The International Human Rights Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
Ghana is a State Party to the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). Article 21 governs the right of peaceful assembly, providing that:
The right of peaceful assembly shall be recognized. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of this right other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Ghana is also a State Party to the First Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, which allows individuals to petition the Human Rights Committee if they believe the State has violated their human rights as protected under the Covenant.
At regional level, Ghana is a State Party to the 1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. Article 11 provides as follows:
Every individual shall have the right to assemble freely with others. The exercise of this right shall be subject only to necessary restrictions provided for by law in particular those enacted in the interest of national security, the safety, health, ethics and rights and freedoms of others.
Ghana is also state party to the 1998 Protocol on the African Court on Human and Peoples' Rights, and has allowed the right of petition to the Court by individuals and non-governmental organisations.
The Domestic Legal Framework on the Right of Peaceful Assembly
According to Article 21(1)(d) of Ghana’s 1992 Constitution (as amended): "All persons shall have the right to freedom of assembly, including freedom to take part in processions and demonstrations...."
Authorisation is not required to hold an assembly. Under Section 1(1) of the 1994 Public Order Act (Act 491), any person wishing to hold an assembly in a public place must notify the police not less than five days in advance. The notification must be in writing and signed by or on behalf of the organisers of the assembly, specifying the date, place, and timings of the assembly; its nature; and the proposed route and destination, if any. Under Section 1(4) of the Act, where the police officer
has reasonable grounds to believe that the special event if held may lead to violence or endanger public defence, public order, public safety, public health or the running of essential services or violate the rights and freedoms of other persons, he may request the organisers to postpone the special event to any other date or to the relocate the special event.
The Use of Force
International Legal Rules
Under international law, the duty on the State and its law enforcement agencies is to facilitate the enjoyment of the right of peaceful assembly. According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials:
In the dispersal of assemblies that are unlawful but non-violent, law enforcement officials shall avoid the use of force or, where that is not practicable, shall restrict such force to the minimum extent necessary.
All force used by police and other law enforcement agencies must be necessary for a legitimate law enforcement purpose and proportionate to that purpose.
Under Section 37 of the 1960 Criminal Code,
For the prevention of, or for the defence of himself or any other person against any crime, or for the suppression or dispersion of a riotous or unlawful assembly, a person may justify any force or harm which is reasonably necessary extending in case of extreme necessity, even to killing.
The Use of Firearms
International Legal Rules
According to the 1990 United Nations Basic Principles, in the dispersal of violent assemblies, a law enforcement official may only use a firearm against a specific individual where this is necessary to confront an imminent threat of death or serious injury or a grave and proximate threat to life.
As noted above, Section 37 of the 1960 Criminal Code potentially allows the use of firearms to disperse an unlawful assembly. This does not comply with international law.
State Compliance with its Legal Obligations
Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies
In its 2016 Concluding Observations on Ghana, the Human Rights Committee did not address the right of peaceful assembly. The 2017 Universal Periodic Review of Ghana under the UN Human Rights Council also did not address the right of peaceful assembly.
Ghana has not submitted a national report to the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights since 2001.
Views of Civil Society
Freedom House has reported that the right to peaceful assembly is constitutionally guaranteed and generally respected.
Permits are not required for meetings or demonstrations. However, President Akufo-Addo instituted COVID-19-related movement and gathering restrictions in March 2020. Assembly restrictions were relaxed, though not totally rescinded, at the end of May and again in late July.
Despite the pandemic and related restrictions, notable protests occurred during the year. In June 2020, some 60 people attended an Accra vigil held under the Black Lives Matter banner in response to the May killing of George Floyd in the United States. Attendees clashed with Accra police after they arrested the event’s organizer, and officers later fired into the air to disperse the gathering. NDC supporters who rejected the results of the December elections held protests in several parts of the country in the days after the polls. Later that month, Accra police secured a restraining order to prohibit further opposition protests in the capital.