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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Ghana

Publisher United States Department of State
Publication Date 30 January 1994
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1993 - Ghana, 30 January 1994, available at: [accessed 28 May 2016]
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.

On January 7, Flight Lieutenant (retired) Jerry John Rawlings, who had seized power from an elected government on December 31, 1981, became the first President of the Fourth Republic, a nascent constitutional democracy. This transformation ended 11 years of authoritarian military rule by the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC), under Rawlings' chairmanship, but it did not end controversy over the legitimacy of the new Government. Flight Lieutenant Rawlings won the November 1992 presidential election with 58 percent of the vote as the head of a three-party coalition led by his own National Democratic Congress (NDC). Despite irregularities, most notably an inaccurate voters' register, the international groups monitoring the election accepted the validity of the outcome. However, four opposition parties 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.

The new Constitution, which went into effect January 7, provides 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.

The several security organizations report to various departments of government. The police are responsible for maintaining law and order and come under the jurisdiction of an 8-member Police Council. The Bureau of National Investigation (BNI), under the Minister of Interior, handles most cases of a political nature.

Although Ghana is attempting to rebuild its industrial base after years of economic mismanagement, more than 60 percent of the population still draws its livelihood from subsistence agriculture. Gold, cocoa (and cocoa products), timber, and energy are major traditional sources of export revenues. Annual economic growth has averaged 4.5 percent since the inception of an economic recovery program in 1983, but there has been slow progress in privatizing the 181 state-owned enterprises.

While it was too early to judge whether the rule of law and democracy would flourish in Ghana after 11 years of authoritarian rule, the human rights situation improved in 1993. The Government began a dialog with the main opposition party and there was widespread acceptance of and support for the new Constitution. It contains particularly strong provisions in support of human rights, and the independent press, human rights monitoring groups, opposition parties, and the judiciary acted as vigilant constitutional watchdogs during the year. The Supreme Court, in particular, demonstrated independence from the executive in four cases involving opposition party grievances. Except for the journalist, Gershon Dompreh, who continued to serve a prison sentence for "economic sabotage," there were no known political detainees or prisoners being held by the authorities at year's end. Societal discrimination and violence against women remained significant problems.


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. On July 6, the authorities arraigned a police inspector and a constable from Elmina police station on a charge of murder for the June 7 death of a prisoner who allegedly died as a result of a beating. The police officials were released on bail pending trial, which at year's end had still not taken place.

At the urging of journalist and political activist Kwesi Pratt (see Section 1.e.), the police expressed willingness to investigate allegations of extrajudicial killings in the early years of PNDC rule. Pratt was invited by the Commissioner of Police to assist in the investigations, and he agreed to provide the police with lists of names of victims and the circumstances of their murder. At year's end, however, Pratt was still insisting upon the establishment of an independent committee of inquiry.

b. Disappearance

No politically motivated disappearances were reported.

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.

There are occasional reports of police beating detainees. In the case noted above, a police inspector and a constable allegedly beat a suspect until he became unconscious; the suspect later died in the hospital.

Prisons in Ghana are antiquated and seriously overcrowded. There were no reports of deaths caused by prison conditions.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

The new Constitution provides protection against arbitrary arrest, detention, or exile and 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. The detainee shall be arraigned within 48 hours.

The court has unlimited discretion regarding the setting of bail. 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. However, the Constitution requires 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.

As far as is known, after the release of many political detainees in 1992, the Government held no political detainees at the end of 1993.

The Government does not practice forced exile. In recent years, the Government has quietly encouraged Ghanaians, including dissidents with valuable skills, who are living abroad to return; in some cases the Government has offered amnesty. Some former government and PNDC officials have returned and resumed careers and political activities without difficulty.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The judiciary is in transition as the former public tribunals are being phased out as they finish pending cases. 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. The regional tribunals have not been created yet. The Constitution requires that the chairman of a regional tribunal be qualified to be a High Court judge, whereas the public tribunals depended largely on chairmen with little or no legal experience. A decision by a regional tribunal may be appealed to the Court of Appeal; whereas no appeals were permitted from the public tribunal until 1985, when the National Appeals Tribunal was created.

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, to present evidence, and to cross-examine witnesses.

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 Human Rights Commission was sworn in in October. By year's end, it had begun hiring legal and investigative staff and recruiting for branch offices in all 10 regions of Ghana, and for some district offices in each of the 10 regions. The Commission has subpoena power. When the Commission finds evidence of a human rights violation or administrative injustice, it can seek resolution through negotiation, by making its findings known to the superior of an offending person or to the Attorney-General or Auditor-General, or by instituting court proceedings.

The traditional courts will continue to 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.

In the past, there were grave doubts about the independence of the judiciary. The PNDC summarily dismissed judges, thereby reminding them that they served at the PNDC's sufferance. However, in the first year of the Fourth Republic, the judiciary exhibited the independence provided for in the Constitution. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of the major opposition party, the New Patriotic Party (NPP), in 4 of 5 cases that it brought against the Government. A Supreme Court judge also granted the NPP an injunction ordering the Electoral Commission to delay the elections of district chief executives pending a decision in another suit brought by the NPP.

As far as is known, the Government had released most of its political prisoners by year's end. However, when Christian Chronicle editor George Naykene was released in May, following 12 months in prison for criminal libel, he raised the case of journalist Gershon Dompreh, who he said had served 6 years of a 20-year prison sentence for "economic sabotage." According to Naykene, Dompreh's crime was publishing information about a treaty between Ghana and Saudi Arabia.

On December 17, l992, the authorities arrested Kwesi Pratt and Professor Albert Adu-Boahen, leader of the New Patriotic Party, and charged them with obstructing a public tribunal for refusing to testify on the grounds that they did not consider the tribunal to be independent of government influence. Adu-Boahen and Pratt remained free awaiting trial, and in July the case was moved from the public tribunal to a regular court. At year's end, it was still pending.

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

Citizens engaged in activity deemed objectionable by the Government are subject to surveillance. In the past, this included monitoring of telephones and mail. The Constitution provides that persons shall be free from interference within the privacy of their home, property, correspondence, or communication "except in accordance with the law and as may be necessary in a free and democratic society for public safety or the economic well-being of the country, for the protection of health or morals, for the prevention of disorder or crime or for the protection of the rights or freedoms of others." At year's end, it remained uncertain how the Government and the courts would interpret this broad article in practice.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

Freedom of speech is provided for in the Constitution, and this right has been used by the opposition parties, the Ghana Bar Association (GBA), the National Union of Ghanaian Students (NUGS), and other nongovernmental organizations (NGO's). Since the beginning of the Fourth Republic, there have been no credible reports of government attempts to interfere with free speech, although government-run media have experienced some pressure for conformity.

The State dominates the print and electronic media. It owns the radio and television stations and the two daily newspapers. The official media accentuates the positive aspects of government policies, although it also covers selected instances 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. Four journalists with the government-owned media were transferred in 1993 to jobs that were seen as demotions. Many journalists and others believe the transfers resulted from governmental displeasure with stories the journalists had written or produced. As a result of this perceived practice, self-censorship is a pattern in the official media, and writers, editors, and commentators recognize and rarely cross the boundary of acceptable reporting and commentary. There were occasions when the government-owned media carried editorials critical of the Government, but no personal attacks were made on top officials.

Most Ghanaians obtain their news from the government-run electronic media and British Broadcasting Corporation radio. Under the Constitution, individuals are free to own radio and television stations. There have been several applications for licenses to operate private radio stations. However, no licenses have been issued to date, and the electronic media remain a government monopoly.

The independent press has multiplied with scores of new independent newspapers and magazines outspoken in their criticism of the Government, including personal attacks on the President, his wife, and his close advisers. However, the continued existence of the criminal libel law casts a shadow over freedom of the press, and the independent newspapers and magazines are small, poorly financed, and not widely distributed outside the capital. Most are weeklies or appear sporadically. While he was never charged, the editor of the Free Press was questioned by the police concerning possible criminal libel charges resulting from an article accusing the Minister of Information and the First Lady of misusing government funds.

Foreign periodicals are sold in Accra and other major cities. Issues containing articles critical of the Government circulate freely.

The new Government has not suppressed freedom of speech, press, or academic freedom on university campuses. The NUGS, one of the more vocal critics of the Government, is allowed to organize and hold meetings (see Section 2.b.).

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

Freedom of peaceful assembly and association are provided for in the Constitution. In the past, demonstrations were generally allowed, but the organizers had to obtain a police permit, which was sometimes denied. In February police broke up a demonstration to protest the Government's budget due to the organizers' failure to obtain a permit. The Supreme Court later ruled in a case brought by the NPP that no police permit is needed for demonstrations, parades, rallies, and other peaceful assemblies. The Government made significant efforts to publicize this ruling, and some demonstrations took place without permits.

There were several student demonstrations critical of the Government, but the police generally reacted with restraint. The exception was when the police reacted with excessive force to a student demonstration in March. One student was shot, but not seriously wounded, and several others were beaten. The police inquiry into the incident, while noting that the actions of the students were illegal, concluded that it was difficult to justify the use of force by the police. Releasing the report, the Minister of the Interior announced that all those who suffered injury during the violence would receive compensation from the Government. At year's end, however, no compensation had been paid, nor had any police been charged.

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.

Just before the inauguration of Rawlings as President, the PNDC repealed the law requiring religious organizations to register with the Government. The law had been opposed by the Christian Council and the Catholic Secretariat, the two largest religious organizations in Ghana, and had been suspended for over a year pending review.

Foreign missionary groups have generally operated throughout the country with a minimum of formal restrictions, although some churches continue to have difficulty obtaining visas and residence permits for some of their expatriate missionaries.

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 for the prevention of smuggling. However, following PNDC orders in 1992, most checkpoints are routinely left unmanned during daylight hours. After a series of unresolved bombing incidents following the November 1992 presidential elections, the police stepped up daytime monitoring of checkpoints. Roadblocks and car searches are a normal part of nighttime travel in Accra.

As members of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Ghanaians may travel without visas for up to 90 days in member states. Ghanaians are generally free to exercise this right, and nationals of other member states are free to travel to Ghana. Ghanaians are also free to emigrate and to return from other countries.

Ghana has been faced with a growing refugee population since Liberians fleeing civil war began to arrive in August 1990. By June Ghana was hosting some 20,000 Liberian refugees. Most of the new refugee population, as well as many transiting third-country nationals also fleeing Liberia, were housed by the Government with assistance from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in a camp 20 kilometers west of Accra. An undetermined number of refugees voluntarily returned to Liberia. The estimated camp population was 13,000 at year's end.

During periods of increased tension in Togo in 1993, as many as 150,000 Togolese fled their country to seek refuge in Ghana. They generally were received by relatives, and many moved back and forth repeatedly across the border. Most are expected to return to their country voluntarily when the tension eases.

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

Ghanaians exercised their right to vote in 1992. The election outcomes were highly controversial. The Commonwealth Secretariat, the Carter Center, the Organization of African Unity, Canada, and members of the European Community sent observers to the presidential elections in November. The observers noted significant problems with the electoral process (especially involving the voter registration list) but felt that the irregularities did not affect the outcome of the election. Rawlings won approximately 58 percent of the vote and the four opposition parties won roughly 42 percent.

However, the opposition parties claimed that the presidential elections had been fraudulent, and, insisting that any subsequent election conducted under the same conditions would be equally unfair, the four opposition parties boycotted the December parliamentary elections. As a result, there are no opposition party members in Parliament. Two seats were won by independent candidates; the three parties in the coalition supporting President Rawlings won the remaining 198 of the 200 parliamentary seats, with the President's party winning 188.

Thus, the Rawlings Government, while firmly in power, still faced a significant political problem of dealing with a large, bitter, extraparliamentary opposition. To help bring the opposition into the political process, the Government promised to reform the electoral system, especially the voters' register, prior to the 1996 elections. The NPP agreed to a dialog with the Government, and meetings took place in November. At year's end, it was not clear whether the Government would follow through to meet the opposition parties' concerns.

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on grounds of gender and there are no de jure obstacles to women or minorities participating in government. There are several female ministers, and several women are on the Council of State. Women make up 8 percent of the Parliament.

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

Human rights organizations grew more numerous and vocal in 1993. Several, including the Committee on Human and People's Rights and the Ghana Bar Association Human Rights Committee, opened branch offices. A Human Rights Study Center was created at the law faculty at the University of Ghana at Legon, and human rights law took a more prominent place in the school's curriculum. Seminars were frequently held by various organizations to discuss human rights issues and often resulted in public criticism of the Government. The Government did not interfere with the activities of these groups.

In the past, the PNDC frequently expressed displeasure at criticism of its human rights record from Ghanaian religious organizations and international human rights advocates. In 1992 it permitted international observers to monitor the elections. The Government permits prison visits by the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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

The Constitution prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender, race, color, ethnic origin, religion, creed, or social and economic status. The courts are specifically empowered to enforce these prohibitions.


Although the PNDC promulgated in 1985 four laws that overturned many of the customary, traditional, and colonial laws that discriminated against women, Ghanaian women remain subject to 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 bear the brunt of difficult labor conditions.

Violence against women (including rape and wife beating) is a significant problem. Police do not normally intervene in domestic disputes, and such cases seldom come before the courts. In an effort to reduce the incidence of rape, the Government increased the minimum penalty for rape from 1 year to 3 years plus a fine or an additional 3 years' imprisonment.

The media sometimes reports cases of women who have been beaten, raped, or otherwise assaulted. 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.


The Government has established a National Commission on Children which has instituted several programs, including efforts to improve the nutritional value of food for children, literacy courses, and establishment of parks and libraries for children. There are many NGO's that are active in health care and education for children.

There is little or no discrimination against females in education, but girls and women frequently drop out due to societal, cultural, or economic pressures. Statistics show an equal male/female ratio in school enrollments in grade 1, but the ratio shifts to 2 to 1 against girls by grade 6, 4 to 1 at the secondary level, and 9 to 1 at the university level. The Government is testing programs to make it easier for girls to stay in school despite outside pressures to drop out.

There are traditional discriminatory practices against females which are injurious to their health and development. In particular, the practice of female genital mutilation (circumcision) remains a serious problem. The Government has discouraged the practice in public educational campaigns but has not made it illegal. Although there are no precise statistics available, one independent expert estimates that as many as 30 percent of Ghanaian females have undergone this procedure. Local health officials, however, believe the percentage is much lower. Such mutilation normally takes place at an early age and is practiced mostly in the far northeastern and northwestern parts of the country.

Found primarily in the Volta (eastern) region, the tro-kosi, fetish slave, or "vestal virgin" system is a traditional practice whereby a young girl is made a virtual slave to a fetish shrine and priest for offenses committed by a member of the girl's family. While there is much secrecy surrounding the practice, 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. The 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 is clearly against Ghanaian law. It persists, however, because of traditional practice and deep-seated belief that families will suffer if the girls are not handed over. Several NGO's and the National Commission on Children have programs to provide education for the girls, and there has been some minimal success in encouraging the substitution of sacrificial animals in place of girls. One estimate is that there may be 1,000 fetish slaves bound to various shrines.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

Although ethnic differences are played down by the Government, its opponents occasionally complain that it is dominated by the Ewe ethnic group from eastern Ghana. However, while President Rawlings and a number of his close advisers are Ewe, many ministers have other ethnic origins. The leaders of the National Democratic Congress sometimes claim that the other parties are "ethnic" parties and are attempting to arouse ethnic rivalry. Although the main opposition party has strong support among the Ashanti, overall the charges have little credibility.

People with Disabilities

The Constitution prohibits discrimination against the disabled. The Government has not enacted any legislation mandating accessibility for the disabled.

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, in practice the PNDC did not and the NDC Government to date has not interfered with the right of workers to associate in labor unions. Civil servants are prohibited by law from joining or organizing a trade union. However, on December 30, 1992, the PNDC passed the Public Service Negotiating Committee Law (Law 309, 1992), allowing each branch of the civil service to establish a negotiating committee.

About 10 or 15 percent of workers belong to unions. Trade unions and their activities are still governed by the Industrial Relations Act (IRA) of 1965. 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 bylaws, continued to define an autonomous role for the TUC within the PNDC regime. During 1993 the TUC took a somewhat more confrontational stance vis-a-vis the Government and was quite critical of some of its economic policies.

The right to strike is recognized in law, but a legal strike may be called only if negotiations and mediation fail. Because no union has ever gone through the complete process, there have been no legal strikes in Ghana since independence. University teachers and Volta Aluminum Conpany workers staged major strikes in 1993. 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, headquartered in Accra. In December 1992, the TUC was accepted as 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. Ghana's trade unions engage in collective bargaining for wages and benefits with both private and state-owned enterprises without government interference. However, the Government, labor, and employers negotiate together through a tripartite commission to set minimum standards for wages and working conditions. Employers found guilty of antiunion discrimination are required to reinstate workers fired for union activities.

There are no functioning export processing zones.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The law prohibits forced labor, and it is not known to be practiced. However, 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, ratified by Ghana in 1958.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

Labor legislation in Ghana sets a minimum employment age of 15 and prohibits night work and certain types of hazardous labor for those under 18. In practice, child labor is prevalent, and young children of school age can often be found during the day performing menial tasks in the market or collecting 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. Violators of regulations prohibiting heavy labor and night work for children are occasionally punished. 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 the PNDC government convened a tripartite commission of representatives of government, labor, and employers which administratively set minimum standards for wages and working conditions. The minimum wage rate combines wages with customary benefits, such as a transportation allowance. However, the existing daily minimum wage of roughly $0.95 (790 cedis) is insufficient for a single wage earner to support a family. In most cases households are supported by multiple wage earners, some family farming, and other family based commercial activities.

The maximum workweek, by law, is 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 sanctions are occasionally applied through the Labor Department of the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare. However, safety inspectors are few in number and poorly trained. They will 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.

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