Crime Check Foundation (CCF), a crime prevention advocacy organization, on Thursday, paid a courtesy call on the Commissioner of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), in Accra.
The call was to engage the Commission to find ways both institutions could highlight issues that affected the rights of Ghanaians.
Mr Ibrahim Oppong Kwarteng, Executive Director, CCF, said the visit was also to inform the commission about its Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy (DVLA) Project being undertaken in collaboration with the Open Society Initiative for West Africa.
It was also informed on the ruling of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights on December 4, 2020, for African Countries to decriminalize vagrancy laws.
He said the project was aimed at creating an enabling environment for vagrants to know, claim and exercise their rights to end the criminalisation of poverty and homelessness in Ghana.
It is also to increase public awareness on vagrancy laws and their effects on vagrants, increase citizens capacity and oversight to monitor vagrancy laws and their effects on the poor and homeless, and institutionalise engagements and actions on effects of vagrancy laws in project districts.
Mr Kwarteng said there was the need to ensure that vagrancy laws were decriminalised as many people were being sent to prison because of their condition of homelessness.
“If we continued to do this as a country that prides itself as a beacon of democracy, championing human rights then the situation is worrying.”
He said criminalising vagrancy was tantamount to criminalising poverty, adding, “If we are ignoring our responsibility in providing social amenities to make life worth living for the people and at the end of the day people break the laws, and we send them to prison, then that is illegal.”
Mr Kwarteng said his team had already visited 12 Municipal and District Assemblies in Greater Accra, Central and Ashanti regions and held sensitisation workshops for opinion leaders, Assembly members and vagrants, which brought the illegality of the draconian bye-laws of the Assemblies to the fore.
“We are done with the sensitization and now visiting Justice Service institutions and human rights organisations to inform them about the ruling of the African Court and we will also engage Parliament as well.”
Mr Kwarteng said the Foundation was aware of CHRAJ’s commitment to seeking redress for people whose rights were violated and believed that adequate visibility would make their work easier and push the Government and civil society actors to work.
Mr Joseph Whittal, Commissioner CHRAJ, said the commission was also working closely with Justice support institutions and had impressed on the Attorney-General (AG) the need to mark out those offences that emanated from the colonial past.
He said there were backgrounds to some of those laws but what had eluded all was why such legislation remained in the statute books even after Ghana’s independence.
Mr Whittal noted that previous Attorney-Generals had all seen the need for such laws to be removed from the statute books, saying it was important to keep the pressure on, “so that the bill would hit Parliament in time”, with the justification now that the African Union organs were involved in the matter.
He said Ghana should be part of the African movement to replace laws seemingly targeted at the poor.
The CHRAJ Commissioner said the commission had consistently been working on the Non-Custodial Sentencing (NCS) bill, which was almost close to being put before Parliament but had to be recalled for amendment.
“In tandem with your project, we should be looking at how soon the NCS bill will become law because the two workings together would help reduced the number of people in our prisons.”
Mr Whittal noted that it was important to look at the rationale of such laws to ensure that victims were not blamed for the lack of a social protection system.
He commended the CCF for the project and assured that the Commission was ready to collaborate with the organisation to achieve its aim.
“Petty offences are not offences, because it is the society that has made the people who they are. So let us see how to build a better protective social protection system rather than using legal reengineering as a basis to keep poor people from being who they are.”