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Remove criminal sanctions for petty offenders – ICJ

By JOSEPH NDUNDA,

The International Commission of Jurists on Thursday called for a review of laws to remove criminal sanctions on petty offenders.

They want frivolous charges against hawkers, touts, drunkards and vagabonds and other petty offenders re-looked into.

Njonjo Mue, ICJ Kenya chapter chairman, said sex workers, street vendors or hawkers, PSV touts, street families and persons who use drugs are regular victims of surveillance, arbitrary arrests, and detention.

The lawyer said suspects suffer assaults, harassment and degrading treatment during arrest and detention.

“Some suffer false arrests and end up getting unfair bail terms, irregular fines besides irregular sentencing practices, profiling and stigma as well as threats and intimidation even while in custody, charged with petty offences,” he said.

Mue said idleness, begging, indecent exposure; nuisances among other misdemeanors should not be classified as criminal offences.

He said most of these laws were inherited from colonial authorities and were designed to force people to work, restrict the movement of potential labourers, curtail criminal activity, punish idleness and enable law enforcement agents to make arrests without proof of the actual commission of offences.

He said the implementation of laws, policies, and practices often result in systemic human rights violations.

Mue said the continued implementation of the laws that attract criminal sanctions for petty offences subject individuals to unparalleled human rights abuses by law enforcement officers both at the county and national levels.

“Mass arrests of street families, low-income, sex workers and refugees have been carried out especially after terror incidences, during curfews or before high-profile public events. Such arrests are carried out as part of a strategy to clear streets of “unsightly” people,” Mue said.

 “When the cases make it to court, most of the petty offenders are ignorant of their rights and are sometimes charged enmasse and often plead guilty to the charges to avoid lengthy trial periods.”

Mue spoke at Hilton Hotel, Nairobi during the national conference on decriminalisation and re-classification of petty offences in Kenya.

He said detention facilities remain overcrowded with majority of those convicted for petty offences.

This state of affairs, Mue said, is exacerbated by the continued application of laws and policies that indiscriminately target the most vulnerable groups in society.

The conference was brought together actors in criminal justice system including the Judiciary, police, prisons, probation and after care department, the law society of Kenya and Kenya National Commission on Human Rights among others.

Chief Justice David Maraga attended the conference.

Mue said the stakeholders must come up with ways of bringing equality in the justice system for the poor.

“As actors in the criminal justice system, let us remain steadfast in our pursuit of a just and equitable society that aims to amplify the voices of the most vulnerable in society,” Mue said.

“We can do this by engaging and sharing best practices, challenges and lessons learned towards substantive reforms of the legal framework enforced to address petty offences.”

 

First Published by The Star

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