Caleb Ahinakwah writes: Extrajudicial killings being swept under the carpet?

Compounding a belief that the police and the state apparatus have been used to execute adversaries and suspected criminals, the Ghanaian public has become prey to killings in self-defence

Story Highlights
  • If indeed this was an intelligence-led raid, suffice to say that the police must have known the hideout of the criminals, and so there was no need to go out into the field with the already arrested suspects
  • Neighbours of the dead men claimed that the seven were innocent, in line with the later findings of an independent fact-finding committee

Ghana has recently experienced a rash of cases of extrajudicial execution, which demand a thorough examination of the way the criminal justice system administers punishment.

Compounding the belief that the Ghanaian state apparatus has been used to execute perceived adversaries and suspected criminals, the public has been subjected to killings in self-defence.

First, let’s consider what extrajudicial killing is. It is the killing of a person or persons by government authorities without the sanction of any judicial proceeding or due legal process.

On 8 March, two policemen suspected to have been involved in bullion van robberies were gunned down in crossfire at Borteyman in the Tema West Municipality of Greater Accra. After public outcry over the incident, it was revealed that the two policemen were in the company of fellow officers, heading to the hideout of the other suspects in the string of robberies that has occurred in the past year. Some members of the general public have raised red flags, pointing to a possible cover-up.

How do you have a shootout in Tema West – a 33-kilometre drive from Accra – and rush the suspects injured in the gunfire to the Police Hospital in Cantonments?

If indeed this was an intelligence-led raid, suffice to say that the police must have known the hideout of the criminals, and so there was no need to go out into the field with the already arrested suspects. That does not sound intelligent to me.

Righteous instant justice

There have been other doubts raised regarding the story put out by the police, and in the absence of convincing explanations there is good reason to suspect that this was a case of extrajudicial killing.

The motive? Last year, a police officer from the national Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) squad, Constable Emmanuel Osei, was shot while accompanying a bullion truck at Adedenkpo, near James Town in Accra.

Last month, armed bandits attacked a bullion vehicle in the North Industrial Area of Accra. The attacks resulted in the death of one woman and the injury of many others.

I reckon that the killing of the two police officers is a result of these losses, and particularly the shooting their colleague officer, Constable Emmanuel Osei, whose demise generated a national conversation and brought agony to his family and friends.

The alarming thing is that so many people support instant justice. Many argue that our courts system is exasperatingly slow and that the chances of the accused being acquitted are high.

The police account of the deaths of these officers is disturbingly similar to descriptions of other incidents in other parts of the country.

Execution-style killings have been used for decades in many other countries by the police and armed forces, both during conflict and insurgencies, as well as in “normal” situations.

In Ghana, the use of lethal extrajudicial firepower goes way back to the early years of Provisional National Defence Council (PNDC) rule. The phenomenon is also increasingly familiar in countries such as India and the Philippines.

It is not justice to execute individuals without a trial. It is also bad for the cause of justice. Extrajudicial killings reduce the incentive for state elements to follow the law. Why go to all the trouble of detecting, investigating, interrogating and conducting forensics if we can just round up a few guys and shoot them?

The international human rights NGO Amnesty International describes the executions as worrying, following an analysis that the scourge is on the rise and going unchecked here in Ghana.

“We are still confronted with several human rights issues, including extrajudicial killings. Over the years we have expressed many concerns over the increasing rate of extrajudicial killings in the country,” said the director of Amnesty International Ghana, Frank Doyi.

Spotting a trend

The foreign policy and security analyst Adib Saani took me back in time to extrajudicial killings.

The shooting of seven men at Manso Nkwanta in the Amansie West District of the Ashanti Region on 17 July 2018, for instance, sparked indignation and resentment in Kumasi’s zongo areas. Neighbours of the dead men claimed that the seven were innocent, in line with the later findings of an independent, fact-finding committee.

To date, no one knows what has become of the officers who killed the seven innocent civilians.

Official reports say that during Election 2020 eight lives in total were lost, including three minors. As yet, no one has been held to account for the deaths.

Saani also alleges that many witnesses to the violence in the current Kusasi-Mamprusi conflict in Bawku have catalogued extrajudicial killings, not only by the police but also by the military. Could it be that no one has been held accountable because Bawku is a conflict hot spot?

Dr Jones Opoku Ware, a criminologist at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology, also says that intelligence-led operations spearheaded by the police should rarely lead to shootouts. He argues that the chief element of sting operations should be by surprise, and less violence or death, unlike in the latest report by the police.

“Not every robber is violent,” Dr Opoku Ware says. “We must be able to differentiate … intelligence-led operations that result in people being busted and subjected to the law courts … [rather] than saying every operation should lead to a shootout.”

“Lately, you will hear about officers going on raids involving shootouts leading to the death of robbers. Always that’s what we hear, but have we audited what happened leading to the deaths?” Saani asks.

The law

Many people consider the atrocity killings an affront to civilisation.

Article 15 of the 1992 constitution states:

No person shall, whether or not he is arrested, restricted or detained, be subjected to –

(a) torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment;

(b) any other condition that detracts or is likely to detract from his dignity and worth as a human being.

(3) A person who has not been convicted of a criminal offence shall not be treated as a convicted person and shall be kept separately from convicted persons.

The only permissible limitations on the right to life are contained in Section 13(2) of the constitution, Article 13 of which provides that:

(1) No person shall be deprived of his life intentionally except in the exercise of the execution of a sentence of a court in respect of a criminal offence under the laws of Ghana of which he has been convicted.

(2) A person shall not be held to have deprived another person of his life in contravention of clause (1) of this article if that other person dies as the result of a lawful act of war or if that other person dies as the result of the use of force to such an extent as is reasonably justifiable in the particular circumstances –

(a) for the defence of any person from violence or for the defence of property; or

(b) in order to effect a lawful arrest or to prevent the escape of a person lawfully detained; or

(c) for the purposes of suppressing a riot, insurrection or mutiny; or

(d) in order to prevent the commission of a crime by that person.

The charter of the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice (CHRAJ) also provides for it to investigate alleged violations of human rights and act to remedy proven violations.

Elephant in the room

In many countries, the astronomical increase in unemployment among the youth has led to a rise in crime rates, with mounting thuggery, banditry and other forms of violent crime such as armed robbery becoming the norm.

Ghana is no exception to the general rule that crime rates rise and fall in tandem with unemployment.

Although it appears that the popular desire for vengeance is mostly to blame for extrajudicial executions or jungle justice, is it possible to absolve people of criminal responsibility for such heinous acts?

The answer will undoubtedly be “No”, but the goal of criminal justice and the concept of punishment must be evaluated in order to assess the level of people’s fault.


Though we all hope for a rapid halt to the killings, I am not optimistic in the short term.

However, I am optimistic that this cycle of violence can be broken through concerted efforts by the government, civil society leaders, as well as international partners.

“We have had cause to advocate for the Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice because it has offices all over the country and so it should be properly resourced,“ says Frank Doyi, the director of Amnesty International Ghana.

“We believe CHRAJ will enforce the existing human rights laws for the state to make sure it protects and fulfils the rights of all citizens.“

On the need for education, Doyi believes all-inclusive training and sensitisation, dealing with all elements of human rights, will help contain the growing problem.

A criminal justice system which safeguards citizens’ rights effectively is the bedrock of every democratic society. A criminal justice system which adheres strictly to the rule of law will almost certainly halt the surge in extrajudicial executions and establish its legitimacy.

An effective criminal justice system will result in fewer people awaiting trial, less congestion in our prisons, a more efficient prosecution system, and better protection of human rights. Extrajudicial killings, in my opinion, will then become a thing of the past.

Caleb Ahinakwah is a broadcast journalist with Asaase Radio. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the journalist and not Asaase Radio.

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Nicholas Brown

I am a multi-media journo with Asaase Radio. I tell stories that shape the difficulties of life. Let's talk about anything acting, stage direction and making an impact.

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