UN Human Rights Committee Questions Ghana on Privacy, RTI, Press Freedom Violations

The government of Ghana has been asked by the UN Human Rights Committee (UNHRC), to provide information on key human rights concerns in the country. Notable among the list of issues the Ghanaian government is expected to respond to are, concerns about  privacy breaches, the status of the Right to Information (RTI) legislation and matters relating to press freedom violations.

The UNHRC is a body of experts mandated to oversee compliance with provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) among states parties.  Ghana signed and ratified the ICCPR in 2000 and thus, committed to adhere to the provisions of the Covenant.

The UNHRC published its list of issues on Ghana on December 4, 2015, titled: “List of issues in relation to Ghana’s initial report” after Ghana had submitted its first country report to the Committee in 2014. The UNHRC report requests Ghana to respond to or provide information on a total of 26 human rights concerns, which relate to Ghana’s obligations under the ICCPR.

On Ghana’s obligations under Right to Privacy and Family Life, which is provided for under Article 17 of the ICCPR,   the UNHRC has asked Ghana to “provide information about the legal safeguards in place against arbitrary interference with the privacy, home and correspondence of individuals, and their observance in practice.” Still under the issue of privacy, the Committee has asked Ghana to “respond to reports of increased use of practice of secret tape recordings of prominent Ghanaian politicians.”

The concerns raised by the UNHRC comes at a time when the Ghanaian government is seeking to pass a new law (Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunication Bill) that will grant authorities more powers and latitude for mass surveillance and interception of private communications.

The Bill, which is currently before parliament, has been widely criticised by civil society groups, journalists, respected lawyers and former government officials.

For example, former Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Martin Amidu, has, in a 12-page memorandum to Parliament, argued that sections of the pending Bill do not comply with certain provisions of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution that relate to privacy rights.

“The examination and analysis of the memorandum to or accompanying the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunication Messages Bill, 2015 shows that it did not comply with Article 106 (2) of the Constitution to warrant its introduction in Parliament,” Mr. Amidu who is also a former Minister of Interior, argued in his memorandum to parliament.

“The examination and analysis of selected provisions of the Bill have also demonstrated that some of them suffer from unconstitutionality, inconsistency with existing law, or the need to be harmonized with the existing law to achieve the objects of Article 106(2) of the Constitution in addressing defects in the existing law and providing remedies to those defects in the Bill,” said the respected former Attorney General.

Under freedom of opinion and expression, the Human Rights Committee has asked Ghana to “respond to reports that journalists are subjected to physical attacks and threats by security forces and individuals, as well as arrests and detention, and report on measures taken to protect journalists and bring perpetrators of such acts to justice.”

The report also seeks answers from the Ghanaian government on right to information. It urges the government to “provide information on the status of the Right to Information Bill and its compliance with the Covenant.”

Civil society groups in Ghana have been advocating for passage of RTI legislation for the last 13 years. So far in West Africa, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire, Niger, Guinea, Burkina Faso have all passed RTI laws making it possible for citizens in those countries to legally seek information from public entities.

“It is our hope that the government of Ghana will reflect on the issues raised by the UN Committee and allow for broader consultation on the Interception of Postal Packets and Telecommunication Messages Bill before it considers pushing it for passage by parliament,” said Sulemana Braimah, Executive Director of the MFWA.

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