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As if we weren’t human: Tracking unsolved police, military brutalities

“Is there any justice in this country? A policeman shot my husband and we have been appealing to the Ghana Police Service to investigate and all we get is silence,” a distressed Deborah Adjeley cries out. As tears run down her cheeks, her husband Elias Ojoojo Adjetey Anum, who is now paralysed as a result of the shooting, also bursts into tears. The two are inconsolable.  
This is not the first time I have interviewed the couple. It is my fourth time. On the first two occasions, they were optimistic a media spotlight would coerce the police to investigate the shooting that left Elias incapacitated. But their hope has gradually ebbed out. The Public Relations Directorate of the Ghana Police Service has been mute about the case.

“Why are they quiet? Maybe they think we would forget, but we cannot just forget,” Deborah says. Elias who cannot speak clearly, snuffles and manages to say “I give it to God. God will give me justice”.

Elias Ojoojo Adjetey Anum, a resident of Abokobi Akpoman nearly died on May 25, 2018. He survived a gunshot to his head. Pictures taken after the incident showed gaping holes on both sides of his head. Narrating what happened, his wife Deborah said Elias heard some disturbance close to their home in Akpoman in Abokobi and went out to investigate. Her husband, she said, discovered that the police had arrested one of Elias’ relatives, so he tried to plead with them.  

“I heard loud screams so I rushed there to find out what was happening. I saw a bullet hole in my husband’s head so I tied his head with a cloth and rushed him to the hospital, “she said.

The bullet penetrated the right side of Elias’ head and exited through the left. After months of therapy, Elias is still paralysed from the waist down and cannot speak clearly. But he says he has not forgotten the faces of the police officers who came to Abokobi that fateful day. “I can identify them if they parade them before me,” he maintains.

“If they wanted to shoot him, why not shoot him in the leg?  Why the head” Deborah queries. Deborah added that personnel of the Ghana Police Service visited them on two occasions to interview them, assuring them that they would get to the bottom of the case- unfortunately, the case is yet to be concluded.

Elias’ family and opinion leaders in the community say they reported the case to the police, but so far, nothing has been done about it. It has been almost 2 years since the incident happened and the continuing silence on the part of the Ghana Police Service is eroding the public’s confidence in the institution tasked with protecting it. 

Joy News sent emails to the Ghana Police Service requesting an interview about the incident but they are yet to respond. Unresolved Nalerigu rape cases. Ten years after a joint police /military team allegedly raped four girls in Nalerigu, a small town in the Northern region of Ghana, the Ghana Police Service is yet to conclude its investigations into the matter. The news of the alleged rape made national headlines in November 2009 but the smouldering case quickly died down and appears to have been totally forgotten. 

This is a brief background to the story. In November 2001, a local politician, Moses Alando Banaba, was murdered, creating a lot of tension in the community. To maintain the peace, the government declared a curfew but a house was set on fire and a team of policemen and soldiers were called to intervene and calm the growing agitation. Residents recounted that the police and military personnel unleashed terror on them. Four girls were allegedly raped and the men were reportedly abused physically.

The police resolved to get to the bottom of the issue and collected semen samples for DNA tests. Several years on, the semen samples cannot be traced, the case files are missing and the victims have been left broken and traumatised.

Unfortunately, instead of receiving counselling and support, the victims of the rape were stigmatised. As a result, three of the girls were forced to move out of the community and have never returned. Nine years after the incident I tracked down one of the victims, Asana (not her real name). She is now married to her childhood sweetheart—one of the few people who stood by her in spite of the stigma—and they now live in Nalerigu.

Asana said “when people laughed and teased me that I was raped by a policeman, he stood by me and never left. He married me”.

Narrating the incident, Asana says “the police entered our rooms. I was 17 by then. They started beating young children and sacked them out of the room. They put the gun on me. I was terrified. They started raping me in turns. Then put the gun in my mouth, threatening, they would shoot me if I screamed. After raping me they started beating me. Then one inserted his fist into my vagina”.

As she narrates her story, Asana lowers her head as the agonizing memory she had tucked away for years flood her mind. Asana tells stories of how all of the victims were taken to the hospital and semen samples collected for DNA analysis to see if they matched those of the security personnel dispatched to Nalerigu.

“They interviewed me, photographed me and collected the semen deposited in me but that was the end. Since then no one ever came to update us on what happened,” she adds.

When the investigator contacted the Ghana Police Service for an official response, they refused to go on record but stated that they could not find the case docket.

The case was reported to the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), which is Ghana’s constitutional human rights ombudsman, but the case was not resolved. The East Mamprusi director of CHRAJ, Salifu Sule Soya, recollects the case when the investigator mentions it to him and says he sent the report to the Regional CHRAJ office in Tamale. 

“I remember that case very much because I live in Nalerigu. It was a very sad case. I followed up the case and interviewed the victims and sent my report to Tamale. That is all I can say,” he says. 

When Joynews contacted the national office of CHRAJ, the Commissioner Joseph Whittal, said because of the criminal nature of the case it was handed over to the Ghana Police Service for investigations.

“The case has a human rights component but it was largely a criminal case so we handed it over to the police. I was not the Commissioner by then,” he says.

The rape case against the police and military personnel was handed over to the police institution to investigate and it was somehow swept under the carpet.  However, it is indelible in the minds of the victims. For more than 10 years, perpetrators of that dreadful act are walking free. Asana’s case mirrors many cases of rape in Ghana that are never resolved and/or investigated.

From the interviews and facts gathered, it is obvious that the human rights of the victims were violated. Guns inserted in the mouths of victims while security officers took turns to rape them is deeply troubling. The victims were treated in an undignified, inhumane, cruel and degrading manner. What is more troubling is the fact that the Ghana Police Service did not see the case through to the end. 

CHRAJ also failed miserably to follow up on the case and insists it reached its logical conclusion. It is not the best practice for the Ghana Police Service to investigate human rights violations brought against its own personnel. Although the Ghana Police has a professional unit to investigate the excesses of its personnel, there have been several calls from human rights campaigners including the CHRAJ commissioner Joseph Whittal for an independent investigations body to take over the case.

Ghana is a signatory to the Maputo protocol and must endeavour to pay attention to Article 3(4) of the protocol which calls on state parties to “adopt and implement measures to ensure the protection of every woman’s right to respect for her dignity and protection of women from all forms of violence, particularly sexual and verbal violence”. This story back calls for an independent police complaints body to delve into human rights abuses brought against police and military personnel. 

If these cases are not dealt with, then it tells negatively on the value the State places on human lives. Failure to act appropriately entrenches impunity.

A ray of justice

On December 3, 2019, the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ), released a decision that ordered three military officials to give 30,000 cedis each to 4 boys they assaulted in Sunyani. CHRAJ found the military men guilty of brutalising and torturing the boys who were alleged to have stolen a laptop computer. This decision warmed the hearts of the boys and their parents. Beatrice Adutwumwaa, a mother of one of the boys, said she was happy CHRAJ finally awarded them compensation. 

This story of torture and brutality dates back to June 24, 2018, when 4 children in Sunyani were dragged to the Liberation Military Barracks for allegedly stealing a laptop computer. According to the children, although they insisted they were innocent, some military officials brutalized and coerced them to confess to a crime they did not commit. Kwesi, (not his real name), gets emotional recollecting the treatment meted out to him.

He recounts that at 3 am on that fateful day, he and the other boys were dragged on the floor and marched to the military barracks. “They beat us with sticks, fan belts. The military men said we should confess else they will harm us. We were forced to lie face down and they kicked our heads with their boots”. Kwesi recounts amidst sobs. He adds that although it rained that dawn, they were forced to lie in the mud while the military officials continued beating them.

A year after the assault the health of the boys deteriorated. One of the boy’s had blood oozing from his nose. His mother who is a single parent had to foot the expensive medical bills for his treatment. The assault gravely affected one of the boys so much that he could not attend school for several months making it impossible for him to write the Basic Education Certificate Examinations (BECE).  
In the CHRAJ ruling, the military was ordered to rehabilitate the boys till they fully recovered. CHRAJ further instructed the Ghana Armed Forces to arraign the soldiers before a military trial for the harm they caused the boys.

CHRAJ in its ruling found that the said soldiers did not act within the confines of the law adding, they breached both national and international instruments that condemn torture.  The ruling stated that the victims were treated in an undignified and inhumane manner. Article 15 of the 1992 constitution states that:

1. The dignity of all persons shall be inviolable
2. No person shall whether or not he is arrested, restricted or retained be subjected to
(a) Torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.
(b)  Any other condition that detracts or is likely to detract from his dignity and worth as a human being.  

Clearly, the military men did not respect the rights of the children. 

The Commissioner of CHRAJ, Joseph Whittal in the ruling, instructed that in line with the provision of section 12 (2) of the Ghana Armed Forces Act,1962 (Act 105) and the Ghana Armed Forces’ Code of Service Discipline, the Chief of Defence Staff should ensure that the soldiers face trial in relation to the findings against them.

The Commissioner noted that the publicity Joynews gave to the plight of the boys was good enough evidence to prove the assault.

The above ruling reinforces why an independent body should be charged with investigating police/military brutalities because it softens the cries of victims and gives them some form of closure and restores their hope in the justice system. 
Until an independent body is established to investigate the excesses of the security forces, they will remain accountable to no one but themselves.

Source: Myjoyonline


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