A. Nature and description of emergency COVID-19 measures
Declaration of a national state of disaster/ states of emergency (Regulations) and derogation and limitations of rights
The President of Ghana first addressed the nation on COVID-19 on 12 March 2020. At this time there had not been any reported cases in Ghana. His second addressed to the nation was on 15 March 2020, when Ghana had just recorded six coronavirus cases. The president imposed a number of restrictions including the banning of all public gatherings ‘including conferences, workshops, funerals, festivals, political rallies, sporting events and religious activities, such as services in churches and mosques’ for 4 weeks and the closure of all schools (both public and private) indefinitely. Businesses were allowed to continue operating subject to observing social distancing and hygiene procedures. The President directed the Attorney General to present emergency legislation before parliament in response to the pandemic. This resulted in the enactment of the Imposition of Restrictions Act, 2020 (Act 1012). The President also directed the Minister of Health to issue an Executive Instrument in terms of section 169 of the Public Health Act, 2012 (Act 851) to regularise the measures announced by the President which led to the promulgation of the Declaration of Public Health Emergency Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic Instrument, 2020, which came into force on 23 March 2020. The Declaration among others mandated that all persons who showed symptoms be tested for COVID-19 and all persons entering the country to be tested and undergo 14 days’ quarantine. It authorised the health authorities to subject anyone who is unable to self-quarantine to mandatory quarantine and made provision for social distancing and hygiene procedures.
Subsequent to the enactment of the Imposition of Restrictions Act, which empowers the President to imposed certain restrictions on fundamental rights by means of Executive Instrument, in times of emergency, a number of Executive Instruments were issued by the President to further elaborate on measures to be adopted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These include Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic) Instrument, 2020 (Executive Instrument No 1), which came into force on 23 March 2020. Executive Instrument No 1 imposed a nationwide three weeks’ suspension of all public gatherings including religious gathering, conferences, workshops, funerals, festivals, political rallies, sporting events, private social gatherings, nights clubs and events centres. A number of industries were exempted from these restrictions, namely; persons working in service provision, manufacturing or industrial workplaces, supermarkets, shopping malls and markets, restaurants, hotels, drinking bars, security services and essential services (as defined by the Instrument). Exempted industries were required to observe social distancing and hygiene procedures. Executive Instrument No 1 also imposed restrictions on foreign travel, effectively closing all of Ghana’s borders for two weeks. Persons who had entered Ghana immediately before 23 March 2020 were required to quarantine for 14 days.
On the same day, the government issued the Electronic Communications System-Instrument, 2020 (EI 63) which requires mobile telecom network operators to put their networks ‘at the disposal of the State for the mass dissemination of information to the public in the case of an emergency, including a public health emergency’ and cooperate with the National Communications Authority to provide information to state agencies in times of emergencies. This was adopted ostensibly to facilitate contact tracing. However, provisions of EI 63 has been criticised as being overly broad and opening the floodgates for potential mass surveillance by government.
The government also passed the Novel Coronavirus Covid-19 National Trust Fund Act 2020 (Act 1013), to mobilise resources to complement the efforts of the government in responding to the pandemic.
This was followed by the Imposition of Restrictions Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic (No. 2) Instrument, 2020, which among others imposed 14 days lockdown in the major urban centres of Great Accra and Kumasi Metropolitan areas, including suspension of intercity movements for both private and commercial purposes. Operators of intra-city transport were also required to reduce loading capacity to enable social distancing and ensure hygiene procedures are followed. Executive Instrument No 2 required all person who tested positive for COVID-19 to provide health authorities with information relating to all persons they had been in contact with. A number of exemptions were allowed including persons involved in the production, processing, distribution and sale of food, even though restaurants and other food venders were only allowed to serve take-outs. Other persons exempted from these restrictions include members of the executive (both national and local), legislature and judiciary, and other persons providing essential services such as members of the media, road and railway construction workers, farmers and fisherfolk, staff of electricity, water and telecommunication service providers, the staff of fuels stations, banks and ancillary financial institutions, licensed private security personnel, staff of pharmaceutical, food and beverage companies and environmental and sanitation workers.
On 3 April 2020, the government issued Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic) (No. 3) Instrument, 2020, which extended the closure of the borders for another 14 days, except ‘the transportation of goods, supplies and cargo into Ghana’. Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic) (No. 4) Instrument, 2020 followed on 11 April 2020, extending the restrictions on public gathering imposed by Executive Instrument No 1 for another 14 days, and the lockdown imposed by Executive Instrument No 2 for a further 7 days. The Closure of the borders was extended for a further two weeks via Imposition of Restrictions (Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Pandemic) (No. 5) Instrument, 2020, which commenced on 17 April 2020. The Government announced the lifting of the partial lockdown on 19 April to take effect from 20 April. On 1 May 2020, the President announced a further extension of the closure of borders for 1 month, and the restrictions on public gatherings were also extended for three more weeks on 10 May 2020.
On 31 May 2020, the President announced the easing of some of the restrictions on public gatherings starting from 5 June 2020 which included allowing 25% capacity opening of religious activities up to a maximum of 100 people at a time for a duration of 1 hour while observing social distancing and hygiene procedures. Other measures included the return of all final years to their various educational institutions starting from 15 June subject to restrictions on class sizes and observing hygiene procedures. Restrictions on ‘sporting events, nightclubs, cinemas, drinking spots, bars, beaches, festivals, funerals, political rallies, and large religious gatherings’ were extended to 31 July. The borders remained closed till further notice, except for the first time, Ghanaian residents stranded abroad were allowed to return subject to mandatory quarantine and safety protocols. Restrictions on gatherings for religious activities was lifted on 1 August 2020 and the Kotoka International Airport was opened for international travel on 1 September 2020. High schools and universities currently are reopening in phases.
B. Democracy-related issues arising from COVID-19 responses of states
Ghana is due to have national general elections (presidential and parliamentary) on 7 December 2020. In the midst of the pandemic, the Electoral Commission decided to compile a new voters’ register from 30 June to 6 August 2020 despite caution from civil society, health workers and opposition parties. Reports suggest that social distancing and health protocols were not follow-ups in many registration centres. Election preparations are currently ongoing and voters are expected to vote on 7 December.
The executive has been at the forefront of the responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, putting in place measures to counter the spread of the virus, provide testing and treatment facilities and economic stimulus to cushion the economy and residents against the impacts of the pandemic. In April, the government secured a $1billion facility from the International Monetary Fund to supplement revenue shortfall and respond to the pandemic.
Parliament has continued to work since measures were introduced by the government in response to COVID-19. In particular, in the beginning of the pandemic, parliament passed the Imposition of Restrictions Act, which provided the basis for some of the measures that were adopted in response to the pandemic.
- Judiciary (role of courts; decided cases related to COVID-19)
The Courts continued to work throughout the course of the pandemic, adopting measures to reduce the number of persons allowed into a courtroom at a time. In the cities which were affected by lockdown measures, specific courts were designated to adjudicate particularly on cases involving breach of lockdown regulations. The Chief Justice issued a directive on 20 March 2020, relating to measures to be adopted to prevent the spread of COVID-19, which urged lawyers and their clients to seek an adjournment of their cases to late dates, encouraging judges and magistrates to be flexible in adjournments and restricting access to court rooms to only lawyers and the parties to cases.
- Transparency/ access to information
Information on measures adopted by the government is quite easily available online. All speeches and updates are posted on the official website of the Presidency.
- Abuse by law enforcement agents/exacerbation of authoritarian tendencies/power grabs
There have been a number of reports of abuse perpetrated by law enforcement agents especially during the 3 weeks’ partial lockdown imposed on Accra and Kumasi metropolitan areas. Perhaps what could be perceived as the biggest power grab by the Executive was the enactment of the Imposition of Restrictions Act, which arguably circumvents parliament’s oversight powers during emergency periods. The Imposition of Restrictions Act gives the president broad powers to restrict constitutionally guaranteed rights without the need for parliamentary oversight, in what has been described as the usurpation of parliament’s oversight power’s by the executive.
- Democratic reform
There was no information on this at the time of completing this research.
C. Human rights-related issues arising from COVID-19 responses of states
- Right to health (including infrastructure, access to testing)
In the midst of the pandemic, the government announced that Ghana’s first 100 bed Infectious Disease Centre, had been completed. This was an initiative of Ghana COVID-19 Private Sector Fund with the support of the government and Ghana armed forces. There are plans to construct three more such centres across the country to facilitate research and treatment of infectious diseases. Ghana is one of the better performing countries in Africa when it comes to testing and contact tracing.
- Right to housing (including homelessness, informal settlements, slums, shacks)
Ghana is estimated to have a housing deficit of 1.7 million homes, due to chronic underfunding, inadequate mortgage financing, high cost of building materials, population growth and urbanisation among others. Consequently, an estimated 39% of all urban dwellers in Ghana live in slums, with the majority having limited access to water and sanitary facilities that can support social distancing and sanitary etiquettes required to protect against the spread of COVID-19. The COVID-19 pandemic has therefore further revealed the level of socio-economic inequalities in Ghana. To add salt to injury, the Accra Metropolitan Assembly demolished wooden shelters of informal dwellers on 15 April 2020, rendering about 1000 slum dwellers at Old Fadama in Accra homeless in the middle of a lockdown, with many, including children having to sleep in the open, without access to water and toilet facilities, further exposing them to the risk of infection. Consequently, while measures such as the government’s absorption of water and electricity bills for the months of April to June 2020, was a welcome measure, the failure of government to protect slum-dwellers against evictions further exacerbated their plight. Many homeless Ghanaians lack access to masks and are unable to observe social distancing.
- Right to water and sanitation
The government provided ‘free access to water for all households across the country, fully absorbed electricity bills for one million active lifeline customers, and granted a fifty percent (50%) subsidy on electricity bills of all other customers, using the March 2020 bill as the benchmark’ between April and June. The provision of free water supply was extended for another 3 months (up to the end of September) and free electricity to lifeline customers has been extended till the end of 2020. While this provided relief for those who have access to safe water, it did little for rural and peri-urban communities that have limited access to water.
- Right to food/ nutrition and other socio-economic rights
The government announced in the mid-year budget review that 2.74 million cooked and dry food packs were distributed to vulnerable people during the three weeks lockdown in Accra and Kumasi at the cost of US$9.3 million. This however, is no panacea to the risk of food insecurity associated with the pandemic. In June 2020, the Minister of Environment, Science and Technology is reported to have disclosed that Ghana could lose up to 30% of its food production due to the adverse effects of the pandemic. Research also suggests about 20% of loss in the agri-food system due to the pandemic, even though the food sector was exempted from lockdown and other related COVID-19 response measures. This coupled with supply disruptions occasioned by border closures and the general economic downtown could have devastating impacts on food security. Research reveals a surge in food prices due to the pandemic, resulting from Ghana’s reliance on imported food, the supply of which has declined due to border closures. Researchers have recommended support for farmers, partnerships with the private sector and rethinking of the supply chain to ‘create a more resilient, sustainable and inclusive food production system for the future’.
- Economic impact/ impact small business/ employment social security networks
From April to June, the government provided incentive packages to health workers which was extended for another 3 months (up to September). These include the exemption of all health workers from income tax and the payment of 50% of the basic salaries of frontline health workers as an additional allowance. Government has also reduced Communication Service Tax from 9% to 5%, starting September 2020, to ensure that telecom and internet services are more affordable.
Government also established the Coronavirus Alleviation Programme (CAP) Business Support Scheme to disbursed Six Hundred Million Ghana Cedis (GHS600 million) ‘to support micro, small and medium scale enterprises, which have been affected by the economic downturn caused by the pandemic’. Reports suggest that 120,000 businesses have received COVID-19 support. Additional funding of One Hundred and Fifty Million Ghana Cedis (GHS150 million) is being provided to the CAP Business Support Scheme, so that more businesses can be supported. The Minister of Finance, announced through the mid-year budget review plans to establish a Guarantee Scheme of up to Two Billion Ghana Cedis (GHS2 Billion) to enable businesses to borrow from banks at more affordable rates. The government also announced plans to establish a National Unemployment Insurance Scheme to provide temporary income support for those affected by the pandemic.The Central Bank took some mitigating measures to alleviate the impact of the pandemic, including reduction of key interest rate from 16% to 14.5%, lowering reserve requirements of lending banks from 10% to 8 % and decreasing of the conservation buffer from 3% to 1.5%.
- Women (including domestic violence)
The pandemic has exacerbated already existing gender inequalities, exposing women to the risk of abuse. Because of patriarchal attitudes, women and girls are expected to take up the bulk of domestic work such as cooking, cleaning and caring for the sick (including those infected with COVID-19). This places women in multiple risks. One report revealed that many young women and girls expressed feelings of anxiety resulting from being constantly at home, which means they are the only ones doing housework. With the closure of schools, working women with children are particularly impacted as the have to juggle full time child care with work – some are forced to exit the labour market to care for children or sick relatives.
The pandemic also exposed women to gender-based violence resulting from being stuck at home for longer periods with their partners and as economic hardships resulting from the pandemic increases tensions within the home, leading to gender-based violence, most of which goes unreported.
As many services were closed down, access reduced to ensure social distancing or resources redirected to cater to COVID-19, women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights have also been negatively impacted. For instance, the International Planned Parenthood Federation reported that it had to close some of its facilities in Ghana due to the pandemic.Women are also economically impacted by the pandemic. The majority of women in Ghana are employed in the informal sector, usually engaged in the trading of goods, sometimes across borders. With prolonged border closures, many women who engage in cross-border trading were prevented from engaging in their trade.
- Children (including education)
The pandemic has had a devastating impact on children disrupting access to vital services including access to education and healthcare. Schools were shut down for many months and are only now gradually returning normalcy in a phased-in manner. The Ministry of Education responded to the closure of schools through the use of distance learning, utilising radio, television and online sources to teach students pending return to the regular school calendar. While this is a useful response, it essentially means that children from poor homes without radio or television and children from rural areas without electricity will be disadvantaged from accessing education.
The girl child has been particularly impacted by the pandemic as lockdowns, movement restrictions and closure of schools mean girls spending more time with men and boys than they would if they were in school, which exposes them to increased risky sexual behaviour, sexual exploitation and sexual violence, resulting in an increase in teenage pregnancies. The economic hardships resulting from the pandemic also makes girls from poor backgrounds vulnerable to sexual exploitation. One study found a nine-fold increase in teenage pregnancies in one locality during the course of the pandemicThe decline in employment and economic opportunities for parents exposes children from poor homes to hunger, dropping out of school and child labour. This also puts children at risk of trafficking as parents are more susceptible to financial motivations from child traffickers. The abrupt disruption of children’s engagement with friends and peers through the closure of schools and lockdown/stay at home measures also means that children have limited access to leisure which has the potential of causing children to gain weight, develop depression and other behavioural changes.
- Persons with disabilities
The COVID-19 pandemic had a profound impact on persons with disabilities. Research reveals that care given to older persons with disabilities declined because of partial lockdown that was instituted in parts of the country. This exposed them to loneliness and hunger. Even older persons with disabilities who live with their families were not spared the impact of COVID-19 as families kept them indoors for several weeks because of their vulnerability to the virus and the general lack of trust in the healthcare system. Students with disabilities have also been particularly impacted by the pandemic. Students with special needs such as those with visual and hearing impairments have struggled to adapt to online learning which was instituted by many higher education institutions in the height of the pandemic. Without assistive devices, students with hearing impairments who were separated from their sign language interpreters or had limited knowledge of sign language were negatively affected. Students with visual impairments were also negatively impacted as they were separated from their sighted friends who usually assist them. While most of the challenges could have been overcome with the right devices, this is not affordable for most students with disabilities.
- LGBTI Persons
The unfortunate scapegoating of LGBTI people during crisis reared its head once again during the COVID-19 pandemic. In March, a Muslim cleric in Ghana was reported to have blamed the pandemic on LGBTI people. While there has been no reported attacks against LGBTI people emanating from this unfortunate statement, such false utterances have the potential to increase stigmatisation and discrimination as well as violence against LGBTI people. The partial lockdown and negative economic downtown also had a negative impact on the livelihoods of LGBTI people who rely on services that had to shut down during lockdown or as a result of economic distress emanating from the pandemic.
- Indigenous persons
The was no information on this at the time of completing the research.
Ghana is home to an and estimated 466,780 international migrants who mostly come from within the ECOWAS region and are low skilled with limited social protection. There are also an estimated 6.5 million internal migrants within Ghana. The pandemic is predicted to have a significant impact on both internal and international migrants because of the decline in wages and employment. Many internal migrants work as domestic workers and head porters, who were gravely affected by measures such as partial lockdowns. Some head porters were reported to have left the cities to their villages during the partial lockdown in Accra and Kumasi, somethings in overcrowded trucks exposing them to potential infection. Some of those stranded were assisted by the National Disaster Management Organisation and the Ministry of Gender. Those who end up as domestic workers are also exposed to increased risk as they usually play the role of caring for the sick in the home, including those infected with COVID-19.
Undocumented international migrants are particularly at risk of being overlooked in any government responses, further exacerbating their vulnerability. The International Organisation on Migration (IOM) has therefore advised the government of Ghana to include all migrants in its COVID-19 response. As of now, there is no tangible policy response concerning migrants. IOM also reported that mobility restrictions resulted in some migrants, including Ghanaians being stuck in transit centres and some resorting to using unapproved points of entry due to border closures.
- Persons deprived of their liberty (persons in incarceration; police detention)
On 26 March the President announced a pardon and release of 783 first time offenders, 11 seriously ill and 3 very old prisoners (above 70 years), as part of the measures to decongest prisoners and create space for social distancing in prisons. A further 772 first time offenders, 16 very old and 4 seriously ill prisoners were released through a statement issued on 60 June 2020. A number of prisoners on death roll had their sentences commuted to life imprisonment while others had their life sentences reduced to 20 years’ imprisonment.
- Right to life and bodily security (arrests; deaths as result of lockdown)
There were several reports of police using excessive force to enforce lockdown regulations. No fatalities resulting from violence perpetrated by law enforcement agencies were reported.
- Freedom of assembly
Freedom of assembly has been severely curtailed since the government first announced measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the restrictions on public gatherings at various stages of the pandemic response, the right to assembly and protest was severely impacted. For instance, in June, protesters who organised a vigil in Accra in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement were dispersed and their leader arrested for allegedly defying COVID-19 regulations. Earlier in April, a pastor and two others were reportedly sentenced to a fine of the equivalent of $2400 or 4 years’ imprisonment for organising a church service in defiance of COVID-19 regulations. In May, 4 chiefs received similar sentences for organising a traditional coronation ceremony in defiance of COVID-19 regulations.
- Freedom of movement
Freedom of movement was curtailed during the initial lockdown in selected cities and metropolitan areas and borders were closed. Intercity travel between the affected cities was prohibited and persons who breached these prohibitions risked being subjected to criminal sanctions or administrative fines. For instance, in the beginning of the partial lockdown, there were reports that the police had intercepted a truck transporting head porters known in local parlance as kayaye, on their way to northern Ghana for violating restrictions on movement. The vehicle was returned to Accra and provided temporary shelter by the Accra Metropolitan Assembly. Many Ghanaians, especially students were stranded abroad for many months due to border closures, some of whom were evacuated after many months of waiting.
- Freedom of expression/ access to information/ privacy/digital rights
As indicated earlier, the adoption of EI 63, which compels mobile network companies to provide the National Communications Authority with details of all subscribers has the potential to be used for mass surveillance and other forms of infringement on the right to privacy. This instrument was adopted under section 100 of the Electronic Communications Act, which only allows the president to invoke such powers for the purposes of ‘law enforcement of national security. While public health emergencies could arguably be classified as a national security issue, some commentators have argued, without a declaration of a state of emergency, EI 63 is an overreach, which could potentially be used to fetter the enjoyment of the right to privacy.
D. Summary (Analysis, Trends)
While the 1992 Constitution of Ghana makes provision for the declaration of a state of emergency in situations such as the COVID-19 pandemic, the Government of Ghana did not declare a state of emergency, which provides parliamentary oversight of executive action and need to be regularly re-authorised by Parliament. Instead, the government pushed through new legislation on the restriction of rights – the Imposition of Restrictions Act. The Imposition of Restrictions Act is not COVID-19 specific legislation as it relates to the restrictions of rights generally. The Imposition of Restrictions Act empowers the president to exercise emergency powers without the need to declare a state of emergency. Some commentators have argued that this amounts to a usurpation of the powers of the legislature by the executive thereby essentially amounting to a ‘quasi-state of emergency’ without the requisite safeguards and legislative oversight required by the constitution during a state of emergency. The impact of the Imposition of Restrictions Act will be long felt even after the COVID-19 pandemic is over.
On the whole, while the government acted quickly to respond to the pandemic, there is a need for more inclusive and comprehensive responses to ensure that the most vulnerable including children, older persons, persons with disabilities, women and migrants receive attention to safeguarding the rights and wellbeing. The pandemic has exposed the inadequacy of social protection systems in Ghana and the need to broaden these systems.