Posted by: naomimcclellan | December 20, 2012

HRAC, In the beginning

Time loses all meaning in Ghana. The sun is scorching by 10am and the locals have well and truly started their day by 7am. Keen to not waste a second, I commenced my internship the day after I landed in Accra and extended my internship from three to five months. I awoke to the sound of roosters crowing and it felt like a dream to realise that I was back in Africa, about to throw myself into an area of law that I love. The Human Rights Advocacy Centre (HRAC) is a thirty-minute walk from my apartment. The walk involves dodging cars, chickens, goats and most importantly dodging the potholes that are scattered across the dusty streets. On my first day I put my leg through one of these holes, which meant that my entrance into work was not nearly as graceful as I had imagined! The number of people who rushed to my assistance is a testament to the wonderful, caring nature of the Ghanain people.

Founded in 2008, The Human Rights Advocacy Centre is a small NGO taking on the enormous task of fighting for the human rights of all vulnerable minorities in Ghana. Nana Oye Lithur is the Executive Director of HRAC. Nana is one of the strongest women I have encountered and a fierce human rights activist. The projects undertaken by the HRAC range from advocating for LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender) rights to producing protocols for schools to prevent Gender Based Violence (GBV) to researching and advocating for refugee rights. The complete list of enthralling projects and cases is available at the HRAC website.

My first week at the HRAC was intense, diverse and fascinating. On my first day I was given several massive folders of cases and articles so that I could acquaint myself with the work that the HRAC had taken on. After that, I dived into a whirlpool of work. To give a brief summary, the week involved commencing a research paper on GBV in schools, drafting an issues paper about why Reproductive Health Rights (RHR) are Human Rights, preparing and submitting a legal opinion to the Supreme Court on Juvenile Justice rights, two days of field work in rural villages, interviewing students about their experiences with GBV, and attending a conference on abortion rights with people ranging from UN officials to Miss Ghana.

An example of the challenging work that the HRAC undertakes is illustrated by a case (one of many) that I encountered in my first week, which related to LGBT rights in Ghana. A boy had been repeatedly blackmailed, attacked, beaten, robbed and cast out by a group of people who had obtained nude photographs of him. When the boy reported the incident to the police, the police officer refused to assist him, telling him that he had deserved to be attacked because he way gay. The boy approached several other police stations before a detective agreed to proceed with an investigation. Even after registering this complaint, the boy continued to be attacked by the same group of perpetrators to the extent that he had to change house twice. Unsurprisingly, the boy became suicidal. In response to this atrocity, the HRAC helped the boy to find a safe place to live and is taking action against the police for their negligence and their refusal to aid a citizen of Ghana. Due to the boy being diagnosed as mentally ill, the case is now on hold.

 I am often asked why I applied to undertake an internship at the HRAC. Hopefully my short blog has already answered this question. Interning at HRAC has given me the enriching opportunity to work with a talented team of human rights experts and to fight for basic human rights, such as the right to human dignity. I feel that there is no better way to use my legal skills. I am also grateful for being empowered by Nana to manage my own cases, to play a leading role in developing policy papers, and to be provided with the opportunity to see the ‘on the ground’ impact of international treaties and human rights protocols. There is no better way to learn and gain a holistic insight into the international human rights framework.

I look forward to sharing more of my experiences in the New Year.

Naomi McClellan, Human Rights Advocacy Centre, Accra, Ghana



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