The African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights wants Africa to repeal laws which criminalise the status of individuals as being poor, homeless as opposed to reprehensible acts.
The laws referred to generally as “Vagrancy Laws” are not compatible with the Charter on the rights of children, women and citizens.
“After having considered the submissions made by Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) and the amici curiae, the Court drew the following conclusions,” reads the advisory opinion delivered by ACHPR on December 4.
“First, that vagrancy laws, both in their formulation as well as in their application, by, among other things, criminalising the status of an individual, enabling the discriminatory treatment of the underprivileged and marginalised, and also by depriving individuals of their equality before the law are not compatible with Articles 2 and 3 of the Charter,” said the Court.
In its request for advisory opinion, PALU submitted that many member states of the African Union retain laws which criminalise the status of individuals as being poor and homeless.
According to PALU, many African countries abuse vagrancy laws to arrest and detain people even when there is no proof of criminal conduct.
Historically, vagrancy laws made it a crime for a person to wander from place to place without visible means of support.
The Court also found that arrests for vagrancy-related offences, where they occur without a warrant, are not only a disproportionate response to socio-economic challenges but also discriminatory since they target individuals because of their economic status.
“Consequently, the Court found that vagrancy laws are incompatible with the notion of human dignity as protected under Article 5 of the Charter.”
According to an advocate of the High Court Vincent Suyianka Lempaa these vagrancy laws existed in Kenya during the colonial era but were repealed in Kenya following the promulgation of the 2010 constitution.
But they still exist in many African countries including Tanzania, and Uganda.
“All vagrancy laws are illegal and were meant to incarcerate or make Africans available for forced labour by the Whiteman,” said Mr Lempaa.