Freedom in the World
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Ghana's National Reconciliation Commission began meeting in 2002 to investigate human rights abuses committed during the administration of former president Jerry Rawlings. The commission, which is modeled on South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission, was expected to receive hundreds of petitions. The complaints cannot lead to criminal prosecution, but they could lead to compensation. Authorities called Rawlings in for questioning briefly during the year after he publicly urged political opposition to the administration. Also in 2002, the government of President John Kufuor came under criticism for censoring the news media after ethnic violence broke out in the north.
Once a major slaving center and long known as the Gold Coast, the former British possession became black Africa's first colony to achieve independence. After the 1966 overthrow of its charismatic independence leader, Kwame Nkrumah, the country was wracked by a series of military coups for 15 years. Successive military and civilian governments vied with each other in both incompetence and mendacity.
In 1979, Flight Lieutenant Rawlings led a coup against the ruling military junta and, as promised, returned power to a civilian government after a purge of corrupt senior army officers. However, the new civilian administration did not live up to Rawlings's expectations. He seized power again in December 1981 and set up the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC). The radically socialist, populist, and brutally repressive PNDC junta banned political parties and free expression. Facing a crumbling economy, Rawlings, in the late 1980s, transformed Ghana into an early model for the structural adjustment programs urged by international lenders. A new constitution, adopted in April 1992, legalized political parties, and Rawlings was declared president after elections that were neither free nor fair.
Ghana's economy has suffered in recent years as the result of a fall in the world prices of cocoa and gold, which are among the country's main foreign exchange earners.
The December 1996 presidential and parliamentary elections under Ghana's 1992 constitution allowed Ghanaians their first opportunity since independence to choose their representatives in genuine elections. Jerry Rawlings's 5 percent reelection victory, which extended his 16-year rule, was assured by the former ruling party's extensive use of state media and patronage. Opposition disunity also contributed to Rawlings's win.
The 2000 presidential and parliamentary elections were hailed in Africa and abroad as a successful test of Ghana's democracy. The election was the first time in Ghana's history that one democratically elected president was succeeded by another democratically elected leader. The opposition, led by John Kufuor of the National Patriotic Party (NPP), alleged intimidation and other irregularities as the second round of voting in the presidential polls began, but those claims dissipated as the polling proceeded and Kufuor's looming victory became apparent. He won soundly with 57 percent of the vote in the second round of polling, compared with 43 percent for Vice President John Atta Mills.
The opposition also broke the stranglehold of the National Democratic Congress (NDC) on parliament; the NPP won 99 of the 200 seats available, compared with 92 for the NDC, which had previously held 133 seats. Smaller opposition parties and independents won the remainder of seats.
Ghanaian courts have acted with increased autonomy under the 1992 constitution, but are still occasionally subject to executive influence. Traditional courts often handle minor cases according to local customs that fail to meet constitutional standards. Scarce judicial resources compromise the judicial process, leading to long periods of pretrial detention under harsh conditions.
The right to peaceful assembly and association is constitutionally guaranteed, and permits are not required for meetings or demonstrations. Numerous nongovernmental organizations operate openly and freely.
The government has not interfered with the right of workers to associate in labor unions, but civil servants may not join unions. Arbitration is required before strikes are authorized. The Ghana Federation of Labor is intended to serve as an umbrella organization for several other labor unions.
Freedom of expression is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected. Fulfilling a campaign promise, the Kufuor government in 2001 repealed Ghana's criminal libel law and otherwise eased pressure on the press. The media, however, were required to submit stories on communal violence between the Abudu and Andani clans of the Dagomba ethnic group that broke out in the north in 2002 for approval by government censors. Officials said the measure was needed to stem the violence that claimed some 30 lives and led the government to declare a state of emergency in the area.
Religious freedom is respected, but there is occasional tension between Christians and Muslims and within the Muslim community itself. Communal and ethnic violence occasionally flares in Ghana, usually because of competition for resources or power.
Ghanaian women suffer societal discrimination that is particularly serious in rural areas, where opportunities for education and wage employment are limited, despite women's equal rights under the law. Women's enrollment in universities, however, is increasing. Domestic violence against women is said to be common, but often remains unreported. Legislation in 1998 doubled the prison sentence for rape. Efforts are under way to abolish the tro-kosi system of indefinite servitude to traditional priests in rural areas, and the practice of sending young girls to penal villages in the north after they are accused of practicing witchcraft.
Ghana has been coordinating with regional countries and the International Labor Organization to create a comprehensive plan to address the growing problem of child trafficking and child labor.