Use of Force by the Ghana Police: Unbridled or Reasonable?
Robert Wakulat & Kingham Ochill
Intern and Administrative Assistant, Africa Office, CHRI
officials have a vital role in the protection of the right to
life, liberty and security of the person, as guaranteed in the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights and reaffirmed in the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
- Preamble to the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use-of-Force
and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials
their duty to protect the rights of Ghanaian citizens, members
of the Ghana Police Service often find themselves having to decide
what level of force is appropriate in apprehending suspected lawbreakers.
It is not uncommon to see headlines related to this issue such
as, “Cop Faces Murder Charge”, on a page in The Daily Graphic
last year. Even when the Police successfully arrest a suspect,
the level of force they use is often not warranted given the circumstances.
This problem, however, does not seem to stem from a lack of guidelines for applying force. Section 6 of the Criminal Procedure Code of Ghana (Act 30) and Sections 3-10 outline procedures for the Ghana Police Service in applying force while attempting to arrest or detain a suspect. Section 6 states that the person being arrested should not be subjected to more restraint than is necessary to prevent his escape. At the same time, Article 14(2) of the 1992 Constitution of Ghana states that a person who is arrested, restricted or detained shall be informed of the reasons and of his right to a lawyer, all of which must be communicated in a language that he understands. It also states that no person, under any circumstances shall be subjected to torture or other cruel and inhuman treatment or punishment. Furthermore, the Police Service gives officers instructions on the use of firearms in section 97 of the Ghana Police Service Instructions.
With all these
rules in place, we are left to question why the problem associated
with use of force persists in the Ghana Police Service. Superintendent
Paul Avuyi, based in Jasikan in the Volta Region, believes the
problem lies in the lack of standard operational procedures on
the use of force, adding that their main point of reference is
a rule that tells them to use a level of force that is reasonable
given the circumstances.
the level of reasonableness?” Mr. Avuyi wonders, “All that is
said is that force must be used reasonably and it ends there.
It is left to the discretion of the individual police officer”.
The inadequacy of this rule is demonstrated by incidences such as that on 13 June 2002, when a joint police/military patrol team, in responding to a call for assistance from a resident of Taifa, encountered a group of seven men in a taxi. They suspected these men to be armed robbers and fired at them, resulting in the death of five, injuring the other two. It was later realised that these men were members of a Neighbourhood Watch who were responding to the same call.
On 1 July 2004, The Daily Graphic reported that suspected armed robber Kofi James was fatally shot at 2:30am while running away from the scene of the crime. The officers shot James twice before he was brought down even though there was no indication that he was threatening the lives of the officers or any innocent bystanders.
Clearly, incidents such as these, as well as the 2001 Accra Sport Stadium tragedy where about 126 lives were lost, and the recent combined police/military shooting of demonstrators in Prestea, indicates a problematic understanding of the appropriate circumstances for using force by police officers.
requires public inputs and public participation. Known by different
names like community policing, sector policing or participatory
policing, public participation broadly signifies a collaboration
between the police and the community to identify and solve community
problems. It usually entails public inputs into all police processes
from preparation of policing plans and budgets, to providing all
crime related information (preventive and investigative in nature).
A successful community-policing programme requires traditionally
centralised police organisations to shift decision-making and
responsibility downward, and recognise that it is street-level
officers who have to make the new community policing approach
work. The police and public have to interact as equals and with
a sense of shared values. In diverse societies with unequal power
relations, community policing must engage with diverse groups
so that it is not hijacked by dominant groups to the detriment
of the marginalised and vulnerable.
Mr. Avuyi cites a
lack of professional training and re-orientation as a root cause
for the misapplication of force by the Ghana Police Service. It
continues to operate in a para-military culture that was prevalent
during the many years of military rule prior to democracy’s rebirth
in 1992, and has not adapted to the new constitutional reality.
When the Office of the Inspector General of Police was questioned
about the training of new recruits, it was mentioned that they
receive 9 months of training at the Police Training School, but
they would not say how much of that is actually dedicated to the
use-of-force and firearms.
also expressed dismay at the lack of resources provided to the
Police. Even if there was a well-designed training programme,
the country could hardly expect its officers to learn anything
while they live and work under their current conditions.
If you put
a hungry and angry person in a classroom, you wont be able
to teach them. Newly trained constables are crammed into sleeping
areas with no bathroom, kitchen or toilet facilities, Mr.
Avuyi explains. The system doesnt respect the dignity
of police officers or their rights.
The performance of
the Ghana Police Service would improve if it operated under the
standards of the United Nations 1979 Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement
Officials and the 1990 Basic Principles on the Use-of-Force and
Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. These documents offer detailed
standards that, although not legally binding, embody a guiding
principle for UN member states on how best to implement international
conventions on human rights and the use-of-force during law enforcement
The principles promote
that any use of force should be subject to international human
rights standards and that force should only be used when non-violent
measures have failed. In addition, lethal force is only permitted
in situations that conform to Article 9 of the UN Basic Principles,
which states law enforcement officials shall not use firearms
against persons except in self-defence or defence of others against
the imminent threat of death or serious injury. Whatever
the situation, the essence is that police must only shoot an attacker
as a last resort and it should never be arbitrary. At least in
theory, the Police Administration agrees with this principle.
Unfortunately, as outlined in the examples above, the actions
of officers belie their commitment to the ideals of Article 9.
A second provision
that relates to past behaviour of the Ghana Police Service is
UN Basic Principle 11 which calls on governments to regulate
the control, storage and issuing of firearms, including procedures
for ensuring that law enforcement officials are accountable for
the firearms and ammunition issued to them. Perhaps rigorous
adherence to this standard would have prevented Constable Suphihyia
from taking his weapon to arrest weed smokers and peddlers without
proper authorisation; sixteen rounds were fired from his AK47
resulting in one death and two critical injuries. This was a high
profile incident that was given significant media coverage, but
Mr. Avuyi is sure it only represents the tip of the iceberg.
A lot of people
just bear their pains and that ends it. They feel that even if
they take up the matter that it is not going to go anywhere. So
most questionable shooting incidents hardly go to court,
related Mr. Avuyi.
In order to effectively
comply with UN guidelines, the Ghana Police Service will have
to reform its method of training new recruits. Only then can the
country move towards fulfilling UN Basic Principle 19 requiring
governments and law enforcement agencies to ensure that
all law enforcement officials are provided with training and are
tested in accordance with appropriate proficiency standards in
the use of force. Moreover, Principle 19 stipulates
that such training should emphasise issues of police ethics
and human rights, especially in the investigative process
as well as alternatives to the use of force and firearms. For
this to happen the Government will have to provide sufficient
funding and demonstrate the political will to provide its citizens
with the police service they deserve.
Ghanaians have lived
in a democracy for over ten years and have earned the right to
ensure their government is creating a legal framework within which
they will feel safe and secure. The Police Service should be the
leading force in creating this environment but until now has tended
to contribute to its destabilisation. Simply acknowledging the
UN standards has not created the pressure to initiate and sustain
the process of implementing respected use-of-force procedures.
This must be implemented by the government but pushed for by Ghanaian
civil society. It is only by taking responsibility for their rights
and freedoms that they will finally have a Police Service to call