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Will President Akufo-Addo assent to the Anti-LGBTQ+ bill?

Ghana is currently at the crossroads of legislative decisions, as President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo grapples with the question of assenting to the highly controversial Promotion of Proper Human Sexual Rights and Ghanaian Family Values Bill, 2021, widely known as the anti-LGBTQ+ bill. This follows its passage by Ghana's Parliament on Wednesday, February 28, 2024

President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo

As the nation awaits the President's decision, recent developments shed light on his approach to legislation, constitutional concerns, and the delicate balance between societal values and human rights.

President Akufo-Addo's recent decision not to assent to the Criminal Offences Amendment Bill 2023, Criminal Offences Amendment Bill Number 2, 2023, and the Ghana Armed Forces Amendment Bill 2023 offer insights into his meticulous consideration of legislative proposals. The President cited potential financial implications on the state's consolidated fund and a violation of Article 108 of the constitution as reasons for his decision. The emphasis on constitutional conformity and fiscal responsibility reflects a commitment to maintaining the integrity of the legislative process.

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In a letter to Parliament, President Akufo-Addo explained that his refusal to assent to the bills related to witchcraft and the death penalty stemmed from their introduction as private member's bills, which, according to Article 108 of the 1992 constitution, should be introduced on behalf of the President. The President underscored the need to align legislation with established constitutional and legislative processes, signaling a principled approach to governance.

While expressing support for the content of these bills, the President highlighted that their introduction without a fiscal impact analysis contradicts the classification as private member's bills. This meticulous attention to constitutional and financial considerations raises questions about how the President will approach the contentious anti-LGBTQ+ bill, which has already received parliamentary approval.

Parliament's recent approval of the anti-LGBTQ+ bill has ignited passionate debates within Ghana. The legislation criminalizes LGBTQ+ activities, imposing penalties on individuals engaged in or supporting such activities. Proponents argue that the bill protects traditional values, while opponents denounce it as a violation of fundamental human rights.

Notably, Vice President Kamala Harris, during her visit to Ghana, discussed human rights issues with President Akufo-Addo, including the anti-LGBTQ+ bill. Although not directly addressing the bill, Vice President Harris emphasized the importance of supporting freedom and equality, framing it as a human rights issue. President Akufo Addo responded by saying, "The Attorney General has found it necessary to speak to the committee about it regarding the constitutionality or otherwise of several of its provisions and the Parliament is dealing with it but at the end of the process I will come in.

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"I have no doubt that the Parliament of Ghana will sure as it is done in the past, one first of all, its sensitivity to Human Rights issues as well as to the feelings of our population and we'll come out of the responsible response to the to to the proposed legislation.

"It's a private member's bill this is not an official legislation of the government but it is one that has been being mooted by a handful of private members, so we will see what the findal outcome of it. But my understanding from a recent discussion I had with the chairman of the committee is substantial elements of the bill have already been modified as a result of the intervention of the Attorney General, we will see what the final outcome will be..." Akufo-Addo said.

President Akufo-Addo's State of the Nation Address in March 2023 showcased his pride in Ghana's achievements in terms of freedom of expression.

“Today, we live in a country in which we enjoy complete freedom of expression, freedom of association, freedom of assembly, freedom of religion, and political affiliation. Indeed, freedom of speech has now reached such heights that even members of the diplomatic corps feel able to join in our national discourse…,”

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However, the looming question is whether this commitment to freedom extends to marginalized communities, particularly those affected by the anti-LGBTQ+ bill. The President's acknowledgment that substantial modifications have been made to the bill following the intervention of the attorney general adds a layer of complexity to the unfolding narrative.

Prof. Audrey Gadzekpo's emphasis on the bill's potential infringement upon fundamental human rights, such as dignity, freedom of speech, association, academic freedom, equality, and non-discrimination, highlights the diverse perspectives on the legislation. Her assertion that the bill is "unwholesome" for constitutional democracy adds weight to the ongoing discussions.

As Ghanaians and the international community await President Akufo-Addo's decision on the anti-LGBTQ+ bill, the President's recent actions and statements provide a glimpse into his decision-making process. The delicate balance between upholding societal values and safeguarding human rights will likely shape the final outcome. The President's commitment to constitutional processes and his acknowledgment of modifications to the bill underscore the nuanced approach required in navigating this complex and emotionally charged issue.

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Samuel Nartey George, a lead sponsor of the Human Sexual Rights and Family Values Bill, 2021, has called on President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo to assent to the Bill following its passage by Parliament.

“We want the President to walk his talk by appending his signature to the bill to enable it to come into force,” he had said.

As the nation holds its breath, the fate of the anti-LGBTQ+ bill hangs in the balance, with profound implications for Ghana's legislative landscape and its commitment to human rights.

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