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18th World Day Against the Death Penalty: ACAT Ghana charges gov’t to prioritize access to legal counsel


Government of Ghana has been urged to do everything humanly possible to ensure that those people who are charged with a crime in the country are provided with effective to legal counsel and representation (a pillar of the right to fair trial during all stages of arrest, detention, trial and post-trial in capital punishment cases) as the world works toward the universal abolition of the death penalty in all countries, for all crimes.

Madam Miriam Dzifa Damalie, President of Action By Christians Against Abolition of Torture, Ghana (ACAT GHANA) made the call while speaking on the theme: “Access to effective legal representation, a necessity to life” at a sensitization forum to mark this year’s World Day Against the Death Penalty in Accra, the Ghana’s capital on Thursday October 8, 2020.

The forum, a prelude to the main event slated for October 10 is a brainchild of ACAT Ghana ably supported by the International Federation of ACAT’s (FIACAT) its affiliate organization headquartered in Switzerland. It was initiated to press home demand for the total abolition of death penalty in capital punishment cases as Ghana joins the world to  world commemorates this year’s World Day Against the Death Penalty.

The World Day Against Death Penalty is a day set aside annually and globally on October 10 to advocate for the abolition of the death penalty and to raise awareness of the conditions and circumstances which affect prisoners with death sentences.

The day was first organized by the World Coalition Against the Death Penalty in 2003. This year’s celebration which marks the 18th edition in succession, witnessed various events, activities and actions ranging from demonstrations, advocacy programs on video conference platforms, TV shows, letter/email writing and social media campaigns among others organized on local, national, regional and international levels just to drum home the message of hope on the complete abolition of death penalty from the legal systems of countries worldwide.

Ghana though a signatory to several human rights conventions including the 1976, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, death penalty is still found in its criminal code.

The criminal code (1960) identifies the death penalty as a form of capital punishment; criminal offences including, treason, murder, war crimes,   and crimes against humanity, genocide and smuggling attract the death penalty either through hanging or firing squad.

Over 180 people have been under death penalty since 1993, though successive governments of the fourth republic of Ghana have not signed any death warrant.

But setting the record straight on the issue at the forum, Mad. Dzifa Miriam Damalie averred that the death penalty remains a fundamental human rights abuse which have never shown to be a deterrent as it is always deemed.

Citing numerous examples to back her claim which include pointing toward flaws within the country’s judicial system, improper investigations by the police during trials in most cases which often results into killing of innocent people among others, she quickly called for total abolition of death penalty within Ghana’s legal systems with immediate effect.

On her advocacy for Ghanaians and foreigners in Ghana who fall foul of the law to be provided with easy access to actual legal counsel, she said: “Without access to effective legal representation during all stages-from arrest to post-trial-due process cannot be guaranteed”.

“In a capital case, the consequences arising from a lack of effective legal representation can be nothing less than the difference between life and death”, she stressed.

For his part, 58-year-old ex-convict of Nsawam Prison, Matthew Kwame Sabbah who spent 27 years on the death row before he was granted a presidential pardon which saw his release early this year, narrating his ordeal pointed out to loopholes within the judicial system of Ghana.

“I was remanded for eight (8) years without going to court so I had to write to the Commission for Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) before I was given a lawyer to assist me in my case. They later sent me to court but anytime we appear, the case will adjourned”.

Matthew furthered: “We went to court several times and they always keep adjourning the case until one day the judge asked that I go back on remand so he can proceed to ascertain whether I was guilty of the murder case I was being tried on in court”. “So we pursued the case until I was finally sentenced to death by hanging at the Nsawam Prison”, he posited.

Mr. Sabbah also lamentably indicated that throughout his experience in jail, he has observed that there were a lot of condemned prisoners who were executed unjustly before the truth later came to light that they weren’t the actual culprits.

Matthew Sabbah found himself behind bars at the age 31 for committing a murder, spent 8 years on remand, 12 years on death row before pardoned to serve another 7 years term under life imprisonment which eventually qualified him to be given a presidential pardon and finally paved the way for his release from prison on May 5, 2020.

Arguing his point to drive advocacy toward the outright removal of capital punishment from the Ghana’s legal system, Mr Sabbah asked, “if I happened to have killed somebody and I also have to be killed, does that brings the person back to life?.

In his concluding remark, he said: “As the saying goes, “two wrongs don’t make a right” adding, “There’s the need for us to realize that death penalty is not necessary.”

Also adding his voice to calls, Mr. John Kwame Akortia, an ex-convict who served 21 years jail sentence at the Nsawam prison, sharing his harrowing experiences said, “very many innocent people have been killed because of the death sentence which is very appalling”.

Recounting his experience while working for the past 15 years as a leader of a male school (Legal Department) in the Nsawam Prison, Mr. Akortia said, “We saw many cases coming to us and you see that the people were innocent but they were jailed”.

He further said,“Get to the Nsawam Prison and you will see about 4,000 and over young and old men over there languishing and suffering, some for nothing and I can assure you that 2,000 out of those 4,000 were innocent simply because some people couldn’t get lawyers to defend them”.

He therefore appealed to all and sundry to always remain silent and endeavor to seek legal counsel or representation at the first point of call while under arrest for allegedly committing any crime.

Director of Advocacy for ACAT Ghana, Christopher Kobla Damalie in an interview appealed to all Ghanaians to be strong advocates, give their full support to campaigns, efforts and actions geared toward raising awareness, promotion and total abolition of the death penalty.

The sensitization forum brought together human rights activists, journalists, government officials, representatives of Civil Society Groups, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Religious leaders, Lawyers, Parliamentarians and Local authorities among others.  

In a related development, the ACAT team of advocacy campaigners for the abolition of death penalty also took to some principal streets, roundabouts and road intersections of Accra and Ho (capital of the Volta Region) on Saturday October 10, 2020 respectively holding placards with inscriptions to strongly advocate, raise awareness of the 18th World Day Against the Death Penalty and push for the total abolition of the death penalty in Ghana.  

Some inscriptions on the placards read: “Death Penalty must be abolished”, “Thou shall not murder”, “All life is precious”, “Stop Death Penalty” and “I oppose the Death Penalty” among others.  

The flash mob exercise which gain momentum in the morning on Saturday October 10 climaxes the series of events staged by ACAT Ghana as part of the 3-days (October 8-10, 2020 ) activities which highlighted the commemoration of the 18th World Day Against the Death Penalty in Ghana.

Source: Joseph Wemakor

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