Ghana is a constitutional democracy with a strong presidency and a unicameral 275-seat parliament. Presidential and parliamentary elections conducted in December 2020 were generally peaceful, although there were isolated incidents of violence during the voting and vote count, resulting in as many as eight deaths, some by security forces. Domestic and international observers assessed the elections to be transparent, inclusive, and credible.
The Ghana Police Service, under the Ministry of the Interior, is responsible for maintaining law and order; however, the military, which reports to the Ministry of Defense, continued to participate in law enforcement activities in a support role, such as by protecting critical infrastructure and by enforcing measures to combat COVID-19. The National Intelligence Bureau handles cases considered critical to state security and answers directly to the Ministry of National Security. Civilian authorities generally maintained effective control over the security forces. There were credible reports that members of the security forces committed some abuses.
Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: arbitrary or unlawful killings by the government or its agents; cases of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment by the government or on behalf of the government; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; arbitrary arrest or detention; serious restrictions on free expression and media, including violence and threats of violence against journalists, and unjustified arrests or prosecutions of journalists; substantial interference with freedom of assembly; serious government corruption; lack of investigation of and accountability for gender-based violence, including but not limited to domestic or intimate partner violence; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting persons with disabilities; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or intersex persons; existence of laws criminalizing consensual same-sex sexual conduct between adults; and existence of the worst forms of child labor.
The government took some steps to address corruption and human rights abuses by officials, whether in the security forces or elsewhere in the government. Impunity remained a problem, however.
Section 6. Discrimination and Societal Abuses
Systemic Racial or Ethnic Violence and Discrimination
The law protects members of racial or ethnic minorities from violence and discrimination, but it was unclear if the government enforced them effectively.
Unlike in 2020 when municipal authorities closed more than 100 shops owned or operated by Nigerian nationals in the Ashanti Region for violation of municipal or commercial regulations, border closures due to COVID-19 prevented foreign traders from entering the country and eliminated the tension between foreign traders and local authorities.
Acts of Violence, Criminalization, and Other Abuses Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity
There were some reports of police violence against LGBTQI+ persons. LGBTQI+ persons faced police harassment and extortion attempts (see also section 1.d, Arbitrary Arrest). There were reports police were reluctant to investigate claims of assault or violence against LGBTQI+ persons. Stigma, intimidation, and the perceived negative attitude of some police toward LGBTQI+ persons were factors in preventing survivors from reporting incidents of abuse. LGBTQI+ activists also reported widespread attempts to blackmail LGBTQI+ individuals, with prosecution difficult due to police inaction. LGBTQI+ persons in prison were vulnerable to sexual and other physical abuse, which authorities generally did not investigate.
Beatings and public humiliation of LGBTQI+ persons by community members were common and growing in number. The attacks were sometimes shared on social media in an effort to further humiliate and ostracize LGBTQI+ persons. There was a notable increase in anti-LGBTQI+ statements by political, religious, and community leaders, and media coverage of these statements.
The law criminalizes the act of “unnatural carnal knowledge,” which is defined as “sexual intercourse with a person in an unnatural manner or with an animal.” The offense covers only persons engaged in same-sex male relationships and those in heterosexual relationships. There were no reports of adults prosecuted or convicted for consensual same-sex sexual conduct.
The law does not explicitly prohibit discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBTQI+ persons faced widespread discrimination in education and employment.
Activists working to promote the human rights of LGBTQI+ persons noted great difficulty in engaging officials on LGBTQI+ problems because of social and political sensitivity. Media coverage regarding homosexuality and related topics was almost always negative.
On February 2, the local NGO LGBT+ Rights Ghana inaugurated its new office space in the Ashongman area of Accra. After anti-LGBTQI+ activists complained in local media concerning the existence of the center, on February 15, police raided the center and closed it. The center remained closed at year’s end.
On March 27, police arrested 22 persons in Kwahu-Obomeng, Eastern Region, for participating in an alleged lesbian wedding. Police arrived at a popular community location in response to reports that two women planned to be married. Police justified the arrests on the grounds the venue’s owner complained participants were violating COVID-19 protocols. Authorities released them due to lack of evidence.
On May 20, police arrested 21 LGBTQI+ activists attending a conference in the city of Ho, Volta Region. On an official Twitter account, police acknowledged making the arrests because the suspects were believed to be pro-LGBTQI+. Authorities charged the “Ho 21” with unlawful assembly, conspiracy to commit a crime, and acts of “unnatural carnal knowledge.” After multiple requests, on June 11, authorities released them on bail. On August 5, a court dropped all charges for lack of evidence, and ordered the return of the defendants’ confiscated property including laptops and smart phones.
The LGBTQI+ activists reported harassment and humiliation by police during their detention. They also reported their inability to return to their previous lives, since they were suspended from work and banned from their communities after their identities were broadcast by police.