This article was originally published in The Guardian, 26 July 2023.
Ghana has become the 29th country in Africa to abolish the death penalty in a move hailed by human rights activists.
The decision means that the 176 people currently on death row, including six women, are likely to have their sentences commuted to life imprisonment.
On Tuesday, Ghana’s parliament voted to amend the country’s criminal offences act, removing the use of capital punishment for crimes including murder, genocide, piracy and smuggling.
The death sentence can still be given for acts of high treason, and campaigners cautioned that the country’s constitution would have to change for a complete removal of the penalty.
Ghana has not carried out an execution since 1993, but courts have continued to hand down death sentences, including seven last year. The country’s president, Nana Akufo-Addo, needs to sign the bill into law before it comes into force.
Francis-Xavier Kojo Sosu, the Ghanian MP behind the bill, hailed the decision. “I have seen firsthand that the death penalty does not bring a sense of justice or closure to the families of crime victims, and neither does it deter offenders,” he told the Guardian.
“I have also seen that those sentenced to death tend to be vulnerable individuals from deprived backgrounds, who have often experienced deep personal trauma. It was my view that we as a nation were better than this. I introduced these bills because I wanted the courts to cease imposing an inhuman punishment.”
Ghana is the 124th country to abolish the death penalty; 41 other countries are considered to have de facto bans as they have not carried out an execution for more than 10 years. In 2022, death sentences were confirmed in 52 countries, four less than in 2021, according to Amnesty International.
At least 883 executions were recorded last year – a 53% rise since 2021. In the past five years, Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea and Zambia have abolished the death penalty.
Saul Lehrfreund, co-executive director of the London-based NGO The Death Penalty Project, which worked closely with Sosu in the run-up to the vote, said: “The decision to abolish the death penalty demonstrates Ghana’s commitment to upholding human rights and reflects the will of Ghanaians, as captured in public opinion research that showed that the majority of the public would accept abolition. This historic step places Ghana firmly within the worldwide trend to abolish the death penalty.”
Samira Daoud, Amnesty International’s west and central Africa director, said the vote was “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”.
She added: “Although a landmark decision, the total abolition of this draconian punishment would not be complete without revising the constitution, which still provides for high treason to be punishable by death.”