Ghana is to hold a referendum to amend provisions of the constitution that support death penalty as a form of punishment.
This follows a recommendation by the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC) and subsequent White Paper issued by the government for the abolition of death penalty.
Although the Attorney General’s Department is yet to settle on a definite date, the referendum is likely to be held after the December 7 polls.
The offences that attract death sentences in the country are murder, under Section 46 of the Criminal Offences Act, 1960 (Act 29), treason (Section 180), genocide (Section 49 A), and smuggling of gold and diamond (Section 317 A)
Also, Article 13 of the constitution permits the intentional taking of a life in execution of a sentence of the court in respect of an offence under the criminal laws of Ghana for which that person has been convicted.
Article 3(3) of the constitution also specifically imposes the death sentences for the offence of high treason.
Section 304 of Criminal and Other Offences Procedure Act prescribes that the sentence of death may be by hanging, lethal injection, electrocution, gas chamber, or any other method determined by the court.
The Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Mrs. Marietta Brew Appiah-Oppong, speaking at a ceremony, organised by the French Embassy and the Amnesty International to commemorate the World Day Against Death Penalty yesterday, said efforts were being made to amend the aforementioned laws.
She said following the recommendations by the CRC and the government’s White Paper, a bill had been developed to amend certain entrenched provisions in the constitution, including the provisions on death penalty.
“The bill was approved by Cabinet after which it was forwarded to Parliament and then to the Council of State from where it was sent back to my office. The bill is now awaiting gazette notification, after which the processes leading to a referendum would be set in motion,” she stated.
She explained, however, that despite the provisions in the country’s laws supporting death penalty, there had been a moratorium on that form of punishment since July 1993, when the last person was executed by firing squad.
“Notwithstanding this, the courts still impose the death sentence because it is mandatory to pass the death penalty for these offences under our law. The President under his prerogative of mercy granted by Article 72 of the constitution, sometimes, commutes some death sentences to life imprisonment,” she said.
Mrs. Appiah-Oppong indicated that in Ghana, death penalty could not be imposed on a child, pregnant woman or an insane person and added that as of July 2015, the number of prisoners on death row in the country was 129.
She said the country had international obligations to uphold the right to life under international instruments and protocols, Conventions against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, among other treaties.
According to the AG, even though the Supreme Court, in the case of Dexter Johnson v Republic (2011), in line with the 1992 Constitution and the Criminal Offences Act, supported the need for death penalty as a form of punishment, there was a need for that entrenched provision in the constitution to be amended through a referendum.
To amend that provision, she said 40 per cent of voters on the electoral register should participate in the referendum and added that the amendment needed the approval of more than 75 per cent of voters to be carried.
She therefore called on human rights activists to intensify their campaign and educate the public in order to garner support for the amendment.
The French Ambassador to Ghana, said the commitment of France in favour of the universal abolition of the death penalty was one of the priorities of its foreign policy on human rights.
“Universal abolition is also a priority of the external action of the European Union. Since 1998, the European Union has adopted guidelines on death penalty aimed to raise it in one of the main priorities in the field of human rights. Indeed, abolition of death penalty is a pre-condition for accession to the European Union,” he said.
He described death penalty as inefficient, unfair, and error-prone and should not be a decision of justice.
According to the French Ambassador, it had been proven that death penalty had no deterrent effect on crime and indicated that over 103 countries had abolished the death penalty.
By Yaw Kyei