Human life is at the core of human rights. Rightly so, for without it no other human rights can be actualised. Put bluntly, a dead person cannot enjoy health, education, work, vote among others. Death, sadly, for quite a long time now has been the reality of many Ghanaians who as a result of road accidents have become casualties with virtually no end in sight.
Today, the concept of human rights has, therefore, become the cornerstone of human discourse and progress of every society for without which the dignity of and value for human life would have been treated with contempt.
Consequently, this need for accountability of human rights have been realised through the promulgation and ratification of international, regional human rights treaties including the domestication of such norms into national constitutions and legislations.
That said, the current spate of road carnage in Ghana raises a very serious human rights matter; to the extent that the most fundamental of all rights – right to life is constantly under threat. Records from the National Roads Safety Commission and highlighted by the media paint a very gloomy picture of how lives are extinguished on our roads almost daily.
For example, TV3 network reported early this year that over 2000 lives perished through this phenomenon in 2019 with previous years recording similar figures. A cursory look at the Road Safety Commission Act, the Road Traffic Regulations and the Driver’s Vehicle and Licensing Authority (DVLA) act all highlight quite a lot of safety measures to be adopted by road users and accountability mechanisms for all road users should there be a breach.
Poignantly, these accountability mechanisms are not triggered enough to hold recalcitrant road users responsible. Do we see these carnages on our roads as act of God (as some regrettably do) or negligence on the part of especially drivers with serious implications for human rights?
Why a human rights matter?
From a human rights perspective, the primary responsibility of human rights and particularly, human life lies with the state. The state therefore has the responsibility to respect, protect, and fulfil all human rights. The duty to ‘respect’ requires that the state does not, including private actors interfere with the enjoyment of the rights of individuals guaranteed under the law. Secondly, to ‘protect’ demands that, the state holds its agencies or private actors accountable for violations of the rights of individuals. In this case, holding anyone accountable for road fatalities. The recent accident which claimed about 34 lives on the Cape Coast -Takoradi highway has seen the driver allegedly responsible for the accident being charged by the police for reckless driving. This sounds positive and watching keenly. Thirdly, to ‘fulfil’ means the implementation of measures such as legislative, administrative, judicial, budgetary that would ensure the realisation of those rights.
For me, the crux of the matter as far as road safety in Ghana is concerned from the human rights perspective lies squarely within the duty to ‘protect and fulfil’. As argued earlier on, the levels of road carnage in this country has taken one too many lives and thus demands a very strong state action. These fatalities are exclusive of those who have sustained varying degrees of injuries and have to live with one form of disability or the other for life.
What must the state do?
Under the circumstance, the state especially (political executive) and its law enforcement agencies are required to protect the rights of Ghanaians by triggering the necessary legislations which punish road users for irresponsible behaviours leading to deaths. This brings to mind former president Kufuour’s ‘motor court’ which was disbanded for political expediency following a backlash from drivers. The state must empower the police to enforce road safety legislations to the latter without fear of favour. The DVLA must also deliver on its mandate for ensuring that those who are not fit for driving are denied licenses to ply our highways.
The ‘fulfil’ aspect of human rights obligation also demands that all that is necessary for the protection of citizens on our roads be it legislative, administrative, budgetary or judicial mechanisms must also be fulfilled by the state to halt further deaths. Just few days ago, the media reported that a Lebanese was fined one thousand, two hundred Ghana cedis(GHC1,200) for reckless driving which resulted in the death of a person. This reportage certainly raised a lot of public condemnation ‘bashing’ the judge for not handing a punishment deterrent enough. The ‘lenient’ sentence could be a gap in the law which requires the state to address. If this is done together with other interventions the state would be executing its human rights mandate under ‘to fulfil” obligation and this would save many future lives.
In conclusion, I wish to strongly call on the state to note that the ultimate responsibility for the protection of human rights particularly human lives lies with it alone. Therefore, the state should do the needful by recognizing the road carnage as a serious human rights issue which must be addressed urgently before every soul is wipe out.
The Writer is a Human Rights Researcher and works with the National Human Rights Institution of Ghana.
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Columnist: Samuel Ogbe Nokolawe