The Director for Public Prosecutions, Madam Yvonne Atakora Obuobisa has added her voice to growing calls for the removal of vagrancy laws, from Ghana’s statute books because they appear to criminalize certain actions of vagrants as opposed to specific criminal acts.
According to Mrs. Obuobisa, while the “underlying cause of vagrancy is poverty, the law does not look at this. All the law is interested in is, has the person committed an offence or not”.
She noted that the call for the removal or amendment of vagrancy laws has come up a couple of times, and her office will support the course. Mrs. Obuobisa said to appreciate the critical role of poverty in the conduct of vagrants, “one needs to visit the prisons and see how many prisoners from the ‘middle class’ are in custody as compared to vagrants who are poor and voiceless”.
Madam Obuobisa made these remarks when the Crime Check Foundation (CCF) paid a courtesy call on her at the Ministry of Justice and Attorney General’s Department in Accra, Wednesday, September 1, 2021.
The visit formed part of CCF’s strategy to mobilize support of key Justice Sector Institutions for the removal of ‘vagrancy laws’ from Ghana’s bye-laws and push for the passage of the Non-Custodial Sentencing bill in Ghana, as part of the implementation of the Foundation’s ‘Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws & Advocacy’ project which is supported by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA).
Mrs. Obuobisa lauded the intervention by CCF and OSIWA as “a step in the right direction because it is important we do something about the situation”. She stated further, that, another reason why she could not agree more with CCF is that, as a young attorney in the 1990s, she “saw many people sent to prison for using marijuana and other substances. She noted that, typically, after imprisoning about ten (10) people for these offences, you got demoralized because it was only the poor who were imprisoned while the real faces behind drug trafficking were hardly sentenced”, she stressed.
For his part, the Executive Director of CCF, Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng appealed to the State Prosecutor to use her influence to fast track the passage of the Non-Custodial Sentencing bill into law. He deplored the maltreatment of vagrants by Assembly authorities who eventually imprison these poor persons.
“I have come across certain individuals especially in my work in the prisons who have been imprisoned for vagrancy behavior and because of the absence of a Non-Custodial Sentencing law,(something we have been championing), petty offenders are sent to prison. Under normal circumstances, if we had a law we could have committed them to some sort of community service. We want to appeal to your esteem office to at least fast track its passage.” He said.
He added. “We realize that these people who are called ‘Abaye” who work with the MMDAs use clubs and sticks to maim vagrants and we think it is unacceptable. Some of these people are poor and it is against their fundamental human rights. Some of the assemblies have shirked their responsibilities and they are left off the hook. Landlords, for instance, do not construct toilets and when these poor people defecate indiscriminately they are prosecuted.” He lamented.
In order to expunge or amend vagrancy laws in Ghana, Madam Obuobisa urged CCF to continue with the ongoing awareness creation and advocacy on vagrancy laws to generate relevant data, as well as reduce violations, arrests, fines and imprisonments of the poor under the laws. She suggested that CCF as an organization with expertise in human rights and media advocacy should champion the advocacy for the removal of vagrancy laws and other obnoxious legislations that undermines human rights.
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.
Citizens’ Complaints: To report harassment and potential imprisonment under a local assembly bye-law, please contact or Whatsapp: 0559544199 / 0507353539.
By Cosmos Kwame Akorli and Rudolph Nandi