Who is hurt by these Laws?

There is increasing evidence that the levels of abuse perpetrated against the poor have escalated:

  • Street children in Uganda face a range of abuses at the hand of police under the guise of enforcing vagrancy laws (Human Rights Watch report – 2014)
  • Police shootings account for the bulk of injuries inflicted on hawkers and small-scale business operators in Nairobi, Kenya. (Independent Medical Legal Unit report – 2014)
  • Street vendors in Angola suffered abuse at the hand of police (Human Rights Watch report – 2013)
  • Ill-conceived crime prevention efforts resulted in summary killings of unarmed men and boys in the Democratic Republic of Congo. (UN and Human Rights Watch reports – 2014)

Poor people are arrested and sometimes imprisoned for trying to make a living. Outdated and unfair laws criminalising offences like touting, failure to pay civil debts or to observe street vendor requirements, as well as the enforcement thereof, affect poor people disproportionately.

Arresting and detaining people – in police cells and in prison while awaiting trial – for offences that do
not pose a serious risk to public safety, interferes with their rights and is contrary to the provisions of
the International Covenant on Social, Cultural and Economic Rights (ICESCR).

According to the ICESCR, states don’t have to ensure, but should ‘respect’, ‘protect’ and ‘promote’ people’s socio-economic rights to employment, social security, and the like. The duty to ‘respect’ entails an obligation not to interfere with the resources of individuals, their freedom to find a job, nor their freedom to use their resources to satisfy needs. The African Charter also affords the right to work, the best attainable state of physical and mental health and education.