As 2008 came to a close, the cheers for democracy rang out amidst the New Year celebrations in Ghana. On Dec. 28, the country elected Professor John Atta Evans Mills of the National Democratic Congress as President, winning more than a 50 percent majority vote.
Almost immediately following the election results, Amnesty International took a stand to urge the newly elected government to further increase their protection of human rights. The organization issued a seven-point list of requirements:
1. Full compliance with Ghana’s international and regional human rights obligations and commitments, as explicitly set out in the treaties it has ratified.
2. The abolition of the death penalty.
3. An end to illegal detentions, and prompt and fair trials in accordance with international human rights treaties and standards.
4. Significant reductions in the overcrowding in prisons and other places of detention
5. Eradicating violence against women.
6. Immediately stop and prevent forced evictions.
7. Effective protection against so called mob violence.
Since 1992, Ghana has drastically improved human rights protection, but the country still has some ways to go. The most pressing issue on the international community’s mind is the issue of equal protection for men and women. Only recently did former President John Agyekum Kufuor take action in intensifying protection of women. Last year, the government passed the Domestic Violence Act, which criminalized marital rape for the first time in the country’s history.
Another important issue to be resolved is the discrepancies within criminal trial procedures. The current legal system shows considerable bias against defendants who are unable to afford legal counsel. Part of Amnesty’s goal is to have courts agree to provide lawyers for accused persons who are unable to pay for a private lawyer, an procedure that is still relatively new in the human rights world (the United States only took on this practice after the Supreme Court case, Gideon vs. Wainwright, in 1963).
The third most prominent issue that is being zeroed in on is the death penalty, a controversy that still plagues many countries, including the United States. Executions have not taken place in Ghana since the early 90s, but Amnesty is urging parliament to repeal the law entirely. If it is even so much as an option for a judge, there will always be the looming possibility of a death penalty sentence arising in the future.
Overall, Ghana has significantly progressed in the protection of their citizens, and President Atta Mills will most likely only add vigor to the fight for human rights. Yet another victory for democracy.