Editorial/Human Rights Abuse In Police Cells

The reported deaths of two detainees in Ashaiman police cells last Monday has exposed the bad human rights record of this country. According to the story, which has been corroborated by the police, the two detainees died from excessive heat, because the cells were overcrowded. A cell built to accommodate 20 people, now houses as many as 43 suspects. The police are trying to distance themselves from the tragedy, and are blaming the courts and Nsawam Medium Security Prisons for the overcrowding of the cells. The Commander of the Ashaiman Police, Supt. Peter Cobina, told The Chronicle that prisoners, who are sent to Nsawam and other prisons on remand, are most of the time rejected on health grounds. According to him, in other cases also, the suspects could not be sent to the major prisons because of court orders to keep them in police custody to reappear at later dates, saying “When this happens, we have no other choice than to keep them here, and this contributes to the swelling in the number of prisoners in our cell.” From the explanation given by the officer, the police alone cannot be blamed for what has happened. We however think the law enforcement agency could have done better to avoid these preventable deaths. If judges who give orders for suspects to be remanded into police custody do not know conditions in the cells, then it was incumbent on the police to have drawn their attention to the fact that the cells were full. They accepted to accommodate the suspects in a small cell, resulting in their deaths. This is a clear abuse of the fundamental human rights of the suspects. In developed countries, the only difference between a prisoner and law-abiding citizens is that the movement of the former is restricted, but they are fully guaranteed their fundamental human rights. Unfortunately, in Ghana, a prisoner is treated as a non-entity who must not be accorded human dignity. To avoid a future occurrence of this sordid treatment, The Chronicle is urging the families of the deceased detainees to sue both the police and the government for causing the death of their beloved ones. The outcome of the case would send a signal to our law enforcement agencies to sit up and treat suspects as fellow human beings, not like animals. The police cannot claim that the suspects were being kept in lawful custody, and cannot therefore be blamed, because they have the duty to ensure their safety in lawful custody.