172 convicts Awaiting Execution In Ghana …Amnesty International calls for abolishment of death penalty
By Bernice Bessey
The Campaign and Fundraising Coordinator of Amnesty International, Ghana, Samuel Komla Abotsey, has told The Chronicle that as at December 2018, about 172 convicts, according to its global report, were on death row, awaiting presidential assent and subsequent execution by the state.
According to him, though the death penalty is supported by the relevant laws of the land, no one has been executed since the promulgation of the 1992 Constitution, and that the Constitution should be amended to commute all death sentences into life imprisonment.
He also said children whose parents have been put on death row might not understand why the state has to execute them as a means of punishment, but will appreciate the death sentence being changed into ‘life imprisonment’.
He added that children of executed convicts may want to vent their anger on society, which rather increases the crime rate, rather than reduce it.
Mr Abotsey argued that the pronouncement of death on convicts, especially in murder cases and others like genocide, cannot also address the country’s ever-rising crime rate, hence the call for its total abolishment from the statute books.
Mr Martin L. Kpebu, an Accra-based legal practitioner, supports Amnesty Internal Ghana’s stance for the amendment of the Constitution to remove the death penalty clause, contending that Ghana can chart a course that does not necessarily need a referendum to remove this form of punishment from her books.
Speaking to The Chronicle and other media houses on Monday, October 14, 2019 at his office in Accra, Lawyer Kpebu said the death sentence is pronounced on people who have committed murder, genocide, treason and high treason.
According to him, the punishment for treason and high treason is entrenched in the Constitution, and that it would take only a referendum to amend it, as recommended by the Constitutional Review Commission, but same cannot be said of Act 29, which is an Act of Parliament.
He said: “You will see that when the Constitutional Review Commission did its work, it came out with a recommendation that [the] death penalty be abolished, and the government accepted that recommendation in its White Paper.
“In the White Paper, government accepted that Article 13 in the Constitution be amended. Now the truth must be told. It is not an easy task amending Article 13. Number one, because it is very expensive, and two, Article 13 is very entrenched provision of the Constitution. So, simply, if you say the provision is entrenched among others before you can amend Article 13, you need to embark on a referendum, and we all know that a referendum is very expensive. You will need a lot of money to organise a referendum, and looking at the Ghanaian context, it does not appear that the government has an appetite for a referendum on [the] death penalty.”
Lawyer Akpebu further warned that activists against the death penalty should also not presume that a referendum means everybody will automatically vote in favour of its abolition.
He said the process for a referendum is very tedious and expensive, because so much money has to be invested in even educating and convincing people to vote in favour of abolishing it, plus the referendum itself.
Since the government has already committed to abolishing the death penalty through its White Paper, published after the Constitutional Review Commission work, it was his humble suggestion that the country goes through Parliamentary amendment to repeal this law.
On the options available, he said: “It is through parliamentary amendment of Act 29. When I say Act 29, that is the law that is popular because of the Criminal Code.
“We must be aware that in law now it is no longer called criminal code, it is the Criminal Offences Act.
“What I am suggesting is that we will take those sections, the Criminal Code, which asks for the death penalty and amend it. The Criminal Code or the Criminal Offences Act is an Act of Parliament, so if you want to amend it, all that it takes is for you to prepare a Cabinet memo, so there would be a sponsoring ministry, in this case the Attorney General, …and if it is approved, then it makes its way to Parliament.
“When it gets to Parliament, it is another procedure all together, but ultimately, Parliament has the power to amend,” he said, adding, “We don’t need a referendum or a constitutional amendment in order to abolish the death penalty.”
He further explained that because it is expensive to conduct a referendum for now, high treason and treason should be left out of the conversation, while the focus is channeled on murder, which would be solving over 90 percent of the problem of people sentenced to death.
As far as he could remember, since1992, there has been only one case of treason, and there has been no trial on genocide, so the majority of people waiting on the death list were committed for murder.
He reiterates: “Article 13 itself is not the provision that imposes the death penalty. It mentioned the fact that if there is any law which imposes [the] death penalty, that law is legal. Section 46 of Act 29 says a person who commits murder is liable to suffer death. So this is the offence creating statute. So if a person is taken to court for murder it is section 46 that is used, not Article 13.
“Article 13 is saying that section 46 is legal. It should be amended to the person who commits murder and is liable to suffer life imprisonment, with an option of a parole, and if we want the person to have a parole after some time, we can state it.”
To enforce this decision in the amendment and the abolition of the death penalty, there would be a petition backed with thousands of signatures to be presented to the government and other actors that matter.
Amnesty International Ghana, an organisation that has been on the front line, championing the repeal of the death penalty, says the abolition is critical to Ghana’s image and protection of human rights and, particularly, children of the convicts.