United Nations member countries have urged the Ghanaian government to address the shackling and inhumane treatment of people with mental health conditions in Ghana, Human Rights Watch said today. These recommendations were made on January 24, 2023, at the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review of Ghana.
“Ghana has failed to meet its own commitment to protecting the rights of people with psychosocial disabilities who are held in shackles in faith-based and traditional healing centers,” said Adriana Masgras, disability rights coordinator at Human Rights Watch. “We want to see all countries institute and enforce a global ban on shackling, including in Ghana.”
The inhumane practice of shackling exists due to inadequate support and mental health services, as well as widespread beliefs that stigmatize people with psychosocial disabilities, which have continued despite positive legal developments over the past decade.
The Universal Periodic Review (UPR) process was established in 2006, to assess the human rights records of each UN member state every five years.
Prior to the review itself, Ghana, through a national report, UN entities, and civil society organizations had the opportunity to report on Ghana’s progress in carrying out recommendations made during previous cycles of the review process. Human Rights Watch submitted a report outlining the human rights abuses against people with psychosocial disabilities in prayer camps and psychiatric hospitals in Ghana, which it documented with reports in 2012 and 2020.
During the 2017 review, Ghana’s government supported 10 out of 11 recommendations addressing the rights of people with disabilities, including to “prevent, investigate and prosecute inhumane treatment in prayer camps or witch camps and psychiatric hospitals” and “address societal attitudes condoning such violations and abuses of rights of persons with mental disabilities.” However, shackling persists.
In November 2022, Human Rights Watch visited five prayer camps and traditional healing centers in the Eastern and Central region of Ghana, and interviewed more than 50 people. These included people with psychosocial disabilities, mental health professionals, staff at prayer camps and traditional healing centers, mental health advocates, religious leaders, and two senior government officials. Human Rights Watch found more than 60 people, including some children, in chains or confined in small cages and witnessed serious human rights abuses, including a lack of adequate food, unsanitary conditions and a lack of hygiene, and a lack of freedom of movement.
One woman said she was raped three times and never received post-rape care. She said the staff’s response was to lock her door so outsiders couldn’t gain access to her. Human Rights Watch shared this information with Ghana’s Mental Health Authority and Commission on Human Rights and Administrative Justice.
Ghana should establish the levy envisaged under the 2012 Mental Health Act to fund mental health services as a matter of priority; develop voluntary and accessible community-based mental health and support services so families do not resort to shackling; and adequately resource the recently formed Visiting Committees and Mental Health Tribunal, mandated to monitor implementation of the law and investigate complaints.
It should also provide information to traditional and faith-based healers, as well as the general public, to combat the stigma associated with mental health conditions, and ensure that people with psychosocial disabilities receive adequate support for housing, independent living, and job training. Other countries, particularly those that called for an end to shackling, should hold Ghana accountable to the UPR recommendations it supported in bilateral and multilateral forums.
“Everyone in Ghana, including people with mental health conditions, has the right to live free from stigma, discrimination, and abuse and to receive the services and support they need,” Masgras said. “Ghana, with the encouragement of other governments, needs to abide by its own commitments and immediately enforce its existing ban on shackling.”