General News of Friday, 18 June 2010

Source: Graphic

Gays have rights, they must be respected - Lithur

Gays and lesbians may be frowned upon by adherents of Ghanaian tradition and culture but, according to a human rights lawyer, they have rights to be respected under the law.

Practitioners of homosexuality, the ranks of whom are said to be on the increase in the country, have received scathing condemnation lately.

But Nana Oye Lithur, an outspoken champion of human rights, took a different path on Thursday and declared that it was about time Ghanaians discussed the issue of homosexual rights dispassionately.

The phenomenon has become topical following recent increases in the communities of practitioners of that sexual orientation, not only in Ghana but also across Africa, and the intensification of their demand for legal recognition.

In Ghana, however, they have remained in their closets, largely due to the fear of public condemnation.

Confronting the issue, Nana Lithur said homosexuality was not a crime, as many people believed,_ but a sexual orientation like heterosexuality to which people were at liberty to make a preference.

She said unnatural carnal knowledge, which was a crime under the Criminal Code, could not be necessarily considered as homosexuality "because even heterosexuals could have unnatural carnal knowledge.

"I think we should try and understand the situation. If we don't discuss' it as a country, how do we overcome the problem?" she asked.

Her call for a discussion of the matter could bring on board reactions from groups, including those which a few weeks ago organised a march in the Western Region to protest against the practice of homosexuality, describing it as an abomination and immoral.

Nana Lithur said although Ghana’s Constitution did not explicitly mention sexual orientation, it made it clear that no Ghanaian shall be discriminated against on the basis of gender, race, colour, ethnic origin, religion, creed or social or economic status.

In another development, Nana Oye Lithur has expressed concern about the cost of seeking redress in the country, saying it's too expensive and hinders the vulnerable access to justice.

She said "Consultation fees for senior counsel are Fifty Ghana Cedis, and 25 Ghana Cedis for junior counsel whilst the hourly rate for senior counsel is fixed at 300 dollars per hour and that for junior counsel is 150 dollars per hour".

Nana Oye was speaking at a three-day public forum, organised by the Ghana Academy of Arts and Science (GAAS) in Accra, under the general theme: "Governance in Ghana; Challenges to Administrative Justice, Anti-Corruption and Access to Justice".

She noted that the average cost of filing a writ in the High Court where the claim does not exceed 10,000 Ghana cedis, is 20 dollars whilst filing of a writ of summons at the District Court where the claim is below 100 Ghana cedis, is one dollar.

Speaking on the topic; "The Vulnerable and Access to Justice," Nana Oye explained that access to justice is the ability of these formal, informal and traditional mechanisms of justice to be more accessible to the poor and disadvantaged.

She said it must include the provision of speedy and affordable justice that will result in justice establishment of Alternate dispute resolution mechanisms, arbitration tribunals, mediation centres, traditional courts, the Police Service.

Nana Oye said that apart from the financial limitations, the number of lawyers also served as another obstacle to the vulnerable, stressing that statistic at the General Legal Council indicates that 536 licenses were issued to lawyers to practice as at June 10, 2010.

"The Ghana Bar Association had also registered about 1300 as fully paid up members within the same period. With a rough estimate of 3,000 lawyers to the 22 million Ghanaians, the ratio of lawyers to our population is one lawyer for every 7,333 people in Ghana," she said.

Nana Oye said statistics indicate that there were 9 Supreme Court judges, 26 courts of appeal judges, 73 high court judges, 59 circuit court judges and 141 magistrates.

On the geographical distribution of high courts in the Country, Nana Oye said that Greater Accra with a population of about three million has 29 High Courts and 13 Circuit Courts; Eastern Region with a population of about two million has five High Courts and 9 Circuit Courts.

The others are Brong Ahafo with a population of 1.8 million has four High Courts and nine Circuit Courts; Ashanti region with population of about 3.6 million has eight High Courts and eleven Circuit Courts; Central region with a population of 1.5 million has five High Courts and five Circuit Courts and Western region with a 1.9 million has seven High Courts and four Circuit Courts.

The rest are Volta Region with a population of 1.6 million has five High Courts and 9 Circuit Courts; Northern Region with a population of 1.8 million has two High Courts and four Circuit Courts; Upper East with population of about one million has two High Courts and two Circuit Courts and Upper West population of about 600,000 has only one High Court and nor Circuit Court.

Nana Oye said geographical access to courts in Ghana is therefore a challenge as there are 65 circuit courts in Ghana and 61 sitting circuit court judges.

The forum was chaired by Professor Francis Kwesi Nkrumah, Vice President of Ghana Academe of Arts and Sciences.