UN: Ghana's prisons "inhuman, cruel"
15 November 2013, 14:40
Accra - Squalid conditions, poor food and overcrowding in
Ghana's prisons amount to "cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment", a
UN special representative said on Thursday.
The comments by Juan Mendez, the United Nations Special
Rapporteur on torture, came in the wake of a Human Rights Watch report released
last year that criticised mental health care in Ghana for its reliance on
forced confinement in harsh conditions.
During his six-day trip, Mendez visited prisons, mental
hospitals and "prayer camps" around the country of 25 million.
"The overcrowding in some of the places that we visited
is particularly severe," said Mendez, an Argentinian human rights lawyer
who himself was subjected to torture in his own country during the 1970s.
"If there is inadequate food, if there is inadequate
medical treatment, if there are unsanitary conditions, those are by definition
cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment" and in violation of the UN
Convention Against Torture, which Ghana has ratified, he added.
According to government figures, Ghana's prisons were hugely
overcrowded, but Mendez believes the number may be higher.
Mendez, known for his work on behalf of political prisoners,
said he noticed a reliance by prison authorities on a system where inmates
known as "black coats" were singled out to whip other alleged
stubborn colleagues with canes.
"We were dismayed to see that they have canes...we
didn't actually see any discipline, but we did see them brandishing their canes
and threatening any inmates."
Ghana’s international reputation
Mendez also criticised the quality of mental health care in
Ghana, both at hospitals and in spiritual healing centres known as "prayer
He said a psychiatric hospital in capital Accra did not have
enough drugs to treat patients and was improperly using controversial
"It is not used as a last resort, it is not clear that
it is used with clear and informed consent of the patient, and it is used with
insufficient anaesthetic," Mendez said.
At "prayer camps" located in rural areas of Ghana,
he said people were shackled to trees or inside rooms, findings that aligned
with last year's HRW report.
He plans to release a report in February outlining his
findings in the west African nation.
Although his report which will make recommendations that are
non-binding, it could harm Ghana's international reputation.
Ghana is the world's second-largest producer of cocoa and
Africa's second-largest producer of gold.