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Ghana Abolishes Capital Punishment  

FILE - People drive their car past the Ghana's Parliament during a welcome ceremony for a US congressional delegation in Accra, July 31, 2019.
FILE - People drive their car past the Ghana's Parliament during a welcome ceremony for a US congressional delegation in Accra, July 31, 2019.

Ghana’s parliament has voted to abolish the death penalty. The move comes three decades after the last death sentence was carried out in the West African nation. Rights group Amnesty International has hailed the Tuesday vote, describing it as a “landmark decision,” and urged President Nana Akufo-Addo to sign it into law.

Under current law, the death penalty in Ghana can be imposed after convictions for genocide, piracy, smuggling, murder or high treason. Under the 1960 Criminal and Other Offences Act, the punishment can be carried out by hanging or by firing squad.

However, the West African country has not executed anyone in 30 years, and this week, parliament approved a bill to eliminate capital punishment completely.

Francis-Xavier Sosu, the opposition MP who sponsored the bill, tells VOA the development is a milestone for Ghana’s democracy and called on President Akufo-Addo to commute the sentence of those on death row now to life imprisonment.

“This is a very good news for Ghana because it adds to our democratic credentials and adds to our human rights record as a nation, particularly when since 1993 we haven’t been able to use the death penalty as a means of punishing offending persons and people who were condemned to serve death sentences were only kept in the condemned cells. So, I think it’s a win for Ghana,” he said.

Since 1977, Amnesty International has been campaigning for the global abolition of the death penalty. Reacting to news that Ghana’s parliament voted to abolish the practice, the international rights group issued a statement saying, “it is a victory for all those who have tirelessly campaigned to consign this cruel punishment to history and strengthen the protection of the right to life.”

However, not everyone in Ghana welcomes the lawmakers’ decision. Harry Agbanu, a religious lecturer at the University of Ghana, said the abolition of the capital punishment will be an incentive for people to take the law into their hands.

“The floodgate has been opened for violent, criminal activities by some members of society, and that is unfortunate. I’m praying that the opportunity is not being created for people to take the law into their own hands by engaging in mob action. There has not been any sound argument in favor of the abolishment of the death penalty,” he said.

For his part, Alexander Afenyo-Markin, a lawyer and a governing New Patriotic Party MP, said the decision is not meant to embolden criminals but rather to uphold more humane ways of dealing with criminals.

“This is not to say that those who have taken it upon themselves to take the lives of others are being encouraged to do so. God gives us life and under no circumstances should a person’s life be taken nearly [merely?] because of commission of such an offense. In its place we have introduced a life imprisonment,” he said.

The total number of people facing the death penalty in Ghana at the moment stands at 176, including six women, according to prison authority’s records.

President Akufo-Addo is expected to assent to the bill in the coming weeks, administration sources say. Ghana now joins a league of 29 out of 55 African countries that have abolished the death penalty.