to continued employment, but they rarely exercise this right.

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