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  • Human Rights and the Transition to Democracy Under the PNDC in Ghana
  • Mike Oquaye (bio)

This work considers human rights issues under the Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) and their effects on the transition to democracy that culminated in the controversial 1992 elections in Ghana, Africa. To some, human rights violations under the PNDC not only traumatized society as a whole, but also engendered an atmosphere of fear, insecurity, recrimination, and suspicion that marred the transition. To others, Rawlings, the leader of the PNDC regime, promoted human rights from a socioeconomic perspective and established a populist conception of human rights that worked to his advantage. 1 These competing perceptions of human rights and their effects on the democratization process deserve serious attention.

The democratization program announced by Rawlings on New Year’s Eve 1991 flowed from a global tide of change. This trend was not only linked with the collapse of communism but also with certain internal attempts to transform African neopatrimonial regimes and military autocracies. Advances made in Benin and Zambia gave a glimpse of hope that Africa could move towards democracy. Simultaneously, “good governance” had become a requirement for international aid. At the time when the international dimension propelled a process of change in Ghana, the regime’s repressive policies and measures stifled virtually every voice of dissent. 2 A “culture of silence” 3 emerged from the curtailment of speech and other freedoms that arrested the democratic ethos. In addition, wanton [End Page 556] arrests, murders, disappearances, and seizures of property introduced a politics of violence that shattered civil society. Several novel institutions and laws violated and abrogated human rights—including Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDRs), Citizens Vetting Committee (CVC), National Investigations Committee (NIC), the militia and public tribunals, as well as revolutionary laws—including the Provisional National Defence Council (Establishment) Proclamation Law (PNDC Law 42) that was passed on 18 February 1983 but had a retroactive effect to 31 December 1981, the Habeas Corpus Amendment Law (PNDCL 91) and the Preventive Custody Law (PNDCL 4). It could be argued that, if the organizational capacity of civil society that had effectively opposed General Acheampong’s union government proposals in 1978 4 was lacking by 1990, then the cause can be found largely in the human rights violations that form the basis of this study.

Views on Human Rights

We need to examine certain concepts in order to appreciate the dynamics of human rights issues and their ideological basis under the PNDC. Theories of human rights in contemporary times have been viewed from two main perspectives—western liberal democratic and socialist. It is admitted, however, that certain human rights conceptions were known to Islamic 5 and traditional African beliefs. 6 The opposition to the PNDC, lawyers, churches, and other groups, based their conception of human rights on Western beliefs. The Western conception of human rights is mainly derived from Cicero’s ideas that human rights are not created by the state but exist independent of it; they antedate and are founded upon natural law, the basis of which is morality, common to all men, universal, everlasting, and unchanging. The natural law is derived from nature itself and it is not the creation of humans. To the extent, therefore, that any human law is inconsistent with the natural law, the human law is void. 7

Locke wrote about the natural right of man to life, liberty, and property. 8 Western liberal thought promoted the notion that the protection of human rights required that governments should not interfere with the exercise and [End Page 557] enjoyment of those natural rights. 9 According to Locke’s doctrine, this precept should be carried out in all societies and at all times. 10 Rousseau followed Locke and argued that the powers of government were held only to safeguard the inalienable rights of citizens. 11 These views influenced various declarations such as the American Declaration of Independence (1776), the French Declaration of Rights of Man and Citizen (1789), the English Petition of Rights (1927) and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948). This Western conception demands, inter alia, freedom of expression of opinions and the right to criticize one’s government; the...

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pp. 556-573
Launched on MUSE
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