Rawlings asked to respond to torture allegations

Ghana's National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) has asked former president Jerry Rawlings to answer allegations that he witnessed the torture and murder of political activists in 1984, while he was head of state.

The NRC's public relations officer, Annie Anipa, told IRIN on Tuesday that two letters were sent to Rawlings last week, requesting him to answer the allegations by 28 March. He could respond in writing, but might later be invited to appear before the commission to testify and cross-examine those who made allegations against him.

"One of the witnesses, Kwaku Baako [a newspaper editor] testified that he was tortured before the former president. He also said he witnessed a military officer shot before the ex-president in 1984. One letter is to ask him [Rawlings] to answer these allegations," Anipa said. "The second letter is to ask him to respond to another allegation by a former Air Force officer that the former President wanted him killed."

On Tuesday, the BBC quoted a spokesman for Rawlings, Victor Smith, as saying the allegations were "hearsay". Smith said Rawlings had sought from his lawyers and would write to the NRC by the deadline. The former president, he added, was ready to appear before the commission any day if he was invited to do so.

The NRC, modeled after the former South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, is mandated to find out the truth about past human rights abuses and help those who were hurt by the abuses to deal with their pain and to move on with their lives. Its mandate is also to "help those who participated in the abuses to come to terms with the experiences and obtain forgiveness".

Opposition politicians have, however, criticised the NRC, saying it was set up by the government of President John Kufuor to "witch-hunt" former leaders.

The commission's focus is on "periods of unconstitutional rule in Ghana's history since independence", i.e. 24 February 1966 to 21 August 1969, 13 January 1972 to 23 September 1979 and 31 December 1981 to 6 January 1993.

Ghana was ruled by military leaders during the periods in question: Generals Joseph Ankara and Akwasi Afrifa (1966-1969), Kufu Acheampong and Frederick Akuffo (1972-1979) and Rawlings in June-September 1979 and again in 1981-1993. Human rights abuses committed over this period included the executions of Afrifa, Acheampong, Akuffo and several prominent Ghanaians in 1979 on allegations ranging from corruption to sabotage.

The NRC had received at least 2,737 complaints by December 2002, covering abductions, killings, disappearances, torture, ill treatment, and seizure of property between 5 March 1957 and 6 January 1993.

Details of the NRC's work including statements by witnesses are available at: www.nrcghana.org