Reparations for victims of human rights abuses
ACCRA, 17 October 2006 (IRIN) – The administration of President John Kufuor has begun paying reparations to about 2,000 Ghanaians who suffered human rights abuses under former governments. Individual payments, which began on Monday, range from about US $217 to US $3,300 depending on the extent of abuse or violation, according to the attorney general’s office.
The US $1.5 million in payments were recommended by the National Reconciliation Commission (NRC), which was formed five years ago to address human rights violations committed under various governments since Ghana gained independence from Britain in 1957. Most abuses, such as arbitrary imprisonment, confiscation of property, disappearances, executions and torture happened under military rule when Ghana had a reputation as one of the most coup-prone countries in West Africa. “The payments are by no means payment for human rights violations because money, like any other form of compensation, can never restore victims to the status quo ante,” said Attorney General and Justice Minister Joe Ghartey. “Besides, it is impossible to quantify in money’s worth, losses, as well as the physical, emotional, mental and psychological agony that victims and families have been through,” he said.
The commission’s hearings focused heavily on Jerry Rawlings and his Armed Forces Revolutionary Council (AFRC). Rawlings seized power in 1979, turned over control of Ghana to a civilian leader and then took over again in 1981 with the Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC). Under Rawlings, two former military leaders were tried and executed. Rawlings won presidential elections in 1992 and 1996. Kufuor was elected in the two subsequent presidential elections, presiding over a country whose new image is one of relative economic prosperity and stability in West Africa.
The government has published claimant forms in national newspapers as well as the names of the first 250 people who are to receive reparations to help facilitate the payment process, which is scheduled to end in December. A survey conducted by the Centre for Democratic Governance (CDD), a local think-tank dedicated to the promotion of good governance and democracy, revealed that some victims expected higher payments. “Victims are indexing their compensations to be equal to whatever they lost at current banking rates. So naturally, the highest payment of 30 million cedis ($3,300) does not in any way make up financially for a man who lost three cars, 2.5 million cedis and was jailed eight years in 1983,” said Daniel Armah-Attoh, CDD’s research programme officer.
However, according to Armah-Attoh, education and sensitisation are needed to address inflated expectations. “We have to let people know that we are not paying 100 percent for all the abuses and suffering that victims of human rights abuses went through. That is absolutely crucial,” he said. “Certainly, for the victims it has been a long and difficult wait. But now they can lay claim to something tangible that is symbolic of the fact that the state now recognises the pain and suffering that they endured in the past,” Armah-Attoh said.