Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a strong presidency and a unicameral 275-seat parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted in December 2020 were generally peaceful, although there were isolated incidents of violence during the voting and vote count, resulting in as many as eight deaths, some by security forces. Domestic and international observers assessed the elections to be transparent, inclusive, and credible.
The Ghana Police Service, under the Ministry of the Interior, is responsible for maintaining law and order; however, the military, which reports to the Ministry of Defense, continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role, such as by protecting critical infrastructure and by enforcing measures to combat COVID-19. The National Intelligence Bureau handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists; substantial interference with freedom of assembly; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government took some steps to address corruption and human rights abuses by officials, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained a problem, however.
Section 1. Respect for the Integrity of the Person
c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
While the constitution and law prohibit such practices, there were credible reports police beat and otherwise abused detained suspects and other citizens. Victims were often reluctant to file formal complaints. Police generally denied allegations or claimed the level of force used was justified.
According to the Conduct in UN Field Missions online portal, there was one open allegation of sexual exploitation and abuse by the country’s peacekeepers deployed to the UN Mission in South Sudan: a 2018 case involving 12 peacekeepers’ alleged transactional sex with six adults. A UN investigation substantiated some of those allegations, leading the United Nations to repatriate the alleged offenders. As of December the United Nations awaited reporting from the government regarding what actions it has taken in response to the allegations the United Nations considered to be substantiated.
Impunity remained a significant problem in the Ghana Police Service, and the investigation and complaints processes did not effectively address reports of abuses and bribery.
Corruption, brutality, poor training, lack of oversight, and an overburdened judicial system contributed to impunity. Police often failed to respond to reports of abuses and, in many instances, did not act unless complainants paid for police transportation and other operating expenses. The Office of the Inspector General of Police and the Police Professional Standards Board investigated claims of excessive force by security force members.
Prison and Detention Center Conditions
Prison conditions were generally harsh and sometimes life threatening due to overcrowding, inadequate sanitary conditions, lack of medical care, physical abuse, and food shortages.
Physical Conditions: In September the Ghana Prisons Service reported prison overcrowding stood at 135 percent of capacity, with a prison population of 13,480 compared to a total prison capacity of 9,945 inmates, a 20 percent reduction in overcrowding from 2019. The Ghana Prisons Service held women separately from men. Although authorities sought to hold juveniles separately from adults, there were reports detainees younger than age 18 were held with adults. Authorities held pretrial detainees in the same facilities as convicts but generally in separate cells, although due to overcrowding in convict blocks, Nsawam Prison held some convicts in blocks designated for pretrial detainees. The nongovernmental organization (NGO)-led Justice for All program with the support of the government continued to expedite judicial review for many pretrial (remand) prisoners, including virtually, reducing their numbers significantly. Paralegals and civil society were heavily involved in the program.
While prisoners had access to potable water, food was inadequate. Meals routinely lacked fruit, vegetables, or meat, forcing prisoners to rely on charitable donations and their families to supplement their diet. The prisons public relations officer identified feeding of inmates as a key problem. The Ghana Prisons Service facilitated farming activities for inmates to supplement their feeding. Authorities did not provide pretrial detainees food or changes of clothes. If community or family members were not able to provide them, prisons officers paid with their own funds.
Officials held much of the prison population in aging buildings or abandoned public or military buildings, which despite improvements had poor ventilation and sanitation, substandard construction, and inadequate space and light. The Ghana Prisons Service periodically fumigated and disinfected prisons. There were not enough toilets available for the number of prisoners, with as many as 100 prisoners sharing one toilet, and toilets often overflowed with excrement. There were no facilities to support intersex or transitioning persons.
The Ghana Prisons Service avoided large outbreaks of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases by designating certain facilities for new prisoners, testing the prisoners upon arrival, and putting them in isolation or quarantine as appropriate. The Ghana Prisons Service also conducted regular health checks on prisoners and relied on donations of personal protective equipment. Medical assistants provided medical services, but they were overstretched and lacked basic equipment and medicine. At Nsawam Prison a medical officer operated the health clinic. All prison infirmaries had a severely limited supply of medicine. All prisons were supplied with malaria test kits. Prisons did not provide dental care. Doctors visited prisons when required, and prison officials referred prisoners to local hospitals to address conditions prison medical personnel could not treat on site, but the prisons often lacked ambulances to transport inmates off site properly. To facilitate treatment at local facilities, the Ghana Prisons Service continued to register inmates in the National Health Insurance Scheme. The Ankaful Disease Camp Prison held prisoners with the most serious contagious diseases. Religious organizations, charities, private businesses, and citizens often provided services and materials, such as medicine and food, to the prisons.
Although persons with disabilities reported receiving medicine for chronic ailments and having access to recreational facilities and vocational education, a study released in 2016 found that prison facilities disadvantaged persons with disabilities, since they faced problems accessing health care and recreational facilities. No prison staff specifically focused on mental health, and officials did not routinely identify or offer treatment or other support to prisoners with mental disabilities.
Administration: There was no prison ombudsperson or comparable independent authority to respond to complaints; rather, each prison designated an officer-in-charge to receive and investigate complaints. Authorities suspended access to visitors as a COVID-19 health measure, although visitors could still bring food.
Independent Monitoring: The government permitted independent monitoring of prison conditions by local nongovernmental organizations, which were independent of government influence. They monitored juvenile confinement and pretrial detention, bail, and recordkeeping procedures. Local news agencies also reported on prison conditions.
Improvements: The president pardoned 1,589 prisoners to mitigate the dangers to health caused by overcrowding, particularly the risks posed by the COVID-19 pandemic: 1,555 first-time offenders who had served half their sentences, 15 seriously ill prisoners, and 19 elderly prisoners.
As a COVID-19 mitigation strategy, the chief justice directed the judiciary to reduce sentences for a range of offenses to reduce the prison population. The chief justice also directed the justice sector to pursue alternatives to incarceration including fines and noncustodial punishment, especially for minor crimes.
d. Arbitrary Arrest or Detention
The constitution and law provide for protection against arbitrary arrest and detention, but the government frequently disregarded these protections.
Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees
The law requires detainees be brought before a court within 48 hours of arrest in the absence of a judicial warrant, but authorities frequently detained individuals without charge or a valid arrest warrant for periods longer than 48 hours. Officials detained some prisoners for indefinite periods by renewing warrants or simply allowing warrants to lapse while an investigation took place. The constitution grants a detained individual the right to be informed immediately, in a language the person understands, of the reasons for detention and of his or her right to a lawyer. Most detainees, however, could not afford a lawyer. While the constitution grants the right to legal aid, the government often did not provide it. The government has a Legal Aid Commission that provides defense attorneys to those in need, but the commission was often unable to do so. Defendants in criminal cases who could not afford a lawyer typically represented themselves. The law requires that any detainee not tried within a “reasonable time,” as determined by the court, must be released either unconditionally or subject to conditions necessary to compel the person’s appearance at a later court date. The definition of “reasonable time,” however, has never been legally determined or challenged in the courts. As a result, officials rarely observed this provision. The government sought to reduce the population of prisoners in pretrial detention by placing paralegals in some prisons to monitor and advise on the cases of pretrial detainees, and assist with the drafting of appeals, and by directing judges to visit prisons to review and take action on pretrial detainee cases.
The law provides for bail, including those accused of serious crimes, but courts often struggled to come to timely decisions concerning bail or used their unlimited discretion to set bail at prohibitively high levels.
Arbitrary Arrest: The general practice of holding detainees without proper warrant or charge continued (see Arrest Procedures and Treatment of Detainees). On May 20, police arrested 21 lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, or intersex (LGBTQI+) activists in the city of Ho on spurious unlawful assembly charges. Authorities released the activists on June 11, and dropped the case on August 5 (see section 6, Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity).
Pretrial Detention: Lengthy pretrial detention remained a serious problem. In September the Ghana Prisons Service indicated 1,595 prisoners, approximately 12 percent of all prisoners, were in pretrial status. The government kept prisoners in extended pretrial detention due to police failure to investigate or follow up on cases, case files lost when police prosecutors rotated to other duties every three years, slow trial proceedings marked by frequent adjournments, detainees’ inability to meet bail conditions that were often set extremely high even for minor offenses, and inadequate legal representation for criminal defendants. The length of pretrial detention exceeded the maximum sentence for the alleged crime in numerous instances.
Inadequate recordkeeping contributed to prisoners being held in egregiously excessive pretrial detention, a few for up to 10 years. Judicial authorities continued implementing a case tracking system on a trial basis in seven different regions. The system tracked cases from initial arrest to remand custody in the prisons, prosecution in the courts, and incarceration or dismissal. The system was envisioned to be used by all judicial and law enforcement participants, including police, public defenders, prosecutors, courts, prisons, the Legal Aid Commission, the Economic and Organized Crimes Office, and NGOs, with the intention of increasing transparency and accountability. Some commentators believed the tracking system could be used to press for release of remand prisoners held for lengthy periods.
Detainee’s Ability to Challenge Lawfulness of Detention before a Court: The law provides for the right of any person to challenge the lawfulness of his or her arrest or detention in court, but lack of legal representation for detainees inhibited this right.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There were some reports of police violence against LGBTQI+ persons. LGBTQI+ persons faced police harassment and extortion attempts (see also section 1.d, Arbitrary Arrest). There were reports police were reluctant to investigate claims of assault or violence against LGBTQI+ persons. Stigma, intimidation, and the perceived negative attitude of some police toward LGBTQI+ persons were factors in preventing survivors from reporting incidents of abuse. LGBTQI+ activists also reported widespread attempts to blackmail LGBTQI+ individuals, with prosecution difficult due to police inaction. LGBTQI+ persons in prison were vulnerable to sexual and other physical abuse, which authorities generally did not investigate.
Beatings and public humiliation of LGBTQI+ persons by community members were common and growing in number. The attacks were sometimes shared on social media in an effort to further humiliate and ostracize LGBTQI+ persons. There was a notable increase in anti-LGBTQI+ statements by political, religious, and community leaders, and media coverage of these statements.
The law criminalizes the act of “unnatural carnal knowledge,” which is defined as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.” The offense covers only persons engaged in same-sex male relationships and those in heterosexual relationships. There were no reports of adults prosecuted or convicted for consensual same-sex sexual conduct.
The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTQI+ persons faced widespread discrimination in education and employment.
Activists working to promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons noted great difficulty in engaging officials on LGBTQI+ problems because of social and political sensitivity. Media coverage regarding homosexuality and related topics was almost always negative.
On February 2, the local NGO LGBT+ Rights Ghana inaugurated its new office space in the Ashongman area of Accra. After anti-LGBTQI+ activists complained in local media concerning the existence of the center, on February 15, police raided the center and closed it. The center remained closed at year’s end.
On March 27, police arrested 22 persons in Kwahu-Obomeng, Eastern Region, for participating in an alleged lesbian wedding. Police arrived at a popular community location in response to reports that two women planned to be married. Police justified the arrests on the grounds the venue’s owner complained participants were violating COVID-19 protocols. Authorities released them due to lack of evidence.
On May 20, police arrested 21 LGBTQI+ activists attending a conference in the city of Ho, Volta Region. On an official Twitter account, police acknowledged making the arrests because the suspects were believed to be pro-LGBTQI+. Authorities charged the “Ho 21” with unlawful assembly, conspiracy to commit a crime, and acts of “unnatural carnal knowledge.” After multiple requests, on June 11, authorities released them on bail. On August 5, a court dropped all charges for lack of evidence, and ordered the return of the defendants’ confiscated property including laptops and smart phones.
The LGBTQI+ activists reported harassment and humiliation by police during their detention. They also reported their inability to return to their previous lives, since they were suspended from work and banned from their communities after their identities were broadcast by police.