Home » President Rejects Bills to Abolish Death Penalty and Witchcraft

President Rejects Bills to Abolish Death Penalty and Witchcraft

Akufo-Addo cites constitutional and fiscal concerns in vetoing private member's bills

by Victor Adetimilehin

Ghana’s President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo has vetoed two bills that were passed by parliament in July 2023. The bills, introduced by a member of parliament from the opposition party, sought to amend the criminal code and abolish the death penalty and criminalize witchcraft.

The president said he could not assent to the bills because they violated the constitution and imposed financial burdens on the state. He also said the bills should have been presented by him or on his behalf, rather than as private member’s bills.

The bills sparked a heated debate in the country, where the death penalty is still on the books but rarely carried out, and where witchcraft is widely believed and feared. Supporters of the bills argued that they would promote human rights, justice, and modernity, while opponents claimed that they would undermine the country’s culture, morality, and security.

Death Penalty Debate

The Criminal Offences Amendment Bill 2023 aimed to replace the death penalty with life imprisonment for offenses such as murder, treason, and terrorism. Ghana has not executed anyone since 1993, but there are still more than 100 people on death row, according to Amnesty International.

The bill’s sponsor, Francis-Xavier Sosu, a human rights lawyer and MP for Madina, said the bill was in line with Ghana’s obligations under international treaties and conventions. He also said the bill would reduce the risk of wrongful convictions and enhance the dignity of human life.

However, the president said the bill contravened Article 13 of the constitution, which states that no person shall be deprived of his life intentionally except in the exercise of the execution of a sentence of a court. He also said the bill would have significant fiscal implications for the consolidated fund and other public funds, due to the projected costs of imprisonment, sustenance, and health care for those who would be sentenced to life.

Witchcraft Controversy

The Criminal Offences Amendment Number 2 Bill 2023 sought to outlaw the activities of witch doctors, who claim to have supernatural powers and offer services such as fortune-telling, healing, and curse removal. The bill also aimed to protect people accused of witchcraft from violence and discrimination, and to provide them with legal aid and rehabilitation.

The bill’s sponsor, Sosu, said the bill was necessary to combat the widespread exploitation and abuse of vulnerable people by witch doctors, who often charge exorbitant fees and use fraudulent and harmful methods. He also said the bill would help to eradicate the harmful practices and beliefs associated with witchcraft, such as witch camps, where people, mostly women and children, are banished and live in deplorable conditions.

However, the president said the bill violated Article 21 of the constitution, which guarantees the freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. He also said the bill was vague and ambiguous in its definition and scope of witchcraft and witch doctors, and that it would be difficult to enforce and prosecute.

Reactions and Prospects

The president’s decision to reject the bills has drawn mixed reactions from the public and civil society groups. Some have praised him for upholding the constitution and the culture of Ghana, while others have criticized him for missing an opportunity to reform the criminal justice system and the superstition industry.

The president said he intends to have the bills reintroduced in parliament on his behalf in due course, after addressing the constitutional and fiscal issues he raised. He also said he supports the content of the bills, but wants to ensure that they are enacted in line with the established constitutional and legislative processes.

The bills’ sponsor, Sosu, said he respects the president’s decision, but hopes that the bills will be reconsidered and passed soon. He said he believes that the bills will benefit the people of Ghana and advance the cause of human rights, justice, and development.

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