Caleb Ahinakwah: Of extrajudicial killings and right to truth and justice


The recent cases of extrajudicial executions necessitate a thorough examination of the criminal justice system’s administration of punishment.

Apart from the use of state apparatus to execute perceived adversaries and suspected criminals, the public has also been subjected to self-defence killings.

First, let’s see what extrajudicial killing is. It is the killing of a person (s) by governmental authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or due legal process.

Two policemen suspected to have been involved in bullion van robberies were gunned down and rushed to the police station where they passed on during a crossfire with the Police at Borteyman in the Tema West Municipality of the Greater Accra Region.

Following public outcry over how the two police officers, who had been arrested and were in police custody as part of investigations into recent bullion van robberies, were killed, it was revealed that they were in the company of the Police and were leading them to the suspected criminal gang’s hideout.

Still doesn’t do so much for the clarification.

How do you have a shootout in Tema West and rush injured suspects to the Police Hospital in Cantonments?

If indeed it was an intelligence-led raid, suffice to say the Police knew the hideout of these criminal; hence, no need to go out into the field with the already arrested police suspects. Doesn’t sound intelligent to me. No?

There have been other troubling doubts raised regarding the police story, and in the absence of convincing explanations, there are reasons to suspect it was a case of extrajudicial killing.

The motive? Last year, a Police officer from the National Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) squad, Constable Emmanuel Osei, was shot while accompanying a bullion truck at Adedenkpo near James Town in Accra.

Last month, armed bandits attacked a protected bullion truck in the North Industrial Area. These attacks in the area resulted in the death of one woman and the injury of several others.

I reckon that the killing of these two Police officers is a result of losing these victims, particularly their colleague officer, Constable Emmanuel Osei, whose demise generated a national conversation and brought so much agony in the lives of his family and friends.

The alarming part is that a sizable number of people support quick justice.

Most of these folks argue that our court system is exasperating since it is slow and the chances of the accused being acquitted are high.

The Police account of the death of these officers is disturbingly similar to ones that occurred in other parts of the country.

These executions have been used in several countries by the Police and armed forces for decades, both during conflicts and insurgencies, as well as in “regular” situations.

In Ghana, it goes way back to the early years of PNDC rule.

They are, however, increasingly familiar in India at large.

It is not justice to execute individuals without a trial. It’s also bad for the cause of justice. It reduces the incentive for state elements to follow the law. Why go to all the trouble of detecting, investigating, interrogating, and forensics if we can just round up a few guys and shoot them?

An International Human rights non-governmental organisation, Amnesty International, described these executions as worrying following an analysis that the scourge is increasing and going unchecked here in Ghana.

“We are still confronted with several human rights issues including, extrajudicial killings. Over the years we have expressed many concerns over the increasing rate of extrajudicial killings in the country,” the Director of Amnesty International Ghana, Frank Doyi, emphasised.

The trend

A foreign policy and security analyst, Adib Saani, took me back in time to extrajudicial killings.

The shootings on July 7, 2018, for instance, sparked indignation and resentment in Kumasi’s Zongo villages, with neighbours claiming the seven were innocent even after a seven-member committee confirmed the same.

To date, what has become of the officers who killed these innocent civilians, no one knows.

A total of eight lives, including three minors were lost during 2020 Presidential and Parliamentary elections.

No one has been held to account yet.

Mr Saani also alleges that at the heart of the Kusasi-Mamprusi conflict in Bawku, several witnesses have catalogued reports of extrajudicial killings not just by the police but by the military too.

Could it be that no one has been held accountable because it is a conflict hotspot?

A criminologist at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology (KNUST), Dr Jones Opoku Ware, also argues that intelligence-led operations spearheaded by the Police should rarely lead to shootouts.

He explains that these sting operations should usually reek of surprise and less violence and deaths, contrary to the latest report given by the police.

“Not every robber is violent, we must be able to differentiate between intelligence-led operations that result in people being busted and subjected to the law court and also to the judicial process than saying every operation should lead to a shootout,” Dr Opoku Ware noted.

“Lately, you will hear about officers going on raids involving shootouts leading to the death of robbers. Always, that’s what we hear but have audited what happened and lead to the deaths?” Adib Saani added.

The Law

Many people consider these atrocities to be an affront to civilisation.

Article 15 of the constitutions states:

“No person shall, whether or not he is arrested, restricted or detained, be subjected to – (a) torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; (b) any other condition that detracts or is likely to detract from his dignity and worth as a human being. (3) A person who has not been convicted of a criminal offence shall not be treated as a convicted person and shall be kept separately from convicted persons.”

The only permissible limitations on the right to life are contained in section 13 (2) of the Constitution, which provides that;

“(1) No person shall be deprived of his life intentionally except in the exercise of the execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence under the laws of Ghana of which he has been convicted.

“(2) A person shall not be held to have deprived another person of his life in contravention of Clause (1) of this Article if that other person dies as the result of a lawful act, of war or if that other person dies as the result of the use of force to such an extent as is reasonably justifiable in the particular circumstances –

“(a) for the defence of any person from violence or for the defence of property; or

“(b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or,

“(c) for the purposes of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny; or (d) in order to prevent the commission of a crime by that person.”

The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) charter also provides for it to investigate alleged violations of human rights and act to remedy proven violations.

The Elephant in the room

In many countries, the astronomic rise in unemployment among the teeming youth has also resulted in a similar rise in crime rates, with the rise in thuggery, banditry and other forms of violent crime such as armed robbery have become the norm.

Ghana is no exception to the general rule that crime rates rise and fall in tandem with unemployment.

Although it appears people’s desire for vengeance are mostly to blame for extrajudicial executions or jungle justice, is it possible to absolve people of criminal responsibility for this heinous act? The answer will undoubtedly be ‘NO’ but the goal of criminal justice and the concept of punishment must be evaluated in order to assess the level of people’s fault.

The solution

While we all hope for a rapid halt to the killings, I am not optimistic in the short term.

However, I am optimistic that this cycle of violence can be broken via concerted efforts by the government, civil society leaders, as well as international partners.

“We have had a cause to advocate for the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice because it has offices all over the country and so if it properly resourced, we believe CHRAJ will enforce the existing human rights laws for the states to make sure it protects and fulfilling the rights of all citizens,” Frank Doyi, the Director of Amnesty International Ghana proposed.

On the need for education, Frank Doyi believes an all-inclusive indoctrination dealing with all or nearly all elements of human rights without a hitch reduce the growing canker.

A criminal justice system that effectively safeguards citizens’ rights is the bedrock of every just and democratic society. A criminal justice system that strictly adheres to the rule of law will almost certainly halt the surge of extrajudicial executions and establish its legitimacy.

I realised an effective criminal justice system will result in fewer people awaiting trial, less congestion in prisons, a more efficient prosecuting system, and better protection of human rights in diverse countries.

Extrajudicial killings, in my opinion, will be a thing of the past.

The writer is a broadcast journalist

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