In 2002, the Ghanaian government appointed the National Reconciliation Commission to establish a historical record of human rights violations inflicted on persons by public institutions and public officers between 1957 and 1993 and to propose recommendations for reconciliation.
Problems and Purpose
In the aftermath of the colonial period, Ghana has experienced successive and counter-military coups and autocratic regimes which have been responsible for state violence, violations of human rights, and the erosion of trust in government; specifically, institutions such as the police, legislature, and military. When the promise of security is undermined by violence, it delegitimizes future governments and prevents effective democracy. In order to give redress to the experience of peoples and legacies of abuses, the Ghanaian parliament implemented a truth and reconciliation commission run by non-judicial bodies to identify records of abuses, make them known and propose accountability and redress for victims.
In 2002, the Ghanaian parliament appointed a National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) to promote national reconciliation among Ghanaians by establishing an accurate historical record of human rights violations and abuses inflicted on persons by public institutions and public officers between 1957 and 1993. Any person could apply to have the commission investigate specific issues within its mandate and then, if selected, were given the opportunity to testify before the NRC in a televised hearing.
The commission set up six committees to address key sectors of Ghanaian society:
- the legal profession
- professional bodies other than legal
- the press
- labor and student movements
- security services
- religious bodies and chiefs
The commission met from January 2003 to October 2004 and published its final report at the end of its proceedings in April 2005.
Background History and Context
In December 2001, the Parliament of Ghana under John Kufuor passed the National Reconciliation Commission Act, to establish the NRC. The goal of the NRC was to seek and promote national reconciliation among Ghanaians by recommending appropriate redress for persons who have suffered any "injury, hurt, damage, grievance or who have in any other manner been adversely affected by violations and abuses of their human rights arising from activities or in activities of public institutions and persons holding public office" [NRC Report]. The NRC was particularly interested in human rights violations and abuses that occurred during periods of ‘unconstitutional government’ - military regimes - namely; February 24, 1966, to August 21, 1969; January 13, 1972, to September 23, 1979; and December 31, 1981, to January 6, 1993 (The ‘Rawlings Years’).
Organizing, Supporting, and Funding Entities
The NRC operating budget was initially $3 million: $2 million coming directly from the Ghanaian government and the remaining from foreign governments and foundations in the form of donations and grants. Some sources report this budget increasing to $5 million because of unnamed domestic and international donors. These figures cannot be verified as expense reports are not available in the archive at the University of Ghana or the PRAAD archive in Accra, Ghana. Local newspaper reports that the NRC was plagued with corruption as funds were spent with little accountability. There is no mention of funding in the NRC final report.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Membership in the NRC was meant to reflect gender and regional diversity, involving women, chiefs, professionals, and community leaders. The NRC was comprised of the following Ghanaians: Justice Kweku Etrew Amua-Sekyi, a retired Supreme Court Judge (Chairman); Reverend Charles Gabriel Palmer-Buckle, Catholic Bishop of Koforidua; Maulvi Abdul Wahab Bin Adam, Ameer (Head) and Missionary-in-Charge, Ahmadiyya Muslim Mission, Ghana; Professor Florence Abena Dolphyne, former Pro-Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ghana; Lt-Gen Emmanuel Alexander Erskine, First Force Commander of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL); Dr. Sylvia Awo Mansah Boye, former Registrar of The West African Examinations Council; Mr. Christian Appiah Agyei, former Secretary-General, Trades Union Congress (Ghana); Uborr Dalafu Labal II, Paramount Chief of Sanguli Traditional Area, Northern Region; and Professor Henrietta Joy Abena Nyarko Mensa-Bonsu, Associate Professor, Faculty of Law, University of Ghana [NRC Report, Volume 1].
The NRC held an open investigative process that allowed Ghanaians and non-Ghanaians to submit petitions related to human rights and economic violations and then, if possible, appear for in-person testimony. In total, 3114 petitioners submitted petitions. The few petitions submitted by immigrants were related to economic loss and retribution. Specifically, to show ‘sensitivity to the basic needs of victims’ and witnesses, the NRC provided the following supports for participants [NRC Report, 13]:
- Informing people about specific forms of human rights violations in English and local languages.
- Invite experts in human rights to inform the commission about the effects of specific rights abuses.
- Designing and using a user-friendly form for taking witness statements.
- Giving technical support to petitioners filling out the statement forms.
- Providing free professional counseling.
- Providing medical screening and first aid treatment, if necessary.
- Refunding the costs associated with petitioners' participation.
The Ghanaian public was also a key participant. By airing the proceedings on radio and television, filtered through mainstream stations, meant that people were debating, discussing, and well-aware of the proceedings.
Methods and Tools Used
In order to carry out the NRC mandate, Section 4 of Act 611 mandated the Commission with the ability to conduct the following methods [NRC Report Volume 1, “Functions and Investigations”]:
- Investigate violations and abuses of human rights relating to killings, abductions, disappearances, detentions, torture, ill-treatment, and seizure of properties suffered by any person within the specified periods.
- Investigate the context in which and the causes and circumstances under which the violations and abuses occurred and identify the individuals, public institutions, bodies, organizations, public office holders, or persons purporting to have acted on behalf of any public body responsible for or involved in the violations and abuses.
- Identify and specify the victims of the violations and abuses and make appropriate recommendations for redress.
- Investigate and determine whether or not the violations and abuses were deliberately planned and executed by the State or any public institutions, bodies, organizations, public office holders, or persons purporting to have acted on behalf of the State.
- Conduct investigations relevant to its work and seek the assistance of the police and any public or private institution, body or person for the purposes of any investigations.
- Investigate any other matters which it considers require investigation in order to promote and achieve national reconciliation.
- Educate the public and give sufficient publicity to its work so as to encourage the public to contribute positively to the achievement of the object of the Commission.
In mandate and in operation, the NRC was a form of Truth and Reconciliation Commission, a democratic innovation that promotes transitional justice. Transitional justice consists of judicial and non-judicial measures implemented in order to redress the legacies of human rights abuses. It is rooted in accountability and redress for victims. It recognizes their dignity as citizens and as human beings. By centering on truth-seeking and reparation, the NRC sought to establish facts using evidence.
The NRC also used petition forms and direct survivor and perpetrator testimony related to economic and social abuses. These petitions were designed to gather key information and to allow space for the petitioner to attach any supporting documents. Importantly, these petitions included a section for remuneration. The testimonies provided the opportunity for the NRC to evaluate the claims made by petitioners in person. They also had a significant emotional impact as they generated discussion among public listeners and viewers.
What Went On: Process, Interaction, and Participation
While the NRC was initially given one year to complete its duties, the public testimony hearings did not conclude until July 2004 and the deliberations of the committee continued until October 2004. The final report was completed and submitted to the government in April 2005. Contrary to the initial mandate of the NRC, the final report was not made public. The government cited administrative costs of releasing the reports and assured that the abuses recorded were “not like other African countries”.
The NRC received 3140 petitions and heard testimony from 2,129 victims and 79 alleged perpetrators [NRC Report].
NRC hearings were recorded and are housed at the Ghanaian parliament building. An example of testimony by journalist Joss Aryee, who saw the 1979 execution of Generals, speaks to the commission, "It was a cruel and unusual death… you had to be there to see what went on": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRoMELUap6s&feature=emb_title
Perpetrators were also given an opportunity to address allegations and defend themselves. In address the allegations of his role in the famous murder of three high court judges in 1982, Captain Kojo Tsikata testifies in his defense: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyWkzFWIcN4
The testimony of former President Jerry Rawlings attracted a lot of media attention and was a landmark moment of the NRC hearings. Part of that testimony can be found here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajhxiZUqG60
A 3-member reparations committee was mandated to ensure compliance with the recommendations of the commission. Although the government has paid reparations to many of the victims of human rights abuses, there have been complaints and the government itself has recognized the fact that the amounts paid were not entirely satisfactory. Some institutional reforms, especially of the judiciary, have taken place, but police brutality is said to be on the rise whilst proceedings of the justice system remain slow.
In tandem with the formal process of the NRC, public debates in radio, television, and social-work spaces meant that everyone was contributing to a national discussion about past rights abuses and how to move forward as a country.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
One of the primary outcomes of the NRC process was the publication of the NRC Final Report, found here: https://hmcwordpress.humanities.mcmaster.ca/Truthcommissions/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Ghana.NRC_.Report-FULL.pdf. Despite being heralded as a transparent truth-seeking process for reconciliation, the final report has never been publicly released by the Ghana government.
The report outlined a comprehensive reparation program that included apologies, memorials, monetary compensation, the return of stolen property, and the establishment of medical trauma facilities.
The NRC recommended monetary reparations for approximately 3000 victims of human rights violations during Rawlings' rule. The recommended reparations varied between $120 and $3,500, depending on the type of reparation needed. Those who lost property had it returned, while health and education benefits were also given. The commission gave these small amounts in a way to encourage the government to give more in reparations. This tactic worked and the government gave 1.5 million dollars in reparation. The reparations came directly from the recommendations of the commission. By June 2007, the financial reparations had been paid.
In addition to reparations, the NRC recommended reform of policing and the military. These have not led to any substantial change. Ghanaian citizens continue to describe a pattern of violence and abuse by police and military on citizens.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Commentaries and Criticism
The report was never released and made public, which violates the central mandate of the NRC and of TRC processes. How can the truth be collectively known and confronted for reconciliation if that ‘truth’ is not made public and open to discussion? Despite its non-release, there continue to be calls for the report to be released. Felix Odartey-Wellington and Amin Alhassan argue that not releasing the report continues to “jeopardize the commission’s potential contributions to sustainable reconciliation, human rights and democracy in Ghana”.
Other critics have asked what facts and narratives are being silenced and mediated, by whom, and for what purposes – these are enduring questions about the legacy of the NRC in Ghana (Asare, 2018). In following the experience of women in the post-NRC reparation process, Regina Akosua Dede Baiden defines their experience as one of gender discrimination: “Their [women's] limited participation in reparations programs could be construed as an exclusion of women and girls from justice”. There needs to be a focal point on gender within a commission, designated staff to address related issues on an ongoing basis, and strong relations between the commission and women’s groups.
It can also be said that the NRC process was driven by political exigencies and anti-Rawlingism (Emiljanowicz and Ibhawoh, 2021). The Rawlings period was a key focus of the NRC and the testimony of Rawlings was used by the leading NPP and John Kufour to promote his government in the 2004 general election.
The reparation packages proposed by the NRC attempted to move beyond economic and symbolic redress by providing remuneration and social support to petitioners. However, the budget of the NRC was largely allocated to financial retribution, not restitution. There also needed to be greater accountability in how spending was documented.
The NRC process and its promotion on public media outlets led to increased discussion among civil society to organize funding and training, and the use of civil society organizations to mobilize constituencies and supplement the work of the commission where necessary. Securing support and financial commitment from the international community is key to the success of a commission where national resources for the institution are limited.
Asare, Abena Ampofoa Asare, Truth without Reconciliation: A Human Rights History of Ghana, (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2018). https://www.upenn.edu/pennpress/book/15877.html
Center for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, "Justice in Perspective - Africa - Ghana National Reconciliation Commission." http://www.justiceinperspective.org.za/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=15&Itemid=19
Felix Odartey-Wellington and Amin Alhassan, “Disseminating the national reconciliation commission report: A critical step in Ghana's democratic consolidation,” African Journal of Political Science and International Relations 10(4): 34-46.
Human Rights Council, Eighth session, Agenda item 6 (A/HRC/8/36). Universal Periodic Review: Report of the Working Group on the Universal Periodic Review: Ghana, May 29, 2008. Available at http://lib.ohchr.org/HRBodies/UPR/Documents/Session2/GH/A_HRC_8_36_Ghana_E.pdf
Ken Agyemang Attafuah, "An Overview of Ghana's National Reconciliation Commission and its Relationship with the Courts," Criminal Law Forum 15(1-2) (2004): 125-134.
Paul Emiljanowicz and Bonny Ibhawoh, “Democracy in Postcolonial Ghana: tropes, state power, and the defense committees,” Third World Quarterly 42(6) (2021): 1213-1232. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01436597.2021.1878020
Priscilla B. Hayner, Unspeakable Truths: Facing the Challenge of Truth Commissions, (New York: Routledge, 2002).
Regina Akosua Dede Baiden, “In the Aftermath of Reparations: The Experiences of Female Beneficiaries of Ghana’s Reparations Programme,” Journal of Peacebuilding & Development 14(1): 22-35.
Robert Ameh, “Uncovering Truth: Ghana’s National Reconciliation Commission Excavation of Past Human Rights Abuses,” Contemporary Justice Review 9(4): 345-368. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10282580601014284
Joss Aryee, testimony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRoMELUap6s&feature=emb_title
Captain Kojo Tsikata, testimony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XyWkzFWIcN4
Jerry Rawlings, testimony: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ajhxiZUqG60