Ghana’s National Reconciliation Commission (NRC) on Thursday handed back to their families the exhumed remains of six persons executed in 1986 for attempting to overthrow the military government then led by President Jerry Rawlings.
The hour-long ceremony in the capital, Accra, prompted emotional scenes as the NRC Chairman, Justice Amua-Sekyi, handed over six small white-clad caskets to the families.
“Today marks for us the end of eighteen long years of questions that have plagued our minds since our brothers lost their lives,” Christian Goka, spokesperson of the six families, said at the ceremony.
“Now, we have the opportunity to place their remains in places that their families can identify as their final resting place,” Goka added.
Christian Goka’s brother, Mawuli, then a 31-year-old Law and Economics undergraduate in Britain, and six others were arrested in Accra on suspicion of subversion. While being tried by a tribunal, they were repeatedly tortured in police custody and executed eight months later in May 1986, after being found guilty of treason.
Another high profile name among the executed men was Kojo Kyeremeh Djan, brother of Major Boakye Djan, who spearheaded an earlier coup in June 1979 alongside then Flight Lieutenant Jerry John Rawlings.
However, the two men fell out after Rawlings staged a comeback in 1981 and overthrew the same democratically elected administration he had handed over the reins of government to in September 1979. From 1982-1989 Rawlings headed the Provision National Defence Council (PNDC).
The NRC, acting on petitions from the families of the executed men, traced the victims and exhumed their remains from two unmarked graves at a cemetery, about 30 kilometres west of Accra.
“Although it had been 18 years since their death, their clothing, including belts, socks, boots, shoes, slippers and jewellery had survived, giving positive clues to their identities without the need for DNA testing,” the Commission’s Executive Secretary, Dr. Ken Attafuah, said.
This is the first time the NRC has officially supervised the exhumation and return of the remains of persons who lost their lives during Ghana’s turbulent revolutionary period. According to the Ghana Bar Association and human rights activists, more than 200 people disappeared during the years of PNDC rule. Those gone missing are believed to have been killed for political reasons.
“We are happy that for once we will be able to give a fitting burial to Kyeremeh,” Atta Boakye, the nephew of Kyeremeh Djan, told IRIN.
Atta Boakye was a 21-year-old student, when he was arrested together with his uncle Kyeremeh Djan and kept in detention for eight months. While the others were found guilty, Boakye was released for lack of evidence.
“Our days in detention were terrible and worse than one could imagine. I pray that nothing of this sort ever happens again to anyone in this country,” Boakye added.
The NRC has so far heard over half of more than 4,211 petitions on human rights violations committed since independence in 1957, though it has focused more on the five military administrations that have ruled Ghana intermittently since 1966.
The NRC was set up under President John Kufuor, who came into office in 2000, as a means of healing the wounds left by Ghana’s years of military government. The NCR operates like a court, but has no powers to pass sentence and is only a forum for the public airing of grievances and wrongdoings.
It is expected to submit its final report to the President John Kufuor in October 2004.
The opposition National Democratic Congress (NDC), which was founded by Rawlings and only ousted from government after its election defeat in 2000, has accused Kufuor of using the NRC as an election tool.
The NDC claims that the timing of the final results and the NRC’s strong interest in the Rawlings era are a ploy to damage its own chances in the December 2004 presidential and parliamentary elections.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions