General News of Fri, 28 Feb 20036
Bernasko Versus Amua-Sakyi
Colonel Bernasko was a dashing young officer when Ghana's second successful military coup occurred in 1972. From the obscurity of his military commission, he was catapaulted to become a regional administrator as the Central Region Commissioner.
After the June 4 mutiny in 1979, he went into exile returning home recently. He appeared before the NRC yesterday where his presence caused something of a stir.
Ever the confident man his interactions with the Chairman of the Commission, turned into a debate over what constitutes a human rights abuse. The usually calm Chairman of the NRC, Justice Amua-Sakyi for the first time engaged in a lengthy debate with this particular witness, which received intermittent applause from the packed Old Parliament House.
The bone of contention was whether civilians could be subjected to military drilling or any form of physical exercise as punishment when they turn up late to work. Justice Amua-Sakyi was against it while Colonel Bernasko was for it.
The Public Relations Officer of the Ministry of Mines, Mr. Joseph Amankwah who was then the Regional Organiser of the Centre for Civic Education in the Busia Administration, in a statement to the commission said he was tortured by soldiers on the orders of Col. Bernasko following allegations that he was late to work in 1972.
Col. Bernasko was regarded as one of the "action men" of the Acheampong military regime. He denied the allegation outright. He said in an answer to a question posed by one of the Commissioners of the NRC, Bishop Palmer-Buckle that, "I cannot recollect such an incident happened in my presence but if the soldiers under me did or soldiers from outside came and for one reason or the other beat this gentleman, all that I can do is to say I am sorry. What I did was to tell them to let him have some exercise and let him go. Discipline does not mean maltreatment."
He contended that he made civilians who were not punctual at work go through military exercises "just to make people aware that something had gone wrong.it is not to punish or kill them."
This statement seemed to have ignited the Chairman who was sitting cozily in his swivel chair listening to the proceedings quietly. He responded that it was a gross abuse of human rights "to subject a head of a public institution or a grown up man with a wife and children" to drilling in the full glare of the public. "There are procedures for dealing with lateness to work, absenteeism among others. They can forfeit their salary for a day or a week but when you use brute force to compel people to do exercises.it is a human rights abuse and I don't think you can justify it."
"My Lord, I beg to differ.this human rights thing had come into being only a few years ago. And I would then say if at that time we had something about human rights then we would have tailored our actions. For instance, when people wanted to set fire to the Komenda Sugar Factory; it was a clear case of arson. They went through only three minutes exercise in my presence and I let them go, instead of dragging them to the police, court and sending them out of job."
"You should have taken them to the court, we have a criminal code which makes arson a criminal offense. You don't there and then constitute yourself into a court, sentence them and say do exercises," Amua-Sakyi retorted.
Mr. Sikie Kwabena Asiedu, a trader told the commission that for the past two decades he had not seen his brother, Manny Asiedu. He said a group of men stormed their residence to arrest one Captain Ampofo who was Manny Asiedu's associate in 1983. Mr. Asiedu said the men arrested his brother when they could not get hold of Capt. Ampofo.
He said a search at the Castle, Police Stations and the Bureau of National Investigations (BNI) for his brother proved futile. "The search for my brother still continues. My brother's wife was then pregnant. Two weeks after his arrest she delivered," wept Asiedu.
His story was corroborated by one Daniel Duut, a worker with the Accra Polytechnic who was then the house boy of Capt. Ampofo, and Capt. Ampofo himself.
Hearing continues on Monday.