UN Ghana continues Human Rights efforts

12 December 2016, Accra, Ghana

On 10 December every year, the UN commemorates Human Rights Day. This year, Human Rights Day called on everyone to stand up for someone's rights. Disrespect for basic human rights continues to be widespread across the globe. Extremist movements subject people to horrific violence. Messages of intolerance and hatred prey on our fears. Humane values are under attack.

Throughout our work in Ghana, the UN is committed to ensuring that everyone’s voice is heard and that everyone’s human rights are recognised and protected. This is at the core of the UN’s pledge to support Ghana in meeting its commitment to the Sustainable Development Agenda and the effort to “leave no one behind.”

"Upholding human rights is in the interest of all. Respect for human rights advances well-being for every individual, stability for every society, and harmony for our interconnected world,” said United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in his 2016 Human Rights Day message.

As part of our work, over the past few months we have been listening to Human Rights experts, advocates and representatives present their views of the human rights challenges in Ghana. Gathering their information and listening to their experience will inform our work to help follow up on the findings and recommendations published in August by the Human Rights Committee in its "Concluding observations on the initial reports of Ghana.”

The UN team has been reaching out to listen to excluded people who typically do not have a voice in Ghana in order to identify groups whose human rights are not being respected, or even recognised. Recently, UN staff met with three of those identified groups: under-age sex workers, the LGBTI community, and injection drug users. We wanted to hear from them directly about the challenges they face – challenges in the form of obstacles to fully enjoying their human rights. Although the challenges differ by group, there are common concerns about security and personal safety, the need for education and skills training, the issue of stigmatisation from society, and lack of access to health facilities and medical care.

In the group of under-aged sex workers sharing their experiences and concerns with UN staff, the average age of the female sex workers present was 14 years, and the youngest had been a sex worker since the age of 10. All shared the common wish to stop working in the sex industry and go to school. But it is difficult financially, and they feel like they are too old to start at a low level with young children.

The following example illustrates the severity of the challenges: a 14-year old girl, an orphan girl, has to provide for her two siblings. When her parents died, she had to drop out of school. In a desperate attempt to earn money, she became a sex worker. She charges 5-12GHS per customer, hardly enough to even cover expenses. She sleeps outdoors, despite the high risks of theft and rape, especially when there are power cuts. Her dream is to go to school, and to gain skills to get a good job. But first she has to deal with the daily need to earn money, the ever-present danger of assault and violence from customers, and health risks.

Going forward, UN work in Ghana will be informed and motivated by these much valued insights into the human rights challenges and basic needs of these excluded groups. We will ensure that they are squarely addressed in the next UN strategic plan, the UN Development Assistance Framework 2018-21, which will be decided in partnership with national stakeholders in the coming year.

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) adopted in 2015 are grounded in international human rights law. The 2030 Agenda offers opportunities to further advance the realisation of human rights for all people everywhere, without discrimination. It reaffirms the importance of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as other international instruments relating to human rights and international law, emphasising the responsibilities of all States “to respect, protect and promote human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind as to race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth, disability or other status” (see 2030 Agenda).

The UN in Ghana will support the country in ensuring that human rights challenges are fully addressed in Ghana’s implementation of the Sustainable Development Agenda so that no one is left behind.