Government’s actions may be violating ICESCR

Feature Article of Friday, 12 April 2013

Columnist: Nartey, William

Government’s actions may be violating the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)


In the past few months, Ghanaians have observed a worrying downturn of economic and social issues. We have experienced fuel price hikes, electricity and water shortage and most recently the issue of unpaid wages to employees in the public sector, including medical doctors. Regarding the latter group, it has been reported in the news that the government has cited the lack of available funds as the reason for its nonpayment or delay in payment. During this same stated period we have witnessed the announcement of a government sponsored religious pilgrimage of pastors/churches to Israel and payment of significant ex gratia monetary awards to outgoing and returning parliamentarians. It is with frustrating concern that I write this article.


The actions of the Ghanaian government when viewed holistically and put in context, violates Article 12 of the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights of which Ghana has signed and ratified. Article 12 specifically states that “Everyone has the right to the enjoyment of the highest attainable standard of Physical and Mental health. “ It is important to understand that the rights contained in the Covenant may only be limited if compatible with the nature of these rights and solely for the purpose of promoting the general welfare in a democratic society. Similarly important to note for this analysis is the fact that the rights set forth in the ICESCR, are not described as obligations to be performed by states parties in full and at once. Rather, they represent goals to be achieved progressively. More precisely, as set forth in ICESCR Article 2(1), each state party undertakes to “take steps . . . to the maximum of its available resources, with a view to achieving progressively the full realization of the rights recognized . . . by all appropriate means.” Even when analyzed within this framework , the recent actions of President Mahama’s government still fall short of the States commitments under the ICESCR.


Preexisting sanitation problems in Ghana have been well documented and observable over the years. With the current energy crisis (which has been attributed to a damaged subsea pipeline)and water shortages, there can be only one logical result; An increase in current and future medical issues and ultimately, a decrease in the overall physical and mental well-being of the Ghanaian population.

Physical and Mental health can be broadly defined. The World Health Organization describes mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. Mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked. People living with a mental illness are at greater risk of experiencing a wide range of physical health problems. It works the same in reverse. The nutrition of most Ghanaians is primarily from perishable foods. Thus the need for storage facilities is critical to their health and overall well-being. Extended periods of power shortage and water shortage can only decrease the quality of their food and an increase in illness or threat to their physical health from poor storage mechanisms and intake of these foods. As already explained physical and mental health are inevitably connected. When one suffers the other will suffer too. The health and overall well-being (which is also directly connected to the salaries of medical doctors in the public sector) of Ghanaian citizens must be balanced against the Government’s recent actions and the maximum use of its resources as mandated in the ICESCR.

On its face, the practical and critical energy and water resource needs of its citizens, clearly outweighs spending 600,000 Dollars of public funds to send pastors to pray in Israel as alluded to by the Youth and Sports Minister Elvis Afriyie Ankrah, when viewed within the context of maximization of the national resources. In the absence of a clear explanation and an accounting of the use of national resources to defeat this presumption I have made, the Government of Ghana must be advised to take a closer look at its actions to avoid being ridiculed before the international community, which will ultimately cast a shadow on its star that many have sacrificed for, to shine bright. Enforcement: Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights addresses who can bring complaints before the Human Rights Council and when its jurisdiction attaches. Article 2 states “Communications may be submitted by or on behalf of individuals or groups of individuals, under the jurisdiction of a State Party, claiming to be victims of a violation of any of the economic, social and cultural rights set forth in the Covenant “ by that State Party.

Article 3 addresses admissibility and exhaustion of domestic remedies as a pre-condition to the Committee’s exercise of jurisdiction. However it provides the exception for unreasonably prolonged application of such remedies

Local remedies will have to be exhausted first. This means petitions must be brought before the courts or bodies responsible for human rights violations. This petition must be accompanied by substantial evidence of health related issues as a result of the current situation in Ghana. I believe this information(statistics) can be readily obtained or created. The purpose of this is not to shame our nation or government but to advocate for a proper alignment of priorities which has far too often been the Achilles heel of national administration .


The Mahama Government is in its early years and has the potential to get things right. I acknowledge that it may be hampered by decisions of previous governments. However that is no excuse to drive the country deeper into the abyss. Abyss is a strong word but very appropriate for where we could be headed as a nation considering the recent stealthy but somewhat aggressive interest and approach that the Western world has taken in Africa and its resources under the guise of principles and human rights.