By doing this, we have gained a stronger understanding of how to incorporate an honest and progressive approach of human rights into the workshops and curriculum we will be creating with local media and journalism/communications students. ____________________________________________________________________________________
Firstly, we met with Programs Manager of the Human Rights Advocacy Centre Daniel Asare Korang. He described the work of the HRAC as having a three tier umbrella - focusing in research, advocacy and legal representation.
Within these categories Korang described key human rights violations which are most dominant in Ghanaian society. These included false imprisonment, domestic violence – including assault and defilement, estates dispute, police brutality and employment abuse. The rights of homosexuality and those with mental health conditions were also highlighted as key issues and initiatives in which the HRAC has been increasing their involvement.
Homosexuality and mental health are issues in which the HRAC believes people are not receiving equal rights. People living with mental health conditions are often ostracized in Ghana, and in the continent of Africa as a whole, and are not seen as victims of a mental condition. Often people suffering from mental health problems will be sent to what are called 'prayer camps' and although not always, are commonly reported as tortured or abused in an attempt to 'rid the demands' within them.
The issue of homosexuality within Ghana has proved to be controversial with many religious organizations and government officials opposed to the notion entirely. In Ghana, carnal sex is an illegal act and just last week Ghana's Western Region Minister Paul Evans Aidoo ordered all homosexuals to be arrested. Although numerous non-government organizations and human rights advocacy centres are not in support of this action, there were little who came public in support of homosexuality.
The HRAC is one of the few who has come public with their initiatives which support the rights of homosexuals and they are working closely with individuals who have publicly announced their sexual orientation. The goal is to build a solidarity network within the homosexual community in order to progress their rights and bring awareness and education to the public on the issues and concerns related to homosexuality. The HRAC says regardless of sexual orientation people deserve equal treatment.
Many people in Ghana believe same sex orientation is a choice and a sin in reference to the bible. Many also believe same sex partners, specifically men, are the leading cause of Ghana's aids rate, which sits at a prevalence rate of 1.7%, the lowest rate so far in West Africa, according to statistics from the Ghana Demographic and Health Survey (GDHS).
With these arguments and more, the issue is not culturally accepted and is strongly opposed by the public. The controversy and legal rights of homosexuality within Africa has received international media attention and continues to be a heated topic of debate.
For further information, read Ghana rights groups warn of anti-gay hate campaign by local reporter William Yaw Owusu and jhr trainer Paul Carlucci.
We paid a visit to Numo Blafo III, Public Relations Advisor of the Accra Metropolitan Assembly to gain an understanding of the process of decision making in Accra. In comparison to Canada, the AMA is equivalent to our city council.
Similar to Canada, the AMA is separated into departments, each with staff of specific expertise. When we asked of current projects and initiatives in Accra by the AMA we received word on a new bylaw in effect which states hawking is now deemed illegal and all hawkers, if caught, may be arrested and jailed.
Hawking is a form of street vending. Men and mainly women and children parade the streets carrying cargo of goods to sell balance on their head. They weave in and out of traffic in an attempt to catch commuters, especially during hours of high traffic when cars are unable to move for extended periods of time.
Blafo says this bylaw has been passed in an attempt to 'lower the rate of vehicle related accidents'. In the meeting Blafo said the number of people getting hit by traffic was high and continually on the rise and so the bylaw was created and passed. As the number of street hawkers is often extreme, we are unsure of the process of arrest but understand the AMA will have officers patrolling high traffic areas.
A greater issue, in my opinion, would be the alternative to income for this large group of people. The majority of hawkers live in and around the city of Accra and rely on the income from hawking to support themselves and their families. If the arrest of hawkers become strongly enforced, I struggle to see an economic alternative for many of these individuals and families especially with lack of access to higher levels of education and training.
In relation, the finances necessary for full implementation of this bylaw would be substantial. Police officers would deal with hawkers as opposed to more severe crimes and the justice system would have to accommodate the trials of hawkers before their sentences. The jails would then need to accommodate the number of hawkers arrested, which can be up to 90 days.
A related issue is the process of the justice system in Accra and throughout Ghana. Often, people will be charged with minor crimes and without money for bail, wait in jail cells until their trials. Because the current justice system is not able to tend to the trails at a fast rate, the accused are forced to wait months and sometimes years before their trial begins. When they receive their crime sentence they must pay in full, without taking into account the time of imprisoned while awaiting their trial, which is often months to years.
Although the bill was put in effect as of April 2011, it is not fully in practice and hawkers are evidently present on road sides throughout Accra. For further information, read Accra Mayor declares war on street Hawking.