Ghana not making sufficient progress in curbing torture and inhuman treatment – UN

Juan Mendez- UN
Juan Mendez- UN

The United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on torture Juan Méndez has observed that Ghana has not made sufficient progress in curbing torture and inhuman treatment of detainees, and has urged the government to increase its efforts in that direction.

Mr Juan Méndez who is tasked with monitoring and reporting on torture and inhuman punishment across the world, has been in Ghana since Sunday to assess the country’s efforts in implementing recommendations issued after his first mission to Ghana in November 2013.

Presenting his preliminary findings at a press briefing in Accra, the Special Rapporteur on torture and other inhuman and degrading treatment, said prior to the delivery of a confidential report to government within a month or two, he has had enough evidence for the preliminary conclusion that torture at the early stages of detention and interrogation still happens with some frequency in Ghana. He however added that there are no reports of it being systematic or severe.

“We believe that the institutions that should prevent this from happening are not living up to their obligations in this sense”, he said

“The main human rights protection mechanism, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice, an ombudsman institution, does not think there is a problem; and if you don’t think there is a problem you are not likely to investigate it.”

Juan Méndez said though the Ministry of Interior had also assured him that through the Inspector General of Police, policemen are instructed and trained not to exercise force on detainees, in his view and experience, “giving the instruction is not enough.”

Mr. Mendez indicated that he is looking for information on situations where police have been investigated and punished for torturing detainees.

After visiting two large prisons, Mr Méndez noted that the inhuman conditions in Ghanaian prisons have not improved significantly as some detention centres remain overcrowded, some to the tune of 500 per cent of their capacity, with inadequate nutrition, very deficient medical assistance, lack of medicines and insanitary conditions.

He also noted the worrying presence of “prayer camps” where the mentally ill, or unfortunately sometimes, people with neurological conditions are shackled and kept in what amounts to cells.

“The cruelty of being shackled is not only demeaning and degrading because it is humiliating, but it also may exacerbate their situation in very significant ways”, Mr Méndez said.

He said conditions in the prayer camps are the same as he saw the last time he was in Ghana. He noted that the conditions in the camps have not deteriorated but they have not improved sufficiently.

According to Mr Mendez, the fact that there is collaboration between the camps and the health institutions to allow patients in their care to be given psychiatric drugs alongside prayer is a healthy development.

He commended Ghana for the Justice for All Programme, and parliament’s efforts to implement the Mental Health Act such as the constitution of a Mental Health Board and consideration of a legislative instrument.

The Special Rapporteur also commended Ghana, among other things, for the establishment of a High Court in the Nsawam Medium Security Prison to speed up decisions for pre-trial and remand detainees.

He acknowledged the efforts by the country in introducing sentencing guidelines for judges.

He said in his recommendations to the government, he would suggest the consideration of non-custodial sentences as a means to de-congest the prisons.

Mr. Mendez suggested that Ghana should adopt legal obligations that would make confessions extracted from detainees to be used in court only if they are made freely by detainees and in the front of a judge.

He said detainees should only be interrogated in the presence of a lawyer and they should be told clearly that they say can be used against them in court.

He also expressed the hope that Ghana would adopt the Optional Protocol to the convention against torture that establishes regular impromptu visits by the National and international regulators to detention centres.

By Emmanuel K. Dogbevi & Emmanuel Odonkor
Copyright © 2015 by Creative Imaginations Publicity
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