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Amnesty International Urges Human Rights Improvement in Ghana

Amnesty International said it is pleased that Ghana's hard-fought, much-delayed election came off without violence.

As President John Atta-Mills begins the business of governing, Amnesty International wants him to make human rights a central focus of his new administration.

The group said Ghana has made considerable improvements in human rights during the past decade and hopes the Atta-Mills administration takes that progress to a new level by abolishing the death penalty.

While no one has been executed in Ghana since 1993, Amnesty International's West Africa Campaigner Lucy Freeman said parliament should repeal the death penalty entirely.

"We feel very strongly that despite no executions having taken place, it is very important for the death penalty to be abolished in law. If it remains on the statute books, for all the good intentions of not executing anybody, there is still the possibility that it could happen in the future," she said.

Amnesty International also wants the new parliament to enact legislation ensuring equal rights for men and women.

Freeman said last year's passage of Ghana's Domestic Violence Act was a positive first step toward reducing violence against women as it criminalized marital rape for the first time.

"Domestic violence and violence against women in all its forms is a massive problem in Ghana and around the world. We estimate one in three women experience domestic violence in Ghana. And important as it is to have the law in place, it is only one part of the solution," she said.

Freeman said police and justice officials must be properly trained in enforcing the new law and women must be aware of their rights.

The human rights group is also calling for President Atta-Mills to accelerate the Kufuor adminsitration's so-called "Justice for All" program meant to speed up the criminal justice system and ensure the right to bail and prompt trials for thousands of prisoners awaiting justice.

"It tends to be the poorer and more marginalized sections of society who are less able to, for example, get the services of a private lawyer or make sure their rights are protected," she said.

Freeman said President Atta-Mills can build on the enthusiasm surrounding his election.

"It is a very exciting time for Ghana. There is an immense amount of energy. There is an immense amount of excitement. And Ghana is rightly very proud of her achievements as a country. And part of that pride, we feel very strongly, needs to be pride about their human rights," said Freeman.

She said the pride that Ghanaians rightfully feel in again peacefully passing power from one democratically-elected government to another is an opportunity for President Atta-Mills to ensure continued progress on human rights.