Ghana’s parliament voted Tuesday to remove the death penalty as punishment for crimes including murder, making it the 29th country in Africa to join the global trend towards abolition of capital punishment.
Francis-Xavier Kojo Sosu introduced the bill, which amends the Criminal Offenses Act to replace the death penalty—usually carried out by hanging or firing squad—with life imprisonment for murder, genocide, piracy and smuggling of gold and diamonds, and attempted murder in prison.
“This is a great advancement of the human rights record of Ghana,” Mr. Sosu said, telling Reuters that opinion polls show a majority of Ghanaians support abolition.
“Abolishing the death penalty shows that we are determined as a society not to be inhumane, uncivil, closed, retrogressive and dark…and reflects our common belief that the sanctity of life is inviolable,” he said in a statement.
Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo, who called on lawmakers last fall to remove the death penalty from the country’s penal code, must now sign the bill into law.
Ghana has not executed anyone since 1993. But because the death penalty was the mandatory sentence for murder, courts have continued to impose new death sentences, including seven last year.
Like in the U.S., those sentenced to death in Ghana “tend to be vulnerable individuals from deprived backgrounds, who have often experienced deep personal trauma,” Mr. Sosu told the Guardian. “I have seen firsthand that the death penalty does not bring a sense of justice or closure to the families of crime victims, and neither does it deter offenders.”
Under the new law, the 172 men and six women currently sentenced to death in Ghana are expected to be resentenced to life imprisonment.
Capital punishment is still available for acts of high treason under Ghana’s constitution, and advocates are calling for an amendment that would totally abolish the death penalty.
Ghana is the 124th country worldwide to officially abolish the death penalty, joining Sierra Leone, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, and Zambia, all of which have abolished the death penalty in the last five years.
Including 41 countries that have not carried out an execution for more than a decade, some 170 nations have banned capital punishment in law or in practice—although it remains legal in countries such as the U.S., China, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea.
The global trend against the death penalty continues, despite a post-pandemic uptick in executions. In 2022, Amnesty International confirmed death sentences in 52 countries, four less than in 2021.