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Regional News of Sunday, 17 June 2012

Source: GNA

Prisons Authorities cited for violation of rights of remand prisoners

The Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC) of Ghana at the weekend cited the Ghana Prisons Authority for gross violation of the rights of remand prisoners and called for immediate measures to address it.

“There are a huge number of remand prisoners being held past the expiry of their warrants of commitment. In Nsawam prison alone, there are estimated to be 835 prisoners who remain incarcerated in prison on expired warrants.

“Warrants of commitment are only valid for a period of 14 days, yet some prisoners remain in prison for years after their warrants have expired, forgotten by the system,” Nana Oye Lithur HRAC Executive Director told the Ghana News Agency in an interview in Accra.

Nana Oye therefore called on the prison authorities and the police to educate remand prisoners about the rights they have under the law, to guarantee equal access to justice for all Ghanaians.

She also urged the police and prison authorities to maintain adequate records of prisoner warrants, and to ensure that upholding the law and protecting the rights of remand prisoners is a priority within the criminal justice system, not an afterthought.

Nana Oye said HRAC has decided to seek redress in the Human Rights Court on behalf of six prisoners, who remain languishing in prisons despite the expiry of their warrants of commitment or the completion of their sentences.

“HRAC is seeking recourse for their unlawful incarceration, and highlight the plight of other remand prisoners across Ghana.

“Its difficult to imagine being held in prison for such long periods without any prospect of release or advancement of your case,” Nana Oye explained and called on the Prison Authorities to respect the rights of prisoners.

The HRAC Executive Director said the case of the six is just part of ongoing advocacy on behalf of remand prisoners...holding prisoners for long periods in an unlawful manner is a perversion of justice and an abuse of human rights.

She said HRAC will highlight the abuse of rights of Ghanaian prisoners who are being held in prison unlawfully.

Nana Oye said remand prisoners contribute to prison overcrowding and congestion and resource depletion and called for adequate systems to deal with remand prisoners.

She reminded the authorities that Ghana is a signatory to the UN Standard Minimum Rules for Non-custodial Measures (known as the “Tokyo Rules”), which state that, “governments should avoid detaining suspects prior to trial at all.

“And in the case that detention is necessary, international conventions dictate that a person is entitled to a trial within the shortest possible time, a rule that is echoed in Ghana’s own Constitution”.

Ghana prides itself as a country which respects and upholds human rights, yet the rights of remand prisoners are often forgotten.

According to a 2012 report by Amnesty International, there are approximately 3,000 prisoners being held on remand across Ghana, meaning that about 30 per cent of prisoners in Ghana have never been convicted of a crime.

These cases still exist despite the Justice for All Programme, which was started in 2007 as an initiative of the Ministry of Justice & Attorney-General's Department.

The programme aims to bring “justice to the doorstep of all citizens especially the vulnerable in society.

However, as of August 2011, the number of remand prisoners who have been released as part of this programme numbers only 357, a number which dwarfs in comparison to the number of remand prisoners estimated for Ghana.**

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