FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
The Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC) of Ghana aims to highlight the abuse of rights of Ghanaian prisoners who are being held in prison unlawfully. HRAC has taken up the cause of six prisoners who remain languishing in Ghanaian prisons despite the expiry of their warrants of commitment or the completion of their sentences.
According to a 2012 report by Amnesty International there are approximately 3,000 prisoners being held on remand across Ghana. That means that about 22% of prisoners in Ghana have never been convicted of a crime.
Compounding this problem, there are a huge number of remand prisoners being held past the expiry of their warrants of commitment. In Nsawam prison alone, there are estimated to be 835 prisoners who remain incarcerated in prison on expired warrants. Warrants of commitment are only valid for a period of 14 days, yet some prisoners remain in prison for years after their warrants have expired, forgotten by the system. On 13 June 2012, HRAC commenced an action in the Human Rights Court on behalf of six of these prisoners, to seek recourse for their unlawful incarceration, and highlight the plight of remand prisoners across Ghana.
For example, one of the prisoners who is the subject of HRAC’s action was arrested in 2006 due to a land dispute. Despite the four other members of the dispute receiving bail, he was refused bail and has been on remand since August 2007. His case has been adjourned twice in that time, and he has been held on an expired warrant since November 2008, a period of nearly four years.
It is difficult to imagine being held in prison for such long periods, without any prospect of release or advancement of your case. But according to all reports, this is hardly a rare occurrence. Another prisoner included in HRAC’s litigation has served out the time of maximum sentence of 8 years for his crime of stealing, but also remains incarcerated in Nsawam Prison, waiting for release. Due to his arrest in 2003, his detention should have ended in March last year, and his continuing detention is a gross violation of his human rights.
These cases still exist despite the Justice for All Programme, which was started in 2007 as an initiative of the Ministry of Justice & Attorney-General. The programme aims to bring “justice to the doorstep of all citizens especially the vulnerable in society ,” and includes remand review as part of its mandate. However, as of August 2011, the number of remand prisoners who have been released as part of this programme numbers only 357, a number which dwarfs in comparison to the number of remand prisoners estimated for Ghana.
Remand prisoners contribute to prison overcrowding and congestion and resource depletion. More adequate systems to deal with remand prisoners would contribute to a vastly improved prison system. Furthermore, Ghana is a signatory to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (known as the “Tokyo Rules”), which state that governments should avoid detaining suspects prior to trial at all. And in the case that detention is necessary, international conventions dictate that a person is entitled to a trial within the shortest possible time, a rule that is echoed in Ghana’s own Constitution.
The litigation is part of HRAC’s ongoing advocacy on behalf of remand prisoners. Holding prisoners for long periods in an unlawful manner is a perversion of justice and an abuse of human rights. Ghana prides itself as a country which respects and upholds human rights, yet the rights of remand prisoners are often forgotten.