Ghana’s Commissioner for the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), Mr Joseph Whittal has lauded Crime Check Foundation (CCF) for its ongoing campaign for the decriminalization of vagrancy laws and the passage of the non-custodial sentencing bill into law.
According to him, for many decades, poor and vulnerable citizens have been jailed under vagrancy laws, and the current campaign against these laws is timely and consistent with the aspirations of the African Union (AU).
Mr. Whittal made these comments when CCF, led by its Executive Director, Mr Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng, paid a courtesy call on the Commission on Wednesday, 11th August, 2021. The visit formed part of the implementation of CCF’s ‘Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy’ project which is supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).
Stressing why decriminalizing vagrancy laws in Ghana was long overdue, Mr Whittal said “all previous Attorney-Generals CHRAJ has engaged have appreciated the need to have vagrancy laws removed from the statute books. But, it is important that we keep the pressure on so that the non-custodial sentencing bill is able to hit parliament on time with the justification, now, that the AU organs are very much involved. With the African Court Advisory Opinion against vagrancy laws on 4th December, 2021 in Arusha, Tanzania, the call for decriminalization of vagrancy laws is not just a Ghanaians situation, but, an African wide situation. So, Ghana should be part of the African movement to sanitize the social system that unintentionally, presently, but intentionally in the past, was targeted at the poor in society. So, your advocacy is spot on and CHRAJ is ready to support you”
For his part, the Executive Director of CCF, Mr Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng, the CCF-OSIWA ‘Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy’ project is informed by the fact that “many poor and vulnerable people are in prison, and the rights of these persons are often abused. The homeless, street hawkers, and truck pushers work in the sun, and have no place to sleep at night. These persons often break the laws, because someone who does not have a place to sleep will always break the law. They are then arrested and prosecuted under the laws”.
Commenting on the responsibility of the Metropolitan, Municipal and District Assemblies (MMDAs) towards these vulnerable groups, Mr. Kwarteng noted that “the MMDAs which are mandated to have social protection schemes for these persons are unable to support them due to lack of adequate funds or resources from the Government. As a result, they are unable to provide refuse bins, though management of solid and liquid waste is the responsibility of the Assemblies. The overall effect is that poor citizens break the laws by dumping refuse at unauthorized places, for instance. They are taken to court, fined and prosecuted when they are unable to pay the fines imposed by the courts” According to Mr Kwarteng, while CCF is not trying to promote deviant behavior, the Assemblies must endeavor to meet their social obligations towards the people, so that, poor and vulnerable citizens do not continue to fall foul of the law. This also means, the social protection system should be strengthened to support these people, because the prisons are full, and the assemblies do not have adequate resources to effectively manage solid and liquid waste”, he said.
He lamented that, while Ghana prides itself in human rights, the country does not have a non-custodial or alternative sentencing law for minor offences.” He therefore expressed optimism that the collaboration with justice sector institutions will result in the necessary change alliance for decriminalization of vagrancy laws and the passage of the non-custodial or alternative sentencing regime in Ghana.
About OSIWA: The Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA), established in 2000, is a grant-making and advocacy organization focused on equality, justice, democratic governance, human rights, and knowledge generation. It is part of the global network of Open Society Foundations spread across 37 countries around the world. He said the Assemblies outrageously fine these vagrants for committing petty offences.
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By: Cosmos Akorli