1. The Africa Institute for Crime, Policy and Governance Research (Africpgr) has taken note of comments by the Speaker of Parliament, Professor Mike Oquaye, on the death penalty in Ghana. A report on Starr FM’s online portal on 25 September 2018 quotes the Honourable Speaker thus:
I believe the State of Ghana must have it [death penalty] in its pocket reserved so that where necessary, the most heinous of crimes can still be subject to such executions. These are parameters that some of the Human Rights advocates don’t seriously examine and we must be very mindful of them in the future.
- On this view, Professor Oquaye believes that retaining the death penalty as a ‘Sword of Damocles’ can have deterrent effects. Africpgr welcomes the intervention by the Honourable Speaker to the extent that it brings this important topic back into the public discourse. However, Africpgr believes Professor Oquaye’s views are problematic: first, they are at odds with research evidence on the deterrent effects of the death penalty; second, there is no research evidence to support the position that having the death penalty as a fallback sentencing option deters violent crime; third, his views are contrary to the recommendations by the Constitutional Review Commission and the subsequent official position as expressed in the Government’s white paper; and finally, his views are at odds with the sentiments of the majority of Ghanaians.
- In 2015, the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice (now Africpgr) conducted a household survey of 2460 residents of Accra on a range of topics on the death penalty. The study, which remains the first and only methodologically sound study of public opinion on the death penalty in Africa, revealed the following:
- The majority, 48.3%, were intensely opposed to the death penalty; 32.1% expressed moderate support, while only 8.6% indicated intense support, and 11% indicated they did not know enough to express a view.
- When asked about their views on the Constitutional Review Commission’s proposal for the abolition of the death penalty, 53% supported abolition for genocide, 53.9% supported abolition for murder, and 60.9% supported abolition for treason.
- There were no differences in opinions between those who had been person had been victims of violent or property crime, and those who had not been victims.
- Concerning the preferred alternative to the death penalty, two-thirds of those surveyed indicated a preference for life without parole (70.2% for genocide, 66% for murder, and 65.2% for treason).
- A major concern for people who oppose abolition has been the possibility of backlash effects. The results of the study provide evidence to counter the argument that there could be a backlash following abolition by aggrieved parties who might seek revenge.
- It is clear from these findings that Ghana is one of the few countries where government can be confident that the majority of the public would not oppose abolition. Nor would abolition produce backlash effects. On the contrary, the evidence shows Ghanaians do not see the act of killing fellow citizens as justifiable punishment by the State.
- Africpgr believes research evidence such as that reported here should inform the public debate about the death penalty. Without consideration of public input, sentences such as the death penalty risk losing legitimacy in the eyes of citizens. Moreover, reformation is the fundamental principle on which Ghana’s criminal justice system is based. The death penalty undermines that principle.
- Africpgr wishes to take this opportunity to invite parliamentarians, criminal justice professions, the media and the general public to a workshop to mark the 16th World Day Against the Death Penalty. The theme for the workshop is Living Conditions on Death Row, and is to be held on 10 October 2018 at the Department of Political Science.