Quarterly Digest of Campaign Activities
August 2021 to December 2021
Around the world, States routinely deploy law enforcement, courts, and prisons against marginalized communities for reasons that have little to do with safety, but rather to protect the boundaries of wealth and privilege. The arbitrary enforcement of punitive criminal laws, many with roots in the age of empire, is compounded by multiple, intersectional forms of oppression (including combinations of gender, disability, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, and class). This results in fundamental rights violations, negatively inflecting justice outcomes for those on the margins. 
Often missed in the growing discourse on the criminalization of poverty and status are the economic and political incentives that drive these discriminatory legal frameworks. Moreover, the profound socio-economic impact is seldom acknowledged, of laws that punish and disenfranchise people for who they are rather than for what they have done.
On 24 March 2022, the Campaign to Decriminalize Poverty and Status will host a virtual seminar: Counting the Cost of Exclusion: Linking Justice Inequality and Income Inequality. During the event we will explore the complex interplay between social, economic and political exclusion, and criminalisation. We will bring together experts from intersecting fields of criminal, economic and spatial justice, and development, to explore opportunities for interdisciplinary collaboration on this important issue.
The campaign is growing and expanding with new members, a broader scope and even greater ambitions. Our latest videographic seeks to showcase just how far we have come, as we transition into the next phase of our work. 

 In October 2021, the BBC World Service podcast “The Comb” featured an episode “Equal before the law?” which looks at the legacy and evolution of laws around petty offences that target the poor. The episode, featuring Mayeso Gwanda, the vendor who changed Malawian law, by successfully challenging the constitutionality of the Victorian-era offence of being a Rogue and Vagabond. 

Regional: In November 2021, the Special Rapporteurs on the Right to Adequate Housing & on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights put out a joint public call for substantive input on the criminalization of homelessness and poverty. In response, the Campaign made a submission highlighting the necessity to repeal laws that criminalize people on the basis of their social, political or economic status, as they further entrench poverty and increase marginalisation and exclusion. The submission provides an overview of petty offences laws across the African continent and calls on States to urgently review their criminal law.

Regional: The African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF) made a statement at the 69th Ordinary Session of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights on behalf of the Regional Campaign. The statement highlighted the socio-economic and political impact of criminalising poverty and status. The Campaign called on the Commission to continue its work to promote the Principles on the Decriminalisation of Petty Offences in Africa, and to encourage States to take measures to address, not punish, poverty and other forms of marginalisation.

Regional: In November 2021, Africa Criminal Justice Reform submitted a statement to the ACHPR’s 69th Ordinary Session, regarding African States’ arbitrary use of emergency decrees in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic with a particular emphasis on criminal justice and human rights. The statement was based on ACJR's research report titled ‘Criminal justice, human rights and COVID-19 – a comparative study of measures taken in five African countries’. Amongst others, ACJR highlighted the lack of pandemic-specific laws in legislative and constitutional provisions of states; the promulgation of COVID-19 measures with no legislative oversight; the use of force, killings and torture meted out by law enforcement officials in enforcing COVID-19 measures and the criminalisation of COVID-19 measures.

 In the Courts...

 South Africa: In June 2021, ACJR made a submission to the City of Cape Town on the draft 'Streets, Public Places and the Prevention of Public Noise Nuisances Amendment By‐law, 2021'. ACJR emphasised that the Streets by‐law generally targets the poor and persons who experience homelessness. Further, that the powers which the new amendment seeks to confer on ‘authorised officials’ in relation to by‐law offences such as sleeping in public or erecting shelter, such as impounding personal property among others, further strengthen control and power over the poor.

 Uganda: The Pan African Lawyers Union and the Southern Africa Litigation Centre filed an amici curiae brief in support of fellow Campaign partner Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF)'s current challenge of the constitutionality of the colonial-era rogue and vagabond offence before the Constitutional Court of Uganda.  HRAPF was able to draw on the arguments made in the Gwanda case in Malawi where Campaign partners Centre for Human Rights Education Advice and Assistance (CHREAA) and SALC successfully challenged the same offence.

 Nigeria: On the 5th of August 2021, the Federal High Court of Nigeria, Abuja Division, handed down a ground-breaking decision against law enforcement agencies that violated women’s rights. The Applicants were among 71 women who were arrested at various public spaces in Abuja between 17 and 26 April 2019. The arrests were carried out by the Federal Capital Territory Administration’s Joint Task Team comprising the Nigerian Army, Nigeria Securities and Civil Defence Corps, Nigeria Police Force, Social Development Secretariat, and Abuja Environmental Protection Board. The Applicants were not informed of the reason for their arrest; they were sexually assaulted, verbally harassed, beaten, teargassed, and their phones were confiscated. The raids sparked a public outcry and led to the formation of the Abuja Raids Coalition of CSOs. The CSOs decided to engage in advocacy and legal action. Campaign partner Lawyers Alert, with support from the Southern Africa Litigation Centre (SALC) and the Open Society Initiative of West Africa, supported the filing of individual applications by the women. 

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 Recent Campaign Events

 Global: In November 2021, campaign members Penal Reform International (PRI) and the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), together with the Washington Office on Latin America, held an event ‘Gender, Drugs, and Criminal Justice: navigating human rights challenges’ at the margins of the intersessional meeting of the UN Commission on Crime Prevention and Criminal Justice. Parina Subba from Dristi Nepal discussed the criminalisation of women who use drugs in Nepal and the poverty and human rights challenges experienced by many women in contact with the criminal justice system for drug offences; Dr. Miriam Estrada-Castillo, member of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, presented their deliberation on women and deprivation of liberty; Gloria Lai (IDPC) presented findings on equity from the new Global Drug Policy Index; and Tríona Lenihan (PRI) presented key recommendations from the PRI/IDPC joint ‘10-point plan: Gender-sensitive drug policies for women’.
 Regional: On 29 September 2021, APCOF and the International Drug Policy Consortium, held an expert meeting on arbitrary detention and the criminalisation of people who use drugs in Africa. It brought together representatives of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UNAIDS, members of African governments and regional organisations, African human rights experts, drug advocates, and people who use drugs from across the African region. The main theme of the meeting was the link between arbitrary detention and the criminalisation of people who use drugs, and discussions centred on the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s study on arbitrary detention relating to drug policies.

 Kenya: In August 2021, Kenyan Campaign partners and other regional colleagues met to welcome two new organisations into the Campaign, Clean Start and Coalition Action for Preventative Mental Health. The meeting began discussions on the creation of a sub-group for sharing information about activities related to the criminalisation of poverty and status in Kenya, and opportunities for collaboration and support between the partners.
 Kenya: On 7 and 8 September 2021, SALC, ADAT and Article 48 held webinars for CSOs and lawyers to discuss how the criminal justice system fails persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities in Africa. The webinars looked specifically at how petty offences are used to target, harass and detain persons with disabilities. 
 South Africa: APCOF facilitated a session during training held by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa for police and correctional officials on women’s rights while in detention. APCOF presented a case study on the rights of women in correctional facilities in South Africa, and included information for officials about the normative basis, and the need, to decriminalise petty offences to reduce the number of women who are arrested and detained for minor economic offences.
 Regional: APCOF facilitated a session at a conference hosted by the Network of National African Human Rights Institutions (NANHRI) on actions plans for the decriminalisation of petty offences in Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Uganda.
 Regional: On 22 September 2021, the Campaign organised a training session on “Leveraging the African Union” attended by approximately 30 of our Campaign partners. To sum up this training, is a short briefing that offers key takeaways from our speakers on how to engage and leverage various organs within the African Union around decriminalising petty offences.
 USA: The Human Rights Clinic at the University of Miami School of Law, Matters at Play design lab at DePaul University, the National Homelessness Law Center, and the Fines & Fees Justice Center have developed a series of virtual interactive simulations highlighting how fines and fees in the United States justice system perpetuate poverty. These simulations require players to roleplay with the goal of generating empathy around the impossible binds current laws and policies place people experiencing homelessness and poverty.
 Regional: On 21 September 2021, APCOF co-hosted an event with UNODC Justice Section on evidence and human rights-based policing in Africa during and after a pandemic. The event aimed to provide a regional perspective to evidence-based and human rights policing during and after the Covid-19 pandemic and discuss the shift towards the decriminalisation of petty offences in Africa, and what a public health response can present by way of an alternative.
 Kenya: On 28 October 2021, ICJ-Kenya hosted a webinar on the criminalisation of poverty. The webinar included representatives from the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, Directorate of Public Prosecutions and Campaign partners. Presented argued that prosecutors have a duty to guide police on what will not be prosecuted. They suggested alternative responses to petty offences and urged the review of petty offences related to economic activities.

 Ghana: The Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative (Ghana) hosted a webinar, ‘Does the COVID-19 Pandemic provide the urgency to Decriminalise Petty Offences?'. ACJR researcher, Kristen Petersen. Petersen focused on the achievements of the campaign on the decriminalisation of petty offences in Africa and highlighted some issues relating to the South African government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.
 South Africa: On 16 July 2021, the Dullah Omar Institute together with the Centre for Human Rights (University of Pretoria) co-hosted the Julius Osega Memorial Lecture. The theme of the lecture was ‘Poverty Is Not a Crime: Undoing Colonial Criminal Justice’. The Memorial Lecture was facilitated by Janelle Mangwanda from ACJR and guest speakers included Campaign members Anneke Meerkotter from the Southern African Litigation Centre (SALC) and Chikondi Chijozi, a SALC lawyer and Commissioner at the Malawi Human Rights Commission. The speakers noted that colonial practices persist in targeting the poorest and most marginalised in Africa and across the globe. It was further highlighted that periods of socio-economic uncertainty result in the increased regulation of persons deemed as ‘other’. The speakers noted that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted the poor and marginalised as they are more at risk of being harmed by aggressive police enforcement of the regulations. 
North Africa: As part of this campaign, a webinar was held to exchange experiences between Morocco and Tunisia, entitled: "Decriminalisation of petty offences: a bridge of communication between Morocco and Tunisia" on January 22, 2022, involving the associations Adala from Morocco, OCTT and ASF from Tunisia, in addition to the various members of the campaign. This workshop will serve to establish a platform for dialogue to guarantee a good appropriation of the key messages of the campaign; to build a common understanding and narrative around petty offences in Tunisia and Morocco; and to agree on common processes and working methods, which will strengthen the commitment of all current and future actors involved in the campaign. During the workshop, attendees sought to define an inventory of minor offenses in the two countries, in a joint reading of the penal systems in the two countries, and to evaluate the social and economic impacts on prisoners sentenced for petty offences, and finally to propose recommendations to activate alternative penalties and to revise the Penal Code and penal policies in the countries of the region.

 Welcome to our new partners! 

 For over 20 years, the International Legal Foundation (ILF) has been on the frontlines of the fight for equal access to justice. We make justice a reality for poor people by fighting to guarantee high-quality legal representation for everyone arrested or detained. Around the world, we provide criminal defense services and build sustainable, effective legal aid institutions. Globally, we advocate for legal aid as a human right and provide expert technical assistance.

 Faculty of Law, The University of West Indies Rights Advocacy Project (U-RAP) is a collective of public law teachers at the three campuses of the Faculty of Law, The University of the West Indies. Its mission is to promote human rights and social justice in the Caribbean by undertaking and participating in strategic litigation, socio-legal research and legal education in collaboration with Caribbean lawyers and Caribbean civil society organisations and by working with students of the Faculties of Law.   

The Human Rights Clinic of the University of Miami School of Law works for the promotion of social and economic justice globally and in the United States with a particular focus on gender and racial justice, immigrant and Indigenous women’s rights, and the rights to housing, health, and food. It engages in human rights litigation and advocacy at the local, national, regional, and international levels and employs multidimensional advocacy strategies, including documentation and report-writing, litigation, media engagement, and campaigning.  

 Fair Trials is an international NGO that fights for fair and equal criminal justice systems. We are independent experts who work to defend everyone’s right to a fair trial. We highlight threats to justice, build partnerships for reform, and campaign for practical changes that fix failings within criminal justice systems. Our team of independent experts expose threats to justice through original research and identify practical changes to fix them. We campaign to change laws, support strategic litigation, reform policy and develop international standards and best practices. We do this by supporting local movements for reform and building partnerships with lawyers, activists, academics and other NGOs.  

 Harm Reduction International is a leading NGO dedicated to reducing the negative health, social and legal impacts of drug use and drug policy. We promote the rights of people who use drugs and their communities through research and advocacy to help achieve a world where drug policies and laws contribute to healthier, safer societies.


In July 2021, Penal Reform International and the International Drug Policy Consortium published a new model for reform, ‘10-point plan: Gender sensitive drug policies for women’, which sets out how policy makers and criminal justice practitioners can respond effectively and positively to reduce the unnecessary imprisonment of women for drug‐related offences in line with international standards. It calls for the decriminalisation of drug use and drug possession for personal use, and the removal of mandatory minimum sentences for drug offences, among other measures.

Five-country survey on the use of COVID-19 restrictions. On 13 October 2021, Africa Criminal Justice Reform (ACJR) launched a compendium of reports titled ‘Criminal justice, human rights and COVID-19 - a comparative study of measures taken in five African countries.’ The research team was Lukas Muntingh, Tina Lorizzo, Janelle Mangwanda, Kristen Petersen, Vanja Petrovich, and Jean Redpath.  The countries surveyed are Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa and Zambia. The research details the use of states of emergency, disaster, and calamity within the context of COVID-19 with a particular emphasis on criminal justice and human rights. In line with this research output, in December 2021, ACJR co-hosted stakeholder engagement workshops in Malawi and Zambia focusing on the socio-economic effects of COVID-19 and its impact on criminal justice and human rights.
Most countries fail drug policy test according to new Global Drug Policy Index. The inaugural edition of the Global Drug Policy Index released by the Harm Reduction Consortium is the first-ever data-driven global analysis of drug policies and their implementation. It is composed of 75 indicators running across five broad dimensions of drug policy: criminal justice, extreme responses, health and harm reduction, access to internationally controlled medicines, and development. The Index’s first iteration evaluates the performance of 30 countries covering all regions of the world and is illustrated by real life stories, including of people who use drugs, from around the world. 

Report on the Criminal Justice System’s Response to Persons with Intellectual and Psychosocial Disabilities in Kenya: In September 2021, SALC, Arthur’s Dream Autism Trust (ADAT) and Article 48, launched a research report entitled: The Interaction Between the Criminal Justice System and Persons with Intellectual and Psychosocial Disabilities in Nairobi, Kenya. The report identified barriers that prevented persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities from enjoying the right to access justice throughout the criminal process. This report illustrates the impact that petty offence charges have on persons with intellectual and psychosocial disabilities and their caregivers. The lack of understanding of disability and the purpose of the criminal justice system at times results in punitive responses shown by communities and the police towards persons with disabilities. Persons with intellectual disability and/or psychosocial disabilities are often arrested for petty offences and detained for lengthy periods at Mathari Teaching and Referral hospital for an evaluation where there is a criminal report or in prison, without ever having been formally charged or brought to trial.

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Campaign to Decriminalise Poverty and Status · Rue Aab-60 · Mermoz · Dakar · Senegal

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