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Vote to remove death penalty ‘victory for the nation’

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Picture: Luc Gnago/REUTERS/January 7, 2017 – Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo speaks during his swearing-in ceremony at Independence Square in Accra, Ghana. Akufo-Addo, who has publicly expressed support for abolishing the death penalty, will need to sign into law the bill to amend the Criminal Offences Act, substituting the death penalty for life imprisonment in crimes such as murder and piracy.

By Adela Suliman

Legislators in Ghana voted to remove the death penalty from the country’s criminal laws this week, hailing the move as a victory for the West African nation. Most of Ghana’s parliament voted on Tuesday to pass a bill to amend the Criminal Offences Act, substituting the punishment – generally implemented by hanging or firing squad – for life imprisonment in crimes such as murder and piracy.

“Today the parliament of Ghana has made the country proud,” the deputy majority leader of parliament, Alexander Kwamina Afenyo-Markin, told the state-owned Ghana News Agency after the bill was passed. “The death penalty is no more a punishment in our statutes books,” he added, noting that the decision put Ghana in line with the “international human rights position”.

Some 170 nations have abolished or introduced a moratorium on the death penalty, the United Nations says, but it remains legal in more than 50 countries, including the US, China, Saudi Arabia and North Korea. Ghana is the 29th African nation to abolish the punishment, following in the footsteps of Chad, Burkina Faso, Equatorial Guinea and Zambia, among others.

The private members’ bill was introduced by legislator Francis-Xavier Kojo Sosu, who represents the Madina constituency, a suburb of the capital, Accra, in the country’s south. He told Reuters that the parliament’s decision was in line with opinion polls in the country. “On death row, prisoners woke up thinking this could be their last day on Earth. They were like the living dead: psychologically, they had ceased to be humans,” he said in a separate statement.

“Abolishing the death penalty shows that we are determined as a society not to be inhumane, uncivil, closed, retrogressive and dark … and reflects our common belief that the sanctity of life is inviolable.” Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, who has publicly expressed support for abolishing the death penalty, will need to sign the law before it comes into effect.

Human rights group Amnesty International hailed the vote as a “landmark” decision. “Today’s parliamentary vote is a major step by Ghana towards the abolition of the death penalty,” Samira Daoud, Amnesty’s West and Central Africa director, said in a statement. “It is also a victory for all those who have tirelessly campaigned to consign this cruel punishment to history and strengthen the protection of the right to life.”

However, Daoud noted that Ghana’s constitution allowed for the death penalty in cases of high treason and called for the constitution to be revised as well. The Death Penalty Project, a UK non-profit, said it had worked closely with Ghanaian legislators and interest groups to ban the penalty for all ordinary crimes. It also worked on a similar campaign in Sierra Leone in 2021.

“Today’s vote for abolition is historic and places Ghana squarely within the worldwide trend,” Saul Lehrfreund, its co-executive director, said. As of Monday, Ghana had 172 men and six women on death row, according to its national prisons service, among its total prison population of just over 15,000. However, no executions have been carried out in the country since 1993.

Last year, Amnesty recorded 883 executions in 20 countries, a more than 50 percent increase from the year before, it said. The figure did not include China, where more than 1, 000 executions are thought to have occurred. The group said it had recorded at least 576 in Iran, followed by Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the US, where 18 executions occurred in 2022.

In the US, the number of executions, death sentences and public support for capital punishment continued a decade-long decline last year, according to a 2022 report from the non-profit Death Penalty Information Centre, which tracks data on capital punishment. However, botched executions remain a concern, with 35 percent of all executions improperly carried out by personnel, the report said.

This article was first published in The Washington Post.