General News of 2014-03-09

UN report condemns standards in Ghana’s prisons, prayer camps

A report by Human Rights Council of the United Nations(UN) says the human rights conduct in Ghana’s prisons and prayer camps does not meet international standards.

According to the report, even though Ghana has emerged from its past of colonialism and military rule and its economic progress has had a stabilizing effect in the region. There remains a strong element of traditional practice that must be engaged with, in order to ensure that human rights take hold in all regions of the country.

“There are isolated incidents of torture and ill-treatment by police officers during the initial stages of interrogation. While prisoners did not allege ill-treatment by prison staff, the practice of delegating disciplinary authority to fellow inmates is a corrupt and bad practice that must be eradicated within the prison system.’’

The Special Rapporteur also said the international human rights standards are not met in the Ghanaian prison system. "The extreme level of overcrowding extends to those on remand, the convicted and the condemned; and results in a number of serious violations: inadequate nutrition, insufficient access to medical care, poor sanitation, personal insecurity and the absence of rehabilitation services,’’ the report noted.

The report further mentioned that the complaints system regarding allegations of torture and ill-treatment and the investigation, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators are provided for in law, but not implemented, except in very few cases.

The lack of accountability is also the result of a very basic level of forensic services, which means that medical examinations, if carried out at all, are not conducted by independent forensic specialists, but by poorly trained doctors, or even nurses, employed by the Ministry of the Interior.

In the prayer camps, shackling of any duration, denial of food and medicine, inadequate shelter and involuntary treatment constitute torture and are very prevalent.

"There remains a social stigma prevalent in Ghanaian society about mental and intellectual disabilities, despite the adoption of the Mental Health Act. With the Act not yet in effect, there is no functioning oversight mechanism and prayer camps remain unregulated. Some provisions of the Act may not be in line with the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and could be abused by health-care staff or family members.’’

He hopes the Government will find his recommendations a useful tool for engaging in a constructive dialogue with all interlocutors to strengthen legal safeguards and improve the living conditions of those deprived of their liberty in all places of detention, including medical facilities and prayer camps.

Below are the recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur

Recommendations

In a spirit of cooperation and partnership, the Special Rapporteur recommends that the Government take decisive steps to implement the recommendations set out below, with appropriate financial and logistical assistance from the international community, including the United Nations and other actors.

With regard to the Constitution and legislation, the Government should:

(a) Incorporate clear legal provisions into the Constitution and national laws to the effect that the prohibition of torture is absolute and non-derogable, in accordance with article 2, paragraph 2, of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;

(b) Take the necessary measures to ensure that torture is established as an offence in national law and adopt a definition of torture that includes all the elements contained in article 1 of the Convention. The Government should also ensure that such offences are made punishable by appropriate penalties which take into account their grave nature, in accordance with article 4, paragraph 2, of the Convention;

(c) Amend the Evidence Act, 1975, concerning evidence to be admitted in judicial proceedings, to bring it into line with the provisions of article 15 of the Convention to explicitly exclude any evidence obtained as a result of torture;

(d) Amend national laws to explicitly prohibit corporal punishment and limit the imposition of solitary confinement to a maximum of 15 days as disciplinary measures (A/66/268 para. 84).

With regard to safeguards and prevention, the Government should:

(a) Ensure prompt registration of all persons deprived of their liberty and periodically inspect custody records at police and prison facilities to make sure that they are maintained in accordance with the procedures established by law;

(b) Guarantee the right to a lawyer in all circumstances and without exception, and the right to be brought before a magistrate within 48 hours of arrest;

(c) Invest in an independent legal aid scheme, as recommended by the Constitutional Review Commission, to attract and retain more qualified lawyers and expand essential services to reach all regions and all offences from the moment of apprehension through all stages of criminal proceedings;

(d) Ensure that all detained persons are guaranteed the possibility of challenging effectively and expeditiously the lawfulness of their detention through habeas corpus;

(e) Video record all statements made to the police during the investigation and interrogation period as standard procedure. Such measures should be seen only as complementary to legal representation during all stages of the interrogation process;

(f) Ensure the right to an independent medical examination;

(g) Ensure any allegations of torture and ill-treatment are admitted at any stage of the trial and that courts are obliged to launch ex officio investigations whenever there are reasonable grounds to suspect torture or ill-treatment;

(h) Provide training programmes to sensitize prison officials to the importance of taking effective steps to prevent and remedy prisoner-on-prisoner abuse and ensure that inmates are not given any disciplinary authority over other inmates which condones the use of violence.

With regard to prompt, thorough and impartial investigations, the Government should:

(a) Establish an effective and independent mechanism that promptly and effectively investigates all allegations of torture or ill-treatment, prosecutes those responsible and, if they are found guilty, imposes administrative and judicial penalties that take into account the grave nature of their acts;

(b) Ensure that allegations of torture and ill-treatment are admitted at any stage of the trial and that courts are obliged to launch ex officio investigations whenever there are reasonable grounds to suspect torture or ill-treatment;

(c) Ensure that victims receive adequate compensation, including their full rehabilitation, and that they are not subject to reprisals;

(d) Ensure that medical staff are able to conduct independent medical examinations at the time of arrest, upon transfer to another place of detention, or upon request, without interference by law enforcement personnel or prosecutors;

(e) Train law enforcement officials and military personnel in international human rights law to ensure that national procedures are compliant;

(f) Develop the forensic capacity of the prosecution and judiciary and provide specific training for forensic experts on the assessment of ill-treatment and torture, in accordance with the Manual on the Effective Investigation and Documentation of Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (the Istanbul Protocol).

With regard to the monitoring and inspection of places of detention, the Government should:

(a) Support prison monitoring and deliver on its commitment to prioritize, and take concrete measures to speed up, the ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment;

(b) Consult with civil society to seek a consensus and designate the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice as the national mechanism for the prevention of torture, in accordance with article 17 of the Optional Protocol;

(c) Strengthen the Commission by ensuring that it has an independent operating budget and sufficient financial and human resources to comply fully with the Principles relating to the Status of National Institutions (the Paris Principles) and inspect all places of detention regularly. In addition to making unannounced visits, it should provide detailed reports, receive complaints, initiate or promote prosecutions, produce findings and implement recommendations;

(d) Encourage NGOs to undertake regular monitoring of places of detention and deliver much-needed medical and educational services, and provide training for law enforcement, health and legal professionals on international human rights standards and on detecting, reporting and preventing torture and ill-treatment.

To address overcrowding, the Government should:

(a) Accelerate the process of getting the maximum security prison in Ankaful operating at higher capacity by identifying prison staff and prisoners who can be transferred to this facility from surrounding prisons in Ankaful;

(b) Build residential staff accommodation at Ankaful maximum security prison so that more prison officers from around the country can be deployed and more prisoners transferred there;

(c) Identify a timeline and funding for the second phase of construction at Ankaful maximum security prison so the project can be completed;

(d) Identify low-risk prisoners in the central prisons and move them to open and farm camp prisons;

(e) Bring responsibility for remand inmates under the authority of the Prisons Service, rather than the Police Service, to ensure their attendance at court;

(f) Ensure that no remand inmates remain in prison beyond the expiry of their warrants;

(g) Expand the terms of reference of the “Justice for All” programme in two ways: geographically, so that remand prisoners in all regions are visited to check whether warrants have expired or time has already been served; and in scope, so that the programme is mandated to consider and accelerate cases, not only of pretrial detention, but also those for which appeals have been filed, or inmates have already served lengthy sentences, to see if those cases can be judicially reviewed and releases accelerated;

(h) Review non-violent offences for which bail is currently not available, to offer the possibility of bail and effective monitoring of cases to reduce the number of remand prisoners;

(i) Review the lengthy judicial proceedings that lead to a substantial number of prisoners on remand being denied the right to a trial within a reasonable period;

(j) Ensure that time spent in remand custody is taken into account during sentencing;

(k) Review sentencing policies to reduce or eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for lesser, non-violent offences and provide more reasonable sentencing guidelines in order to reduce excessively lengthy sentences;

(l) Extend eligibility for remission or commutation of sentences, parole or pardon to those serving lengthy sentences in addition to those “condemned” or serving life sentences, to whom this option has already been extended;

(m) Provide further training in judicial case management for judges and staff to implement a “fast-track system” for less serious cases and move them more efficiently through the criminal justice system;

(n) Provide a swift appeal process for the review of convictions and sentences;

(o) Divert some of the funds used for incarceration to support the work of the Judicial Committee established to consider alternative measures.

With regard to conditions of detention, the Government should:

(a) Recall that, regardless of the level of development of the country, it is obliged to ensure minimum standards of conditions of detention in accordance with the Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners;

(b) Provide the minimum acceptable amount of floor space and cubic quantity of air per inmate, a separate bed and adequate sanitary conditions;

(c) Urgently improve access to, and the quality of, health care provided by the infirmaries by investing in them financially to ensure they provide a minimum standard of medical care, and employ a sufficient number of qualified doctors, including for psychiatric and dental care, in addition to medical assistants and nurses;

(d) Establish an independent body under the Ministry of Health to regulate and improve the quantity and quality of the food;

(e) Partner with the Ministry of Agriculture and the private sector to find additional resources to expand the farming programme to more prisons, especially the open prisons, in order to offset food costs and provide better variety and nutrition. Even prisons with a higher security classification could establish a secure setting and designate physical space inside the grounds for farming projects;

(f) End the practice of denying children under 18 the right to visit family members in prison, and establish meaningful family visits, including the ability to communicate in private without being overheard by renovating facilities to include basic amenities such as family visit centres;

(g) Realize the principles of rehabilitation and reintegration and seek assistance to provide all prisoners with the opportunity to access educational and work opportunities, including sustainable training programmes, such as in farming, cooking, trades and small business, in order to gain relevant skills that can be applied upon release;

(h) Seek donations from churches and NGOs to provide the prisons with books, writing materials and equipment such as sewing machines and woodwork or metalwork supplies and to support recreational activities.

With regard to the death penalty, the Government should:

(a) Give effect to the white paper of the Constitutional Review Implementation Committee, which was tasked with implementing the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission, and hold a referendum to change the Constitution, including an official moratorium and abolition of the death penalty;

(b) Commute all outstanding death sentences to term sentences and formalize the current de facto moratorium on the death penalty by abolishing the death penalty for murder, a statutory offence which does not require the Constitution to be amended;

(c) Ratify the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, aiming at the abolition of the death penalty;

(d) Develop a public awareness strategy, in consultation with NGOs, to educate civil society about the cruel and inhuman treatment that results in persons being sentenced to death and detained for years on death row.

With regard to juveniles, the Government should:

(a) Expedite the ratification of the optional protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (A/HRC/22/8, para. 123.1);

(b) Investigate all complaints of torture and ill-treatment of juveniles, in particular allegations of corporal punishment;

(c) Amend the Children’s Act (1988) to explicitly prohibit all forms of corporal punishment of children in all settings, including in the home, in schools and in alternative care settings (ibid., para. 123.20) and educate the authorities and the public so that the practice of caning, in particular, is eradicated;

(d) Ensure the separation of juveniles on remand from adults, in compliance with international standards;

(e) Provide additional training to the judiciary and the Office of the Attorney-General so that bail and alternative measures are considered, and ensure that imprisonment is only used as an exceptional measure.

With regard to women, the Government should:

(a) Ensure that female inmates are protected from all gender-based violence;

(b) Uphold the United Nations Rules for the Treatment of Women Prisoners and Non-custodial Measures for Women Offenders (the Bangkok Rules) and implement alternative measures, especially for women who are pregnant or have dependents;

(c) Establish mother and baby units in all female prisons to promote the welfare of mothers and children, in accordance with article 3 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

With regard to the Mental Health Act, the Government should:

(a) Expedite the approval of the legislative instrument to implement the Act;

(b) Establish a properly constituted oversight board and commit itself to an explicit timeline for implementing the oversight mechanism and for the committee to maintain a registry and conduct inspections of facilities and centres which deal with persons with mental disabilities, including private prayer camps;

(c) Establish an independent tribunal mandated to hear complaints of persons detained under the Act and take steps to ensure that the jurisdiction of the tribunal is not restricted to persons in psychiatric hospitals, but also includes those detained in prayer camps;

(d) Amend the Mental Health Act regarding mental capacity and involuntary admission and treatment, to bring it into line with international standards, as outlined in the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities;

(e) Increase cooperation between the authorities in psychiatric hospitals and leaders in prayer camps to ensure that in all places where mental health patients are held for involuntary treatment they have access to health-care services and that those places are visited by independent monitoring bodies to guarantee the proper implementation of the safeguards established to secure the patients’ rights;

(f) Ensure that no confinement takes place unless strictly required and that effective judicial review is available of the lawfulness of the admission and detention of all persons in mental health institutions, including prayer camps;

(g) Provide access to legal aid and establish a complaints mechanism and a remedy for cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in psychiatric hospitals, or at prayer camps or other residential care facilities, and protect individuals from possible reprisals;

(h) Initiate a public awareness campaign to sensitize communities about mental disability and the Mental Health Act;

(i) Educate health practitioners, traditional healers, law enforcement personnel and the judiciary to understand that persons with mental disabilities have human rights, including the right to autonomy and to be treated with dignity.

With regard to psychiatric institutions and prayer camps, the Government should:

(a) Regulate, control and supervise health-care practices, with a view to preventing ill-treatment, and improve the food, shelter and health care provided;

(b) Prohibit coercive and non-consensual measures, including the restraint and seclusion of people with mental disabilities, except to prevent harm to the patient and to others, and then only for the limited time and using the measures strictly required for that purpose;

(c) Prohibit non-consensual treatment, such as forced medication and electroshock procedures (A/63/175, para. 61), guarantee the provision of essential medicines, including medicine for pain treatment and psychotherapeutic substances of the most recent generation, in line with the minimum core obligations of the State with respect to the right to health and the prohibition of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment;

(d) Enact laws to prohibit the admission and treatment of children in prayer camps and ban inhumane practices in prayer camps, involving chaining and prolonged restraint, mandatory fasting, treatment without free and informed consent and denial of medication;

(e) Investigate and prosecute under the criminal law cases of alleged inhumane practices;

(f) Recruit more mental health professionals, such as psychiatric doctors and specialized nurses, so that a higher level of care is delivered to all persons with mental disabilities, including visits to prayer camps by qualified medical staff;

(g) Promote deinstitutionalization and, in consultation with the disabled community, create alternative forms of treatment, especially community-based treatment and support and including medical care and housing, so that persons can be discharged from hospitals and prayer camps.

With regard to institutional reform, the Government should:

(a) Increase the budget of the judiciary, the Office of the Attorney-General and the Prisons Service so that they can establish effective programmes to address the numerous challenges facing the criminal justice system;

(b) Give responsibility and sufficient resources to the Prisons Service to ensure that there are vehicles available to provide transportation for all inmates (both those on remand and those who have been sentenced) to court and to hospital when required, to ensure their right to a speedy trial and to medical treatment;

(c) Increase the budget of the Ministry of Health so that doctors and medical staff employed to deliver medical services in places of detention are independent ofthe Ministry of the Interior;

(d) Ensure that the Ministry of Health has an operational budget to implement the Mental Health Act and ensure that the Oversight Committee is properly funded;

(e) Ensure that victims obtain redress and fair and adequate compensation for violations of their rights, including the means for the fullest rehabilitation possible, establish mechanisms and programmes within the national health system to provide all victims with rehabilitation, and fund private medical, legal and other facilities, including those administered by NGOs, that provide medical, psychological and social rehabilitation.

With regard to assistance by international and regional mechanisms, the Government could consider:

(a) Inviting the Special Rapporteur on Prisons and Conditions of Detention of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to follow up on the present report, which would constitute a good practice;

(b) Inviting the special procedures mandate holders on violence against women and the right to health to follow up on cross-cutting issues, such as female genital mutilation, domestic violence, practices in witch camps and the realization of access to medical treatment, that the Special Rapporteur was unable to address in the present report;

(c) Encouraging donations from the international community to support the United Nations Voluntary Fund for Victims of Torture so that it can consider requests for assistance from NGOs that work to ensure that persons who have been tortured have access to medical care and legal redress.