A British human rights charity has identified major flaws in Ghanaian law governing the use of the death penalty – currently a mandatory sentence for anyone convicted of murder.
It means that Dexter Johnson, a British national who was convicted of murder and sentenced to death in Ghana in 2008, should be removed from death row.
The London-based Death Penalty Project filed a complaint with the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHRC) on behalf of Mr Johnson in July 2012. His previous appeal against his conviction and the mandatory sentence, in the Supreme Court of Ghana, was dismissed in 2011.
In March 2014, the UNHRC ruled Mr Johnson’s sentence should be commuted, finding that the mandatory death penalty imposed under Ghanaian law violated the right to life under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR).
Saul Lehrfreund, who, along with Parvais Jabbar, is executive director of the Death Penalty Project, said: ‘We welcome the decision of the UNHRC, which adds to the growing worldwide jurisprudence recognising that the mandatory, automatic imposition of the death penalty is arbitrary and cruel, and will result in Mr Johnson being removed from death row.’
‘We hope this ruling will also encourage the government of Ghana to introduce legislative reforms to abolish the mandatory death penalty and restrict the imposition of the death penalty, in line with international human rights standards.’
When filing its complaint with the UNHRC, the Death Penalty Project argued that imposing a mandatory death penalty – without any judicial discretion to impose a lesser sentence – was indiscriminate and violated international human rights standards.
Explaining its decision, the UNHRC said that the automatic imposition of the death penalty constituted an arbitrary deprivation of the rights to life where it was imposed without any regard to the defendant’s personal circumstances, or the circumstances of the particular offence.
The government of Ghana is now obliged to provide Mr Johnson with an effective remedy, including the commutation of his death sentence. The committee has also requested that Ghana avoids similar violations in the future, including amending its domestic legislation so judicial discretion is introduced.
The government of Ghana has 180 days to provide information about how it will comply with the committee’s views.
Mr Lehrfreund added: ‘This important decision has implications for all prisoners under sentence of death, not only in Ghana, but also in other African states where the mandatory death penalty is still used.’