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Opinions of Thursday, 1 June 2006

Columnist: Akosah-Sarpong, Kofi

Empowering Ghanaians Through Human Rights

As human rights values increasingly sink into the Ghanaian development process all parts of the Ghanaian life is openly being affected. This is captured in the latest publication of Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) newsletter, ?Empowering Voices.? ?Spirit Children ? Ghanaian children victims of witchcraft,? ?Inclusive Education for disabled Students,? ?It?s becoming harder to breathe in Ghana,? and ?Workshop bring journalists together? are the human rights issues covered in the newsletter. The stories are written in news agency style ? brief, clear and sharp. The sharp pictures help illustrate the stories better.

While some aspects of the Ghanaian culture entangles human rights and progress, some modernization practices, too, is a big problem. Understood, part of the mission of JHR is to help develop the human rights capacity reporting skills of African journalists and other mass media houses so that they can understand the implications of human rights in development, and in so doing inform Africans, who have suffered immense human rights violations over time, about their rights within their development process through the local media. In this regard, JHR trainers attempt to equip African journalists to understand the natural connection between journalism and human rights ? the natural link being tied to each society?s culture and history within universal human rights values.

At the on-going workshops across Ghana, which is reported in the newsletter, Richard Garner, a Canadian and one of two trainers with JHR, writes that in terms of human rights reporting, there is no ?Ghanaian? or ?Canadian? journalists but rather a universal journalism dealing with human rights problems slightly within the cultural and historical context of each nation. ?Of course culture, conditioning, education etc, all inform who we are as journalists as well as people. But the reason I love being part of a human rights based workshops on journalism is the focus on universality.? This set the tone for how Ghanaian journalists are being assisted in using human rights principles to report human rights violations within the Ghanaian society.

In ?Spirit Children,? an emotionally heartbreaking piece, Phyllis D. Osabutey, of the Accra-based ?The Chronicle,? reports how babies rights are violated and killed simply because a soothsayer pronounces them ?evil.? In Ghana?s Upper East Region, when a child is born, soothsayers, who hold sway over the affairs of the extremely superstitious society, determine the rights of the baby to live or die. Called ?kinkirigu,? which means ?spirit child,? if the soothsayer says the child would bring misfortunes such as death to the family, it is given a concoction that kills it within minutes and ?afterwards thrown into a sacred forest.? The baby killing ritual is supposed to cast the baby?s soul away and ?never return or otherwise it may return in the form of the mother giving birth to stale children or causing death of family members, among other forms of misfortune.?

If Ghanaian babies human rights are violated by being branded evil, and killed, William Mbaho, A Ugandan-Canadian JHR volunteer attached to ?The Chronicle,? reports that in most part of Ghana disabled children are seen as either ?a curse or burden,? a process that violated their human rights, so they are dumped into the society. How disabled people can live better life, freed from culturally-driven discrimination, is currently being debated at Parliament. Entitled ?Persons With Disability Bill,? it aimed at enabling disabled people enjoy rights enshrined in Article 29 (8) and 37 (2b) of the 1992 Constitution and other International Charters such as the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The Bill is specially designed to improve the living standards of disable people in order to integrating them formally into country?s development process.

Disable people in Ghana face a lot of discrimination part of which is because of lack of public knowledge, as Millicent Obeng, a blind student at Akropong School for the Blind, is quoted as saying at Ghana?s first National Awareness Day on Disability and Inclusive Education event on February 22 this year. Generally, disabled people think Ghanaians consider them as second-class citizens or waywards. This is born out of myriad cultural beliefs by the Ghanaian society that people with disability are a nuisance and not fit into the Ghanaian society.

It is not only some aspects of the Ghanaian culture that violates human rights, some modern practices, too, do so. Jeff Topham, a Canadian television journalist JHR volunteer attached to the Accra-based Metro TV, reports that increases of asthma among school children is due to ?effects of increased urbanization ? smoke, vehicle exhaust, air pollution, even cigarettes ? all environmental factors that come with living in big city.? A complicated issue, the dilemma is how Accra can draw the line between the rights of citizens, here asthma suffering school children, environmental rights, and modernization.

Readers can read the latest JHR newsletter at www.jhr.ca and for more information about the organization and contributions.



Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.