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Baroness Blatch: I make the point that we need to make the distinction between the country in general for designation purposes and the individual case. The noble Lord has spoken almost exclusively on individual cases and those will have a proper and fair hearing. That is as it should be.
Specifically on Ghana, major constitutional changes in 1992 returned the country to democratic civilian rule. The constitution now guarantees fundamental rights and freedoms and the rule of law. Membership of political parties is widespread and open. Most recent reports, including the 1995 US State Department report, indicate that there are no known political prisoners or detainees. Amnesty International has confirmed that there is no evidence of politically inspired disappearances since the return to democracy. We recognise that there have been outbreaks of friction between Christians and Moslems and longer standing friction between tribes in the northern region of Ghana. But the authorities have reacted promptly to contain the disorder and to restore peace and the rule of law. Despite those conditions, 1,900 asylum claims were received last year, almost all of which were unfounded.
I wish to comment on all the aspects referred to by the noble Lord. Government economic policies in Ghana since the mid-1980s have resulted in financial stringencies for most of the population. It has to be said that the average per capita annual national income is still only about £300. Employment opportunities are scarce and qualified professional workers can expect salary levels which compare badly with remuneration for even menial jobs in the developed world.
Our assessment is based on independent monitoring. In addition to reports from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, we take account of the views of other western governments, independent press reporting and reports from organisations such as Amnesty International.
International monitoring of the 1992 elections by teams of observers, including representatives from the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth and the Carter Centre, concluded that despite some irregularities, largely caused by the out-of-date and inaccurate voters' register, the elections were free and fair. A new voters' register has been compiled for the 1996 elections.
Membership of political parties is widespread and ordinary Ghanaians are not discouraged from joining the party of their choice or harassed for their political opinions. The constitution was introduced in January 1993, but political change had begun before that. Registration of voters to a new electoral roll took place in October 1995 and there has been considerable activity by opposition parties to select candidates to contest the elections which will take place in November and December this year.
The 1992 constitution, adopted on 7th January 1993, guarantees the fundamental human rights and freedoms of every Ghanaian citizen. There is no convincing evidence of widespread, systematic abuse of individuals' constitutional rights. Although there have been isolated reports of individuals abusing their authority, there is evidence that appropriate disciplinary or legal action has been taken against them and that victims who have suffered abuse of their human, civil or constitutional rights have received compensation.
The 1995 US State Department report cited two instances which it described as extra-judicial killing of suspects in police custody. That was referred to by the noble Lord. In one case, the officers responsible have been suspended from duty pending the result of an investigation. In the other, the police were exonerated. It is not known whether a further reported death in custody is under investigation. Amnesty International has reported no politically motivated killings in its 1995 report.
The constitution of Ghana specifically guarantees respect for human dignity and prohibits torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. Our assessment is that such treatment is neither systematically practised nor condoned by the authorities. Again, Amnesty International has reported no politically motivated disappearances since the introduction of the constitution. Our most recent information, including the 1995 US State Department report, indicates that there are no known political prisoners or detainees.
One could go on, but the last point with which I wish to deal was touched on by the noble Lord. It concerns the independence of the media. The constitution guarantees the freedom and independence of the media. The National Media Commission was established to ensure and oversee that. The commission has a majority of members appointed by non-governmental interests, such as the Ghana Bar Association which has traditionally campaigned for civil rights, and the press, writers, educationists and religious groups. Although television and radio were state-owned, about 30 licences
My final point is that Ghana has already been included in the list of countries designated by Germany, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Denmark. The noble Lord referred to many individual cases, all of which, if they came through the system, would be considered on their merits. If the individuals qualified for asylum under the 1951 convention, it would be granted. But for those who come seeking asylum, the practice is that the majority have not qualified.
Earl Russell: I do not know whether the noble Baroness is aware that she has erected an entirely circular argument. She has given us a country assessment which, at this time of night, I shall confine myself to calling "unexpected". Can she say who were the independent monitors to whom she referred? The Minister then advanced the fact that the vast majority of refugees from Ghana had not been accepted. She advanced those as if they were two entirely unconnected facts. The question is: are they two entirely unconnected facts or are they two entirely connected facts? The credibility of applicants is judged in relation to the country assessment. If the country assessment should by any awful chance be mistaken, many more applicants from that country will be found to be incredible than would otherwise be the case. That illustrates why we need the country assessments published so that we can consider and discuss them with people who have independent sources of information.
Baroness Blatch: On the final point, I have already given an assurance that when the designation list comes forward assessments will accompany it. The House will then have an opportunity to consider them.
I mention just three of the independent sources of advice: the United States State Department; the Carter Centre; and Amnesty International. I do not know whether the noble Lord has any criticisms of those organisations. I certainly believe that they are highly reputable in this field.
Baroness Blatch: The noble Lord, Lord Harris, does not have the advantage that I have. I have listened to this debate from the beginning. There was an implied criticism that the independent monitors were not very independent. I am simply saying that I believe the three I cited--and there are others--are highly reputable in
Viscount Waverley: I recently visited both urban and rural areas in Ghana. I spoke with parliamentarians and persons at grass-roots level. I listened carefully to the Minister's explanation and I shall support the Government on this particular issue.
Lord Avebury: Without knowing where the noble Viscount went, it is very difficult for me to comment. I draw his attention to a comment I made earlier, which the Minister totally ignored; namely, that there are 97,500 refugees from Ghana in Togo, and 15,000 elsewhere in the region. Those people are recognised by the UNHCR as refugees.
I asked the noble Baroness this question earlier, but I am afraid she did not address it. How can it be that UNHCR has recognised 113,000 refugees in the region--a fairly large number in relation to Ghana's population--if, as she says, no general risk of persecution arises in Ghana and that we can therefore legitimately place Ghana on the special list of countries that are not supposed to give rise to any refugees? I believe the term used by lawyers in such cases is: res ipsa loquitur--the facts speak for themselves. If there are 113,000 refugees in neighbouring countries, that means that Ghana must be a country that gives rise to a flow of people recognised by the UNHCR as coming within the 1951 convention.
To repeat my remarks in relation to the earlier amendment, the noble Baroness again places far too much reliance on the existence of elections and constitutions. There are plenty of countries all over the world where elections are held but which do not observe human rights. Ghana is not the only one in that category. The Minister's quotations from the State Department report were selective. The State Department said that the elections were controversial; that the international monitors acknowledged irregularities; and that the four opposition parties claimed massive fraud in the elections and subsequently boycotted them.
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