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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






    The CHRAJ has been an outspoken and independent protector of rights. It carries a high degree of respect and public confidence. The CHRAJ's established willingness to stand firm and not to bow to pressure from other government agencies has greatly bolstered its credibility and visibility in Ghana and earned it its well-deserved reputation. One NGO activist noted that "the CHRAJ and the independent media have been the two strongest forces for human rights in Ghana."110 Its strength has been bolstered by an independent judiciary that ruled against the government's court challenge to fetter the powers of the CHRAJ, which underscores, once again, the need for other independent state institutions.

    Commissioner Short told Human Rights Watch, "The concept of autonomous independent bodies within the government is one we are trying to grapple with in Ghana. Not everyone in the executive branch has been able to come to terms with it. But we are making progress." At the same time, Commissioner Short acknowledges the need to build bridges and work with his critics saying, "I cannot compromise my independence, but it is not constructive to constantly be at loggerheads with the attorney-general's office because ultimately the losers are the victims."111

    The CHRAJ has sought to build bridges with the National Media Commission, the National Commission on Civic Education, NGOs and the media. The commissioner has set up a coordinating committee of human rights NGOs to discuss priorities and strategies. The collaboration with the NGOs is particularly strong in human rights education through joint meetings and workshops. The CHRAJ has a more extensive national network than most Ghanaian NGOs.

    Of all the human rights commissions in Africa, the CHRAJ has done the most to reach people outside the capital. According to Commissioner Short: "In view of the fact that about seventy percent of the Ghanaian population lives in the rural areas, it is considered essential that the Commission should decentralize its operations."112

    According to Commissioner Short, the greatest limitation of the CHRAJ is that it has overstretched its capacity. The broad range of the subject matter dealt with and the lack of specialization has meant that staff are stretched thin, resulting in low morale at the lower staff levels. High staff turnover and staff shortages have further hindered the work of the CHRAJ. CHRAJ has difficulty retaining staff, especially lawyers, because of the heavy workload, relatively low salaries as well as complaints that professional opportunities are limited by the commissioner. Since a lawyer must attend every panel hearing, this situation results in delays and pressures on the staff lawyers. The salary and conditions of service of the commissioner and the deputies are the equivalent of those of a court of appeal judge and high court judge respectively, which has meant that salaries for all the staff are relatively low. Comparatively, lawyers in the attorney-general's office receive better salaries.113

    Despite the difficulties, the CHRAJ is a testament to what a government commission can achieve when it is constitutionally backed, given strong enforcement powers, and headed by an independent commissioner with integrity. The CHRAJ has been ambitious both in creating a nationwide network of offices and in taking on a broad array of issues. Although international donors have given financial and other support to the CHRAJ, the fact that it still remains under-staffed, under-salaried, and under-funded is unfortunate. A commission such as this one should be receiving greater government and international support, and serving as a training center for other emerging government commissions.

Human Rights Watch World Report 2001

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