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Protectors or Pretenders? - Government Human Rights Commissions in Africa, HRW Report 2001




International Standards: The Paris Principles

Important Factors

Examining the Record in Africa

Innovative and Positive Contributions by Commissions

Regional Iniatives

The Role Of The International Community





Origin and Mandate

    The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) came about as part of the 1992 transition from single-party authoritarian rule to a constitutional democracy. Flight-Lieutenant Jerry Rawlings and his Provisional National Defense Council (PNDC) seized power from an elected government in 1981. In 1992, elections were held to restore the country to democracy, and Rawlings was elected president following controversial elections. The election ended eleven years of authoritarian rule under Rawlings and the PNDC. As part of the 1992 transition, a broad and consultative process to draft a new Constitution was undertaken to establish a democratic system of checks and balances including an independent judiciary, and the establishment of an independent human rights commission, the CHRAJ. The human rights situation in Ghana has improved compared to the 1980s, but problems remain in several areas. Among other things, police and municipal security forces continue to use excessive force, prison conditions remain harsh, and the government continues to pressure the independent media. In practice, the political system still remains circumscribed by a parliament monopolized by the ruling party, a judiciary that is often timid, and a system-wide lack of resources. In 1996, President Rawlings was selected with 57 percent of the vote.

    The CHRAJ was established in 1993. The CHRAJ absorbed the position of the Ombudsman which had been created by the 1979 Constitution and in existence since 1980, but without adequate enforcement powers. The framers of the constitution chose to establish a single national institution to address all aspects of human rights and administrative justice.103 In addition to the CHRAJ there are two other autonomous national institutions charged with ensuring the accountability of the various branches of government: the National Media Commission empowered to ensure high professional standards in the media and to investigate, mediate and settle complaints against the media; and the National Commission for Civil Education empowered to create public awareness of the 1992 Constitution.

    The CHRAJ `s independence is guaranteed under the 1992 Constitution and is not subject to the control of any government department or person. The CHRAJ is obliged to report annually to Parliament. Parliament may debate the report and pass resolutions, but it cannot change any of the decisions of the commission or dictate staff recruitment or procedural regulations by the CHRAJ.
    The CHRAJ possesses broad investigative powers, including the ability to investigate complaints concerning:

    87. the violation of fundamental human rights, injustice, corruption, abuse of power and unfair treatment of any person by a serving public officer;

    88. unequal access in recruitment or services by state agencies, including the civil service, the armed forces, the police, and prison services;

    89. practices and actions by persons, private enterprises and other institutions that violate fundamental Constitutional rights and freedoms;

    90. corruption and misappropriation of public moneys by officials

    More importantly, the CHRAJ is also vested with strong enforcement powers under Section 8 of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice Act, including the power to issue subpoenas for the attendance of a witness or any relevant information or evidence and the ability to pursue contempt charges in the courts against any person failing to obey its request.104 The CHRAJ is empowered to enforce a remedy "through such means as are fair, proper and effective," including:

    91. negotiation and compromise;

    92. reporting the findings to a superior officer;

    93. bringing court proceedings to stop or change actions or conduct that violate rights

    94. challenging any law that violates constitutional rights.

    95. taking appropriate steps to address corruption, including reports to the attorney-general and the auditor-general resulting from such investigations.

    96. restoring property confiscated by the two previous military governments under specified conditions enumerated in Article 35(2) of the Transitional Provisions of the 1992 Constitution.

    In determining redress the CHRAJ "may look beyond the legalities of a case and make a determination, which is in accord with the dictates of justice."105 Additionally, the CHRAJ is responsible for creating human rights education programs, including through publications, lectures and symposia.

    Unlike most human rights commissions in Africa, the CHRAJ has a nationwide network of offices. Article 220 of the constitution specifies that the enabling legislation shall provide for the creation of regional and district branches of the CHRAJ. The Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice Act has interpreted this to mean that each region and all 110 districts should have offices. On the one hand, this has meant that the CHRAJ is truly seen as a national body that protects rights and has some meaning to Ghanaians in the rural areas. On the other hand, this expansion has required enormous staff and resource commitments that often overstretch the capacity of the CHRAJ.

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