Democracy Justice

THE ROLE OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION THE ROLE OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION: THE CASE OF GHANA

37The Review of Religions – April 2007 THE ROLE OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION IN ENHANCING DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE resemblance to the Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw). Like Joseph(as), the Holy Prophet(saw) gained honour and power in flight and banishment. When, after years in exile, he entered his native town as a conqueror and Makkah lay prostrate at his feet, he asked his people what treatment they expected from him. ‘The treatment that Joseph accorded to his brothers’, they replied, to which the Holy Prophet(saw) declared, ‘Then no reproach shall lie on you this day.’ An unparalleled example of reconciliation! I accepted to be a member of the National Reconciliation Commission out of my deep religious conviction of the value of reconciliation as a condition for peace in our dear country of Ghana. It is refreshing that this workshop is taking place some three weeks after the Government announced that an amount of 13 billion Ghanaian Cedis has been allocated for the provision of reparation to victims of human rights violations who petitioned the Commission for redressal of their grievances. It is my hope that the reparations and further counselling for the victims would contribute immensely to healing and closure for the victims and also impact on the reconciliation process. Having served as a Commissioner on Ghana’s National Reconciliation Commission, I have come to appreciate, for its healing value, the urgent necessity for every nation to make the effort to confront its past. Let me say that the agonising and incredulous stories which assaulted my ears and imagination, can only be described as evil and inex- plicable. But I have come through that experience with hope and confidence in the future of mankind and my dear country in particular. This hope is anchored on the fact that most of the victims, after narrating 38 The Review of Religions –April 2007 their testimonies of pain and suffering, at the loss of dear ones, and of a future destroyed, expressed their willingness to forsake revenge and commit themselves to forgiveness and reconciliation. It is this truth that gives me hope for the future. The National Reconciliation Commission opened its doors to victims of human rights viola- tions on September 2, 2002. Public hearings began on January 14, 2003 at the Old Parliament House, where almost fifty years earlier, on March 5 1957, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah had tabled the motion of the destiny for Ghana to become the first colony, South of the Sahara, to achieve independence from colonial rule. At the inauguration of the Commission in 2003, the then Attorney General, Nana Akuffo Addo said: ‘The inauguration of the public hearings is one more milestone on our tortuous, but determined path towards consolidating our democracy and fulfilling the goals of our national motto: Freedom and Justice.’ In all, over 4,000 persons petitioned the Commission. During the hearings, which were held in the national capital and regional capitals to give the people easy access and a sense of participation in the national reconciliation process, victims spoke, some amid tears, of killings, torture, detention, disappearances of relations, seizure of property, ill treatment and dismissals. For some petitioners, the Commission was able to exhume and hand over to them, the remains of relations, who had been executed and buried in mass graves. Working parallel to the public hearings were five committees that examined possible institutional culpability in fostering a climate that allowed human rights violations to thrive. The five committees were those on security services, the legal profession (including the THE ROLE OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION IN ENHANCING DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE 39The Review of Religions – April 2007 judiciary), the media, organised labour and students movement, professional bodies (other than legal), and religious bodies and the chieftaincy institution. With hindsight, I think another committee to look at ethnicity as being responsible for some of the human rights violations, could have been worthwhile. Besides, the institutional hearings should have been conducted in public and opened its doors to testimony from members of the public. On October 13, 2004, the Commission submitted its report to His Excellency, the President of the Republic of Ghana. The report embodies recommen- dations for reparations, the source of funding for repa- rations, institutional reforms, and specific actions for the nation to symbolically demonstrate con- trition and acknowledgement towards vic-tims of human rights violations. The report had this conclusion: “We must not be tied down to our past mistakes or mis- fortunes. Doing so would produce nothing but further suffering. Instead, we have to make serious efforts to put all the pains behind us, and help to build a new Ghana where the conditions that produced such pain and suffering would not be permitted to recur. Every Ghanaian must make a personal pledge that ‘NEVER AGAIN!’ shall such wrongs be a feature of governance or a feature of life on this beautiful land of our birth.” If a feature of governance that shall not accommodate such wrongs is democratic gover- nance, then the question to be asked is has the National Reconciliation Commission en- hanced democratic governance in Ghana? Answering this question must take into account the work of a truth commission as both a forward-looking and backward- looking exercise. As a nation THE ROLE OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION IN ENHANCING DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE 40 The Review of Religions –April 2007 looks back at its dark past and acknowledges responsibility, it must look into the present and the future and make them become illumined by the past. Successful truth commissions are those that leave in their place follow-up institutions to facilitate the implementation and monitoring of the recommen- dations of the commission. The completion of the work of a truth commission is the end of the beginning. Much more remains to be done in Ghana’s pursuit of a human rights culture. Thus the responsibility has now shifted away from the Commission to the state and to civil society. The extent to which the National Reconciliation Commission has impacted positively on democratic gover- nance can be located in the performance of the two important factors. It is worth noting that Ghana’s truth commission was dictated by its own mode of transition. It was not defined in terms of the four well-known categories: a) Full defeat in an armed war e.g. the treatment of Germany after World War II; b) Transition through a dictator’s loss in an election e.g. Chile; c) Transition through compro- mises and negotiation e.g. South Africa; and d) Transition from a long standing communist regime e.g. East European countries. Ghana’s truth commission was set up 10 years after the country had returned to democratic governance following eleven years of military rule during which a lot of human rights violations occurred. Three elections had been held, the last one leading to a change of government. During this time, indices of democratic gover- nance were present, however imperfect: constitutional rule, independent judiciary, rule of THE ROLE OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION IN ENHANCING DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE 41The Review of Religions – April 2007 Law, free media, civil society and a certain level of government accountability. Significantly, the then president, a military dictator turned politician, acknowledged the need for reconciliation and set in motion a process to de- confiscate properties earlier confiscated. It was an ad hoc arrangement that did not go far. A truth commission, that would have subjected his human rights record to public scrutiny, was not even discussed. This was unlike that of South Africa where the ANC set up a commission to probe human rights violations allegedly committed by its members during the liberation war well before the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission was set up. The government that set up the national reconciliation com- mission, then in opposition, had political space to sell its message and with the support of a free media, defeated the ruling party in the 2000 elections. In its manifesto, it had promised to set up a truth commission to investigate human rights violations as part of the process towards reconciliation. These are the antecedents to the establish- ment of Ghana’s National Reconciliation Commission. Any assessment of the role it has played in enhancing democratic gover-nance will have to look at the level of democratic governance in the pre-NRC period and attempt to establish whether there has been an improvement over that in the post NRC period. In the absence of any empirical evidence, any conclusion on improved democratic gover- nance after the NRC will be speculative. However, there are areas that attention must be focused. No doubt civil society has become more active. Advocacy is being intensified to increase public participation in policy making, legislative process and social dialogue. That THE ROLE OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION IN ENHANCING DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE 42 The Review of Religions –April 2007 the Domestic Violence Bill, Freedom of Information Bill and the Disability Bill are being laid before Parliament for passage testify to the active advocacy of civil society. The Coalition Against Water Privatisation has virtually put a hold on government action in the sector. In the area of conflict prevention and resolution, civil society has been playing a crucial role. For the current level of stability in Dagbon and the ending of the 80 year-old Alavanvo-Nkonya dispute, credit should go to the involvement of civil society, including the religious bodies. More importantly, Ghanaians have recognised that perennial political instability has not benefited the country and they have a shared responsibility to help sustain the current democratic dispensation. Above all, the gross human rights violations that occurred under the various military regimes and the First Republic that reduced the dignity and self-esteem of the people, have contributed in con- vincing them that an incompetent constitutional government, founded on the rule of law, is better than a military government and therefore there is the need for patience until the next elections during which they will exercise their franchise to retain or change it. If these modest indices constitute an enhancement of democratic governance in the country, then the National Reconciliation Commission was not set up in vain. THE ROLE OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION IN ENHANCING DEMOCRATIC GOVERNANCE 43The Review of Religions – April 2007 Say, ‘He is Allah the One! Allah the Independent and Besought of all. He begets not, nor is He begotten. And there is none like unto Him.’ (Ch.112: Vs.2-5) First Muslim in US Congress Keith Ellison made history in January 2007 by becoming the first Muslim member of the US Congress and embellishing the occasion by taking a ceremonial oath on the copy of the Holy Qur’an once owned by the third President of the USA, Thomas Jefferson. Mr. Ellison is an Afro- American who converted to Islam during his college years. In a very strategic move, he succeeded in taking his oath of office using Thomas Jefferson’s own copy of the Holy Qur’an. The Qur’an was acquired in 1815 as part of a 6,400-volume collection that Jefferson sold for $24,000 to replace the congressional library that had been burned by British troops the year before, in the War of 1812. The book’s leather binding was added in 1919. Inside, it reads, ‘The Koran, commonly called ‘The Alcoran of Mohammed.’ Jefferson marked his ownership by writing the letter ‘J’ next to the letter ‘T’ that was already at the bottom of pages. Speaking to ABC News in a broadcast, Ellison said it was only natural that he would take his oath on the Holy Qur’an, the book of his Islamic faith. ‘It’s the scripture that I read every day and it’s the book that I draw inspiration from,’ said the incoming lawmaker, who converted from Roman Catholicism to Islam while a student in college. Ellison, who is also the first black US lawmaker from Minnesota, said that as he goes about the business PRESIDENT THOMAS JEFFERSON – Was he a monotheist? By Zia H Shah MD, Syracuse, USA