CHRAJ wants ratification of UN protocol against torture
The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), on Wednesday called on the Attorney-General to as a matter of urgency bring the UN Optional Protocol Convention Against Torture (OPCAT) before Parliament for ratification and domestication.
According to Joseph Whittal, Deputy Commissioner of CHRAJ, the protocol, when ratified, would among other things lead to the establishment of a national preventive mechanism with a mandate to undertake the inspection of all detention facilities such as prisons and police cells in Ghana and to ensure that inmates are treated humanely and with dignity.
He stated that the Convention, among other things obliged States to undertake effective investigation into indications of torture and comply with international standards for investigating such reports by ensuring that investigations were prompt, impartial, thorough and effective.
He was addressing a symposium on the rights of victims of torture to proper rehabilitation and reintegration into the society, which was jointly organised by the Commission and human rights non-governmental organisations.
The event, which was part of activities to commemorate this year’s UN International Day in support of victims of torture, brought together students from second cycle institutions, representatives of the various security services, Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), NGOs, the media and policy makers.
Mr Joseph Whittal said the day served as a reminder to all that torture and other cruel inhuman and degrading treatment are international crimes against humanity.
He said in Ghana although the issue of torture was considered illegal, it was yet to be tackled nationwide as grave injustices still persisted within the Ghanaian society.
According to Mr Whittal, although the Convention had made provision for torture victims to be able to seek treatment, rehabilitation and adequate compensation, Ghana was lacking tremendously in respecting these provisions in full.
He said providing psychological support and redress to survivors of torture and trauma could help reconstruct broken societies, adding that while torture often had devastating implications for the individual survivor, it also impacted negatively on immediate families as well as communities.
According to him, such human rights violations did not only occur at the domestic and prison levels, but continuous reports of torture against alleged witches in some communities in Ghana, the killing of deformed children known as “spirit children”, rape and other degrading cultural practices against women and children continued to occur despite efforts to draw attention to the issue.
He said reports of Police brutality remained a recurring problem in communities, while the excessive use of force during arrest, high-handed attempts to enforce law, and orderly conduct as well as forced evictions of inhabitants from their homes and properties by security forces continued to be the order of the day.
Additionally, he said, the inhumane and degrading treatment of persons in detention centres including police cells, prisons and prayer camps continued to be areas where citizens’ rights were infringed upon with impunity.
According to him, inadequate housing had constantly subjected tenants to degrading treatments as reported by the Amnesty International, while domestic violence, especially sexual violence continued to be on the ascendancy in “our communities”.
Mr Whittal said the Commission, however, acknowledged the efforts of the several governmental and non-governmental institutions including the Domestic Violence and Victims Support Unit, the Legal Aid Scheme, Ghana Health Service and the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, working throughout the country to reduce the occurrence of these practices.
He said while these efforts and interventions were necessary and fundamental for victims of torture, they were simply not enough, adding “It is time we as a nation understand and appreciate the importance of rehabilitation.”
Mr Whittal explained that when a person was subjected to torture or actions in like nature, the consequences reached far beyond immediate pain as many victims suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, which included symptoms such as flashbacks, severe anxiety, insomnia, nightmares, depression and memory lapses.
Rehabilitation becomes very vital for the victim to resume a normal life and that required medical and psychological treatment, counselling, retraining in cases of deformity and full integration into the society, he said.
Mr Whittal explained that the aim of rehabilitation, which requires long-term medical, psychological, social support and treatment, must therefore be a well-coordinated effort that covered both physical and psychological aspects to empower the tortured victim to resume a normal life.
Mr Sylvester Rabbles, Deputy Director, Prisons Service, addressing the issue of the State Rehabilitation Systems in Ghana, acknowledged an earlier submission by CHRAJ of the poor state of such facilities in the country.
He appealed to the government to increase financial resources to the National Prisons Service and other detention camps and cells to enable them to deliver quality services and ensure proper provisions for both inmates and Officers for improved care and support.
He said the Prisons Service had several correctional, rehabilitation and reintegration programmes, which include formal education, skills training in technical and vocational, and had chalked successes in these areas.
He appealed to the public to desist from stigmatizing ex-convicts, but rather assist them to reintegrate back into the society
Mr Rabbles, however, urged that the focus on imprisonment be based on correction rather than punishment.
Mr Lawrence Amesu, Director of Amnesty International Ghana, said it was sad that inhumane and degrading treatment of fellow citizens seemed to be sown into the fabric of Ghana’s society of which the educational system had not been left untouched.
He noted that there had been reports of student brutalities by some teachers under the pretext of punishment and advocated the total ban of corporal punishment in schools.
He reminded the public about their constitutional duty to promote and protect universal human rights and freedoms of all other persons in Ghana.