Ghana abolishes death penalty
Ghana has become the 29th country in Africa to abolish the death penalty. It means the 176 people currently on death row are likely to have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
On July 25, Ghana’s parliament amended the country’s criminal offences act to remove the use of capital punishment for crimes including murder, genocide, piracy and smuggling.
The death sentence can still apply for acts of high treason, though, and campaigners have cautioned that the country’s constitution would have to change to completely remove the penalty.
Ghana has not carried out an execution since 1993, but courts have continued to hand down death sentences, including seven last year. The country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, would need to sign the bill into law before it comes into force.
Francis-Xavier Kojo Sosu, the Ghanian MP behind the bill, hailed the decision. “I have seen firsthand that the death penalty does not bring a sense of justice or closure to the families of crime victims, and neither does it deter offenders,” Sosu notes. “I have also seen that those sentenced to death tend to be vulnerable individuals from deprived backgrounds, who have often experienced deep personal trauma. It was my view that we as a nation were better than this. I introduced these bills because I wanted the courts to cease imposing an inhuman punishment.”
Sosu reflected that “on death row, prisoners woke up thinking this could be their last day on Earth. They were like the living dead: psychologically, they had ceased to be humans. Abolishing the death penalty shows we are determined as a society not to be inhumane, uncivil, closed, retrogressive and dark.” He added this would pave the way to a free and progressive society reflecting “our common belief that the sanctity of life is inviolable”.
“By and large, the general populace have accepted that [the death penalty] may not be useful,” says Accra-based criminal lawyer Francis Gasu, adding judicial errors are too common and police investigations too flawed to continue with the practice.
Ghana is the 124th country to abolish the death penalty; 41 other countries are considered to have de facto bans as they have not carried out an execution for more than 10 years. Last year, death sentences were confirmed in 52 countries, four less than in 2021, reports Amnesty International.
Saul Lehrfreund, co-executive director of the London-based NGO The Death Penalty Project, which worked closely with Sosu in the run-up to the vote, says, “The decision to abolish the death penalty demonstrates Ghana’s commitment to upholding human rights and reflects the will of Ghanaians, as captured in public opinion research that showed the majority of the public would accept abolition. This historic step places Ghana firmly within the worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty.”
Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s west and central Africa director, says the vote was “a victory for all those who have tirelessly campaigned to consign this cruel punishment to history and strengthen the protection of the right to life”.
TOP Barbara, from Ghana
PHOTO Amnesty International
ABOVE Samuel Komla Agbotsey (middle), Campaigns and Fundraising Coordinator for Amnesty International, Ghana, addressing the public on the impact of the death penalty on children. With him are Gloria Emeka (left), Paul Gozo (right), both members of AI Ghana.
PHOTO Patrick Dickson