Human Rights Violations: CHRAJ Commissioner Calls for Tougher Action

News  Ghanaian Chronicle (Accra). Tuesday, 11 December 2001.

Thello B. Garblah, Abdul Hakim Ahmed

Enforcement of Laws Against Female Genital Mutilation Needed in Ghana

The Commissioner of Human Rights and Administrative Justice ( External link CHRAJ) Mr. Emile Short has called on the Inspector General of Police and Attorney General to strictly enforce laws criminalizing female genital mutilation and all other forms of customary servitude, such as the infamous trokosi system, in which vestal virgins, are held in slavery in atonement for alleged transgressions of their family members.

Giving an appraisal on 'The state of human rights in Ghana 2001' at a press conference yesterday to mark the 53rd Human Rights Day celebration in Accra, Mr. Short lamented that since the law criminalizing the Trokosi system was enacted in 1998, not a single prosecution has taken place, even though a large number of women and children still remain in bondage.

The Commission therefore called on the government to ensure that the legislative enactments criminalizing these practices are enforced.

Mr. Short further deplored the inhumane treatment meted out to women and girls through the practice of widowhood rites, ritual servitude, female genital mutilation and other cultural and traditional practices, which tend to have devastating consequences on the victims, and condemned in no uncertain terms the recent alleged forced circumcision of five girls at Gboa, near Banda Ahenkro (Banda traditional area).

Considering the theme for this year's celebration Consolidating Democracy Through the Advancement of Women 's and Children's Rights, Mr. Short expressed disgust at the international trade of women and girls who stand the risk of unwanted pregnancies, HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted diseases and other forms of violence.

He, however, reaffirmed his support for the Attorney General and Minister of Justice on his proposed Anti-Human Trafficking Unit within the ECOWAS region and for the requisite legislation and legal framework to sanction harsher punishments for internationally organized criminal groups involved in trafficking.

Touching on the conditions in Ghana's prisons and the plight of the detained and other vulnerable persons, the Commissioner bewailed the conditions in the prisons, noting they woefully fall short of the UN Standard Rules for the treatment of prisoners.

He identified the imposition of custodial sentences for minor offences, the inability of the court to expedite trial of suspects who have been remanded in prison custody, the incidence of incarceration of juveniles into adult prison, the conviction and committal into prison of nursing mothers and pregnant women, among others, as the problems that beset the country's justice system.

Mr. Short, however, applauded the government for commuting to life imprisonment the sentences of some condemned prisoners.

The Commission also expressed its concern about the increasing violation of human rights of Ghanaian workers by employers, including foreign nationals and expatriates, some of whom have subjected some of their employees to undignified treatment.

He urged all victims of any inhuman and degrading treatment by their employers to lodge complaints with the commission.

Meanwhile, the UN Secretary General, Dr. Kofi Annan, in a message read on his behalf by the UNDP Resident Representative, Dr. Edward Fawundu, warned that widespread violations of human rights in any state are a danger that there is conflict is on the horizon.

He said if only nations can heed this early warning and take early action to uphold human rights, then can they save the people of that state. Dr. Annan reiterated his call for a united action against terrorism, stating that it has a universal human right dimension.

He therefore urged all to work harder than ever to defeat racism and discrimination.


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