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Ghana Distributes Reparations for Rights Abuse Victims

  • Efam Dovi

In Ghana, President John Kufuor's government is paying reparation to about 2,000 Ghanaians who suffered human rights abuses under former governments. The West African nation, now perceived as a leading democracy in Africa, has had turbulent political periods spanning five military regimes since independence from Britain in 1957.

Payments to individuals began Monday and ranged from about $217 to $3,300, depending on the extent of abuse or violation.

The $1.5 million in payments were recommended by the nine-member National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), which was formed five years ago to address human rights violations committed under various governments since Ghana gained independence from Britain in 1957.

The commission collected more than 4,000 statements from victims and witnesses. They held more than 2,000 public hearings, recording stories of executions, disappearances, torture, arbitrary imprisonment, and confiscation of property.

Richard Effah is one of the victims. In 1979, during the first of two military coups by former president Jerry John Rawlings, he was beaten up by a group of armed soldiers. He still has scars from the beating on his ribs and arms, but he says telling his story to the commission has helped heal his psychological wounds.

"As I went to the commission and talk my problem, all that have happened to me, now I am feeling better because, formally we went to the police station, we did not get anything, the time the case happened," he said. "We drive, go up and down we could not see anything, until this government came in and said we should come and confess. Now I'm okay, I do not want to continue with the pain again because the government has come in to intervene to settle the case."

Ghana's Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Joe Ghartey, says the process of healing is important.

"The fundamental principle is that you can never pay somebody enough for human rights abuse, you can never do that, and so it is reparation, it is some form of a token payment, a token payment from the people of Ghana, to the people who suffered abuse, so it is not a lot of money," he said.

Ghartey said, by choosing the path of reconciliation over revenge, Ghana is purging itself of the evils of the past.

"I think we have come out of this as a much stronger country," he said. "What you do with your history is important. Your history can divide you and keep you at each other's throats for the rest of your life or your history can unite you. I think what this has done is that we are all united now and we do not want it to happen again."

Besides monetary compensation, assets unlawfully confiscated to the state are being returned to their owners, and the president is expected to offer a formal apology on behalf of the people and government of Ghana.

The commission's work covered the period between independence in 1957 and January 1993, when democratic rule was restored in Ghana.

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