Monday, November 7, 2016

Human Rights and Disability in Ghana

One of the main reasons I applied for the ICS scheme was because I wanted to see first-hand the application and reality of human rights in a different part of the world, poles apart from the UK. Being on the LIFE project in Sandema has enabled me to do just that, and in 6 weeks I have already learned a great deal about how human rights work in Ghana and can appreciate the challenges faced by those trying to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms, especially for persons living with disabilities.

Unlike the UK, Ghana has a written Constitution which was enacted in 1992. Its entire Chapter 5 is dedicated to “Fundamental Human Rights and Freedoms” and incorporates a wide array of human rights, including the right to life; the right to liberty and security; freedom from torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; the right to a fair trial; and freedom of speech, expression, assembly, thought, conscience, belief and religion. At a glance, Chapter 5 offers protection of an almost surprisingly comprehensive list of human rights but this is in fact more aspirational than the reality across the country. Something I have heard repeatedly during my time here in this respect is that “Ghana has many beautiful laws, they just do not work”.

Visiting the Office of the Commission
for Human Rights and Administrative
Justice, Sandema
Mr Francis, District Director at the Commission of Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) for Builsa North, was kind enough to take some time out to speak with myself and another volunteer in order to give us a broader understanding of the aims and activities of the Commission. After two attempts at meeting with him (third time lucky!) we finally succeeded and were invited to the District Assembly. CHRAJ was established in 1993 and its services to the public are free. Mr Francis explained that the main aim of the Commission is to ensure respect for human rights and to protect universal human rights and freedoms, especially those vested in the 1992 Constitution, including civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights. They oversee the administration of public institutions with regard to abuse of power, malfeasance and discrimination and also deal with any complaints of human rights abuses.
I have so far seen that one of the major issues in the promotion of human rights is lack of resources. Mr Francis explained that whilst CHRAJ is a government mandated institution, funding and staffing shortages mean that the department is unable to adequately fulfil its responsibility to educate the public on their human rights and conduct its own sensitisations on human rights related topics. They often have to rely on the help of NGOs and volunteers such as ourselves. Due to the difficulty in educating the public, awareness of the services CHRAJ provides remains limited. We invited CHRAJ to join us for a radio sensitisation on the topic of the Persons with Disability Act 2006 where Mr Akanbong, Chief Registrar at CHRAJ, spoke about how the government needs to do more to protect the rights of persons living with disabilities in Ghana. He highlighted the fact that even the Parliament is not accessible to people with physical disabilities and presidential candidate Ivor Greenstreet had to be carried into the building. I have learnt that radio sensitisations are a very common and successful way of raising awareness of various issues with limited resources, and reach a wide range of people within the community.

Radio sensitisation on the Persons with Disability Act 2006

In June 2016 Ghana was reviewed for the first time by the Human Rights Committee for its implementation of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights. One of the main issues which was discussed at NGO meetings prior to this review was abuses against people with disabilities, in particular psychosocial or mental disabilities. Whilst Ghana has made great strides in its protection of human rights, discrimination against persons living with disabilities continues to be a major issue. State support for persons living with disabilities remains minimal and there is still much work to be done.

Presbyterian Community Based Rehabilitation’s LIFE project continues to work hard to ensure that all persons with disabilities get the support that they need, and that their human rights are fully respected in all aspects of their lives. I feel very proud to be a part of the LIFE project and to be able to assist in the work that they do. Although progress is slow, I have learned to accept that this is the very nature of development work, and attitudes will not change overnight. Many people we have spoken to have complimented the work of ICS and say that they have noticed an improvement over the years. My hope is that perceptions of disability and attitudes towards persons living with disabilities continue to change and improve, and that equal enjoyment of human rights and fundamental freedoms becomes a tangible reality.

By Sam Hodgetts

1 comment:

  1. sounds fantastic , my nephew is about to join the project for 3 months, great for the family to learn something about it before we wave him off!