The International Bar Association’s Human Rights Institute (IBAHRI) commends the Republic of Ghana for abolishing the death penalty for all crimes except high treason. On 25 July 2023, the Ghanaian Parliament passed two private members’ bills, the Criminal Offence (Amendment) Bill 2022 and the Armed Forces (Amendment) Bill 2022 (the Bills), amending the Criminal Offences Act 1960 and the Armed Forces Act 1962 to effectively end capital punishment.
IBAHRI Co-Chair and Immediate Past Secretary General of the Swedish Bar Association, Anne Ramberg Dr Jur hc, commented: ‘The IBAHRI congratulates the Ghanaian Parliament for taking this historic step to affirm their commitment to human rights and the sanctity of human life. In particular, we applaud Mr Francis-Xavier Sosu, Member of Parliament for Madina and human rights lawyer, for bringing the Bills before the Parliament. The IBAHRI also recognises and commends all entities, organisations and individuals who worked tirelessly to support the abolition process. We encourage President Nana Akufo-Addo to sign the Bills into law without delay.’
Ghana has not carried out an execution since 1993. However, the death penalty was retained as a mandatory sentence for certain crimes, requiring the Ghanaian courts to continue to sentence people to death, including seven people in 2022. Reports indicate that currently there are 170 men and 6 women on death row in Ghana.
The United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions has reiterated that the ‘death row phenomenon’ – the emotional distress suffered by persons on death row – can, depending on the circumstances, including the length of time spent in such a situation, constitute torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
IBAHRI Co-Chair Mark Stephens CBE stated: ‘The IBAHRI is delighted that Ghana has joined the worldwide movement towards the complete abolition of what is the unmistakable violation of a person’s right to life. A state-sanctioned killing still results in a premature death and is as cruel as whatever crime for which the defendant is being punished, and sadly, in cases where a person may later be exonerated the execution cannot be reversed. We encourage the government to consolidate its commitment to abolition by amending Ghana’s Constitution to abolish the death penalty for high treason and ratifying the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).’
To the limited extent that the death penalty is permitted under international law, Article 6(2) of the ICCPR requires that it be reserved for ‘the most serious crimes’. In its General comment No 36 (2018), the UN Human Rights Committee has held that this term must be read restrictively, relating only to crimes of extreme gravity involving intentional killing. Acts that do not result directly and intentionally in death, such as those of a political nature, cannot serve as the basis for the death penalty. Accordingly, the IBAHRI encourages Ghana to abolish the death penalty for high treason in conformity with their obligations under international law.