Ghana’s election to Human Rights Council
Amidst the current doom and gloom confronting the nation -economically high inflation, imposition of International Monetary Fund (IMF) conditionalities, etc.- Ghana received a piece of good news; its election onto the Human Rights Council of the United Nations (UN).
This is super good news on all counts, and I expected the media (both broadcast and print) to go to town and celebrate, extolling the human rights’ credentials, following the achievement of such a momentous feat.
Alas, that has not happened yet.
Thus, I have decided to highlight the work of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) in this week’s article.
As prescribed in the United Nations Charter, one of the main goals of the organisation is the promotion and supervision of respect for human rights globally.
To this end, the UN has created various bodies to help in achieving these lofty goals.
One such body is the Human Rights Council, which is a creature born out of the UN General Assembly resolution 60/251.
The HRC has 47 members elected from existing members of the UN every three years by secret ballot.
Given that the UN is the closest mankind has come to having a global system which seeks to guarantee peace and security, including human rights, it has created the Human Rights Council dedicated solely to advancing, protecting and monitoring the global human rights situation.
The Human Rights Council (HRC) meets three times a year to review the human rights record of member states in a procedure referred to as the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).
This is designed to strengthen and promote the protection of human rights among the comity of nations.
As part of the review process, the HRC sometimes appoints a special rapporteur to monitor the human rights situation in a country, if there is evidence of gross violations of human rights, as happened in 2021 in Afghanistan.
Ghana was elected alongside Burundi, with both countries receiving 179 and 168 votes, respectively.
The election of Ghana was even sweeter after beating our perennial ‘foe’ Nigeria to it – they failed to get elected, having received only three votes.
Given that the election is based on the human rights record of countries who present themselves for election, the results go a long way in establishing the fact that countries voting at the UN General Assembly believe that Ghana stands tall in the observation and protection of human rights.
This undoubtedly gives the country some political clout, at least in the area of human rights.
It is against this backdrop that effort should be made to further enhance our reputation.
Obviously, there are several areas which need improvement.
However, for this article, I limit myself to the human rights situation in the criminal justice system.
To begin with, the gateway by which accused persons enter the criminal justice system is fraught with issues which border on the respect for their human rights.
Take arrest, for instance, where accused persons are not offered their constitutionally guaranteed human right of being adequately informed in a language which they understand of the reason for the arrest.
The accused persons’ woes are further compounded by not being allowed to contact family or friends to inform them of the police station where they have been taken.
This unfortunate situation leads to instances where arrested persons are kept in custody without their family and friends knowing where they are for them to visit and offer assistance.
Also, and even more crucial, is the issue of the arrested persons not being told to contact a lawyer of their choice for police questioning and interrogation.
This hallowed right to counsel (discussed in a previous article), guaranteed under the constitution and provided for in international human rights law, is denied most accused persons.
The government can score some Brownie points by establishing a duty solicitor scheme in all police stations.
As obtained in England, every police station is assigned independent lawyers, funded by the taxpayer, who are called when arrested persons are taken in for questioning.
This might not be feasible for all police stations in Ghana but at least it could be started in the national and regional capitals, which no doubt would further enhance the human rights record of Ghana.
Time and space will not allow me to go into other areas for now but let’s all say congratulations to Ghana on her election to the HRC.
The writer is a lawyer.