Posted by: kyliepearce | May 8, 2012

Final Report: Human Rights Advocacy Centre

Human Rights Advocacy Centre: Accra, Ghana

Report by Kylie Pearce

My time in Accra, Ghana, at HRAC has given me invaluable experience and insight into the essence of human rights advocacy work in the field. I am extremely grateful to the Castan Centre for granting me the opportunity to partake in the 2012 Global Internship Program.

HRAC’s founder and Executive Director, Mrs Nana Oye Lithur, is a renowned human rights advocate and lawyer in Ghana.  She is committed to address any human rights issues in Ghana that come to light. Nana realises that her commitment to human rights advocacy may at times put her in personal danger, and she explained to me one day that she always keeps three days supply of medicine and money in her office in case of an emergency. Nana is an inspiration to work with – she personally supervises all the projects and cases, and is also frequently attending and organising high level seminars, round table meetings and forums, on a national and international level.

On my first day in the centre I was asked to create a questionnaire for a fact-finding mission. Two days later, I was in the field conducting interviews in the local slum area which had been demolished unannounced by local government authorities. This work culminated in a press conference with all the key media, newspaper and radio representatives present. The legal research report I wrote will be submitted to Parliament and local government, and be the basis for negotiations for the development of a National Policy and legislation to regulate the practice of forced evictions and demolitions in Ghana. Such work is a testament to HRAC’s ability to respond to local crises and bring issues of vulnerable persons to the attention of the community and the government.

HRAC gave me the opportunity to be involved directly in many legal research projects and seminars, which enabled me to develop my skills and gain exposure both in the field and at high level strategic meetings. I have also been personally in charge of five cases in the human rights legal clinic, working together with local human rights lawyers. Nana has an open door policy, so all the officers can approach her directly for questions and advice, as we strive to meet her high expectations and fulfill our responsibilities to the citizens of Ghana. The HRAC staff are highly motivated, flexible and very effective, producing lots of quality work, despite significant resource restraints.

One of my main projects here was to coordinate the research team, and then write and edit the organisation’s Universal Periodic Review submission to the UN Human Rights Council. Through this experience I further understood the diversity of work that the HRAC addresses: abortion, commercial sex workers, the death penalty, HIV & AIDs, refugees, right to information, right to health, mental health and psychiatric services, gender based violence, and many more.  On all these issues they have conducted extensive in-field research, run training sessions for police and government officials, as well as submitting reports to and consulting with UN bodies and foreign missions.

HRAC is one of the most active and effective organisations in the country, and has the potential to be even more powerful with access to additional resources and funding. HRAC is exceptional in its management of volunteers, treating both long-term and short-term volunteers as valuable members of the HRAC team and family. Nana and Daniel Asare Korang (the programs manager) are very skilled and experienced at managing and delegating tasks according to the individuals’ skills and capacity, and at the same time they do their best to give each volunteer a wide exposure to the live human rights issues in Ghana.

I was also lucky to be selected by Nana, to monitor and investigate the “Jesus One Touch” case – one of the country’s high profile defilement and incest cases. A pastor was sentenced to ten years in prison on both counts, for defiling his ten year old daughter over a two year period from when she was eight. HRAC involved itself in this case by submitting an amicus curiae in support of the prosecution’s case. I was responsible for navigating the hierarchy and politics of the High Court administrative system, to make sure HRAC’s submission was filed, received and read by the judge. Nana sent me to court as rapporteur, and due to the security risks and high press presence sent along one of the local lawyers with me also. The defence lawyers were furious when the final judgment on appeal was adjourned by the judge who said he needed to reconsider the case based on a submission by a human rights organisation. The final judgment two weeks later was found in favour of the accused, who was acquitted by the judge on points of law.  This was just the beginning of HRAC’s work, as Nana instructed me to apply for the court proceedings, write letters to the attorney-general pleading for them to launch an appeal.

Nana has been a great mentor during my four months in Ghana. Nana encouraged me to collect all the headline articles in the papers and in the media, reporting of her actions, as they were a record of my work at HRAC. I sincerely appreciate the genuine effort of Nana and her all staff to make my time here a once in a lifetime experience.

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