Mr Jonathan Osei Owusu, the convener of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) for Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), has called on the Ghana government to immediately introduce a non-custodial sentencing policy as one to the drastic means to decongest the overcrowded prisons.
Mr Owusu who is also Executive Director of POS Foundation, a human rights advocacy organization and facilitators of the Justice for All Programme said this when he addressed the Permanent Missions/Diplomats during the UN Universal Periodic Review Pre-Session at the UN Human Rights Headquarters in Geneva organized by UPR-Info.
A statement signed by Mr Owusu and copied to the Ghana News Agency said the Justice for all programme, a state intervention though has reduced the remand population significantly from 30.7 per cent in 2007 to 13.4 per cent as at August 2017, prison congestion still remained one of the biggest human rights issue confronting the state.
This situation, he said had worsened the conditions of prisoners in the country, from the negative health conditions to the inadequate feeding grants (GH¢1.80p a day) and horrific sleeping conditions due to overcrowding.
Giving some statistics, he noted that the Nsawam prison which had a designed capacity to hold 815 prisoners currently holds over 3,200 inmates, Kumasi holds about 1800 as against its designed capacity of 700, Akuse prison holds 207 against its designed capacity of 91 among others. This he referred to as both physiological and psychological torture, and also an abuse of human rights as the inmates were subjected to such harsh conditions.
He therefore called for an amendment to the Criminal Offenses Act (Act 30) and an introduction of a non-custodial sentencing policy in order to give room for judges to have alternative sentencing mechanisms than being restricted to custodial sentencing and fines.
Representatives of civil society organizations working on human rights in Ghana who were represented by 15 delegates have urged UN Permanent Mission/Representatives in Geneva to make smart recommendations for the promotion, protection, and respect for human rights in Ghana when Ghana’s human rights record is reviewed by the UN Human Rights Council on November 7, 2017 under the UN Universal Periodic Review mechanism for the third cycle.
Out of the 15 delegates, six representatives who took turns to share the human rights situation on the ground in Ghana acknowledged that although Ghana had made progress in implementing some of the recommendations, the UN Representatives had made to Ghana in 2012, there was still room for improvement.
The statement said under the UPR, the human rights record of all the 193 Member States of the UN was reviewed every five years.
It said the Human Rights Council was an inter-governmental body within the United Nations system, made up of 47 States responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights across the globe, according to the UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights.
Ms Wendy Abbey, Technical Advisor of the Human Rights Advocacy Centre, implored Member States of the UN to encourage and recommend to the Government of Ghana to pass the Legislative Instrument on the Mental Health Act to allow for statutory funding of Mental Health activities in Ghana such as the regulation of prayer camps by the Mental Health Authority.
According to her, the regulation of prayer camps was crucial to addressing human rights abuses against persons with mental disabilities held in prayer camps as observed by the UN Human Rights Committee on Civil and Political Rights in 2016 and the Special Rapporteur on Torture.
In addition, the HRAC recommended that the Government of Ghana adopts the draft National Comprehensive Reproductive Health Education Guidelines and develop a National Action Plan for its context-specific integration into the Ghanaian Schools to address reproductive health needs of young people.
Ms Adwoa Bame, Executive Director of Women's Initiative for Self-Empowerment (WISE), speaking on Women's Rights, called on government to exhibit strong political will in protecting the rights of women.
She lamented that a decade after the enactment of the Domestic Violence Act 2007, (Act732), there was no operational shelter to support victims of domestic violence. A "one region, one shelter" policy will be a welcome relieve to victims and service providers, she added.
Ms. Bame indicated that Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was still in practice and there was a need to allocate resources to address this issue.
On the issue of pending bills, she called on Parliament to, as a matter of urgency; pass the Intestate Succession, Property Rights of Spouses and the Affirmative Action Bills into law.
The Coordinator of the Ghana Coalition on the Rights of the Child (GNCRC), Barima Akwasi Amankwaah observed that although government had made some progress on child rights issues, there were still gaps that needed to be addressed.
He said that one of the key gaps was inadequate financial resources to address child rights issues.
Barima Amankwaah recommended that to address this gap, government should commit to increase the budgetary allocation from nearly one per cent to three per cent of the national budget as well as make a conscious effort to mainstream gender in policy and program delivery.
Mr William Nyarko, the Executive Director of the Africa Center for International Law and Accountability (ACILA), urged the diplomats to make recommendations to Ghana to ratify and domesticate international instruments to which it is a signatory.
He noted that even though Ghana had made commendable progress in implementing some of the recommendations that the diplomats had made in 2012, a lot remained to be done by Ghana to ensure compliance with its obligations under international law.
He urged the diplomats to recommend to Ghana to pass and sign the International Criminal Court Bill into law before the end of 2018 in order to establish a legal framework to enable Ghanaian courts to try offences committed under the Rome Statute as well as enable the ICC to prosecute cases in Ghana where Ghanaian courts were unable to do so.
Prior to Ghana’s impending appearance at the Human Rights Council UPRInfo, a Geneva-based NGO that aims to promote and strengthen the Universal Periodic Review process organized a pre-session for NGOs working in human rights in Ghana to make presentations to the diplomats and share the human rights situation on the ground with them.
In March this year, Mr Gilbert Onyango, Regional Director for Africa at UPR Info provided training to more than 70 CSOs on the UPR. A follow-up advocacy event was held in September where the CSOs lobbied the diplomatic community and development partners in Ghana on the human rights issues of concern to them. The Ghana Human Rights NGOs Forum secretariat at POS Foundation, KASA Initiative Ghana, and UPR Info Africa Office, Kenya, with funding from Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) organized the in-country pre-session events.