Ghana needs to fix its overcrowded prisons and protect LGBTIs

Amnesty International warns of an "insidious and creeping trend undermining human rights which has come from governments deliberately attacking, under funding or neglecting institutions that have been set up to help protect our rights.”

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Ghana needs to fix its overcrowded prisons, and offer protection for all sexual orientations and genders, Amnesty International says.

Speaking at the Amnesty International annual report for 2015, Ghana director Lawrence Amesu said the organisation was concerned about overcrowding in prisons and the discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex people in Ghana.

“Consensual same-sex conduct between men remained a criminal offence and many LGBTI people faced discrimination, violence and police harassment,” Amesu said.

Amnesty also reported there was “excessive use of force” by police in demonstrations and mass evictions.

The annual report pointed to the September Let My Vote Count demonstration in Accra, where police fired tear gas and used batons to disperse demonstrators taking part in a peaceful demonstration, after failing to agree on a route for the march.

"The nation is in an election year and the people will as usual continue to cherish and maintain peace, [but] we have noted recently of people who were killed by the police," he said.

Amesu said Ghana police are professional but "we think crowd management and mob management will be very important this year. We would like to encourage the police and the security agencies to continue to exhibit a high level of professionalism in crowd and mob situations to avoid any blood shed during the elections."

The Annual Report also noted that in October 2015, the UN Special Rapporteur on torture visited Ghana to follow up on the recommendations he had made following his 2013 visit.

The report noted that while some progress had been made, there were concerns that the police and intelligence services continued to use torture and other ill-treatment, and said there was a lack of due diligence and urgency shown by oversight mechanisms in investigating allegations of torture or other ill-treatment.

Overcrowding in prison needed to be addressed as well as poor sanitation and inadequate nutrition, Amesu said.

Responding to this call, Deputy Director of Prisons Sylvester Rabbles said he welcomed the work of Amnesty International, and its previous report, which was damning of the prison service, had led the prison service to improve conditions.

He said prisons were continuing to make progress, and there was a ten year plan to improve conditions.

Rabbles said the Government had committed 50 million cedi to put up another prison to deal with the overcrowding in the current prisons.

Rabbles said embassies in Ghana had offered support to improve conditions, but they need everyone on board.

"The prison is the potential home of everyone, no body can tell. Let us keep the prisons as we would want to come and enjoy it when we get there."

Also in the report was concerns about the several hundred women accused of witchcraft and banished to live in isolated camps with minimal access to health care, education, sanitation and other services.

While the government, in collaboration with traditional leaders and civil society, shut down the Bonyasi witch camp in December 2014, and announced it would close others, some camps remained open, Amesu said.

Ghana was not the only country Amnesty looked at - it covered human rights issues through the world, with no country exempt from scrutiny.

Amnesty found many governments have broken international law and are deliberately undermining institutions meant to protect people’s rights.

Through the report, Amnesty International warned of an "insidious and creeping trend undermining human rights which has come from governments deliberately attacking, under funding or neglecting institutions that have been set up to help protect our rights.”

Amnesty International has documented how many governments have brazenly broken international law in 2015 in their national contexts: more than 122 states tortured or otherwise ill-treated people and 30 or more illegally forced refugees to return to countries where they would be in danger. In at least 19 countries, war crimes or other violations of the “laws of war” were committed by governments or armed groups.

The plight of refugees and migrants has been detailed through the report, and it states the bloodshed and atrocities of Africa's conflict zones played a major role in fueling and sustaining a global refugee crisis, causing millions of women, men and children to flee from their homes in “grueling, risky and often fatal bids” to reach safety in their own country or elsewhere.

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