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Opinions of Thursday, 29 July 2021

Columnist: Francis-Xavier Sosu

Francis-Xavier Sosu's statement on abolishing the death penalty

Francis-Xavier Sosu, MP for Madina constituency Francis-Xavier Sosu, MP for Madina constituency

Mr. Speaker, in December 2020, the plenary session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) saw a record number of states (123) supporting the adoption of its biennial resolution calling for the establishment of a moratorium on executions with a view to fully abolishing the death penalty.

Mr. Speaker, there was an increase of 19 votes compared to 2007, when
the first UNGA resolution on this issue was adopted. According to the
2020 Amnesty International Global Report, at least 483 people were executed in 2020.

This is the lowest figure recorded in at least a decade, representing a 26% fall as compared to 67% for 2019, and 70% from the peak of 1,634 executions reported in 2015.

In Africa, the boldest step was taken by our sister West African Country, Sierra Leon, which voted last week to abolish death penalty. The Parliament of Sierra Leon has set a precedent that this parliament can follow.

Mr. Speaker, globally, the methods of executions of persons sentenced to
death for 2020 comprised of beheading, electrocution, hanging, lethal
injection, and shooting.

At the end of 2020, at least 28,567 people were known to be under death sentence.

In Ghana, statistics from the Ghana Prisons Service show that no executions were carried out in 2020, despite the imposition of the death sentence on three persons by the Courts. As at the close of 2020, 160 persons
comprising 155 men and 5 women were under death sentence. Nine
prisoners also had their death sentences commuted to life imprisonment.

Mr. Speaker, the Constitution Review Commission, which was a
presidential Commission, was set up in January 2010 to consult with the
people of Ghana on the provisions of the 1992 Constitution and on any
possible reviews that needed to be made to the Constitution.

The Commission in page 645 (paragraph 75) of its final report stated
“The Commission recommends the replacement of the death
penalty with imprisonment for life without parole.”

This recommendation was as a result of the wide range dissatisfaction of
Ghanaians with the provisions of the death penalty on our statute books.

Mr. Speaker, on page 44 of the Government White Paper on the Constitutional Review Commission, Government stated its position as follows “Government accepts the recommendation of the Constitutional Review Commission that the death penalty in article 3 of the Constitution be completely abolished and that the penalty be replaced with imprisonment for life".

"The sanctity of life is a value so much engrained in the Ghanaian social psyche that it cannot be gambled away with judicial uncertainties.”

Mr. Speaker, the need to completely abolish the death penalty is
grounded on the fact that people could be killed only for a future evidence
to exonerate them. In order to err on the side of caution, therefore, and on
account of the fallibilities, imperfection and frailties of our judicial system, we are safer completely doing away with the death penalty.

Mr. Speaker, there are two ways to deal with the abolition of death penalty
from our laws. We could do it by Constitutional amendment or with
the amendment of various provisions in the Criminal and Other Offences Act
(Act 29) which prescribe death penalty as punishment.

Article 3 of the 1992 Constitution is an entrenched provision and any amendment would require a referendum. This might be the reason for the
delays in operationalizing the government white paper on the recommendations of the Constitutional Review Commission.

The second approach which I believe could yield a speedy result could be an amendment of Act, 29 which would lead to about 95% abolition of death penalty without constitutional amendment. This position has been forcefully argued by the Amnesty International Ghana and Human Rights Lawyers like Lawyer Martin Kpebu.

Mr. Speaker, Constitutional Amendment of an entrenched provision, comes with cost, the need for resourcing NCCE to educate citizens, funds and logistics to the Electoral Commission to conduct the said referendum among many others. This could be avoided by simple amendment of the various death penalty provisions in Act 29.

Mr. Speaker, the death penalty inflicts not only immerse psychological
pain and torture on accused and convicted persons and assassination
officers, but also smacks of practices of backward societies.

In view of this, it is worth pointing out that Ghana has not applied the
death penalty since 1993. Accordingly, Ghana has been described by the
2020 Amnesty International Global Report on Death Penalty as being
Death Penalty “Abolitionists in Practice.” There is therefore the need
to amend sections 46, 49, 49A, 180, 194 and 317A of the Criminal and
Other Offences Act, 1960, (Act 29).

Very respectfully, Right Hon. Speaker, In 2011 – while delivering
judgment in the Supreme Court case of Dexter Johnson v. the Republic
[2011] 2 SCGLR 601@P702, the Court through Justice Dotse JSC said
“… the time has possibly come for the Parliament of Ghana to
seriously consider whether to have a policy shift in the mandatory
death penalty regime imposed on those convicted of murder…. It is
only Parliament which can consider an amendment of the Criminal
and other Offences Act, 1960, Act 29”.

Mr. Speaker, more than 10 years down the line, Parliament which is the
legislative arm of government is yet to take any major step in this
direction. But today, the 8th Parliament has an opportunity to change the
course of history in Ghana.

We have an opportunity to show that we are pro-life. We have an opportunity to show that we cannot condemn killing, and yet use killing as a mode of punishment. We have an opportunity to join Sierra Leon as shining examples in West Africa and the African Continent by completely removing death penalty from our statute books.

Mr. Speaker, I, therefore, call on all Members of Parliament, Stakeholders
and all Interest Groups to support the Private Member’s Bill I have
submitted on account of this statement so we can start the process of
abolition of death penalty from our statute books.

Respectfully, Mr. Speaker, I am most grateful for the opportunity to make
this statement.