On Thursday, 29th September 2016, HRAPF released its latest research report, which in on the impact of the enforcement of ‘Idle and disorderly’ laws on marginalised groups in Uganda.
The study tracks the enforcement of section 167 and 168, which respectively criminalise ‘being idle and disorderly’ and ‘being a rogue and vagabond’ over the period of 2011 to 2015 in the Kampala metropolitan area. The study employed both quantitative and qualitative research methods to assess the effects of the implementation of these laws on marginalised groups in general and sex workers, LGBTI persons and drug users in particular.
The study was informed by HRAPF’s experiences through the operation of its legal aid clinic. HRAPF has come across many cases where sections of the Penal Code Act constituting the ‘Idle and disorderly’ offences are used to arbitrarily arrest and extort money from the poorest and most marginalised members of Ugandan society. HRAPF sought to discover why these offences remain in use despite the global move toward decriminalisation of petty offences and calls by the President of Uganda to stay the enforcement of these laws.
The study finds that despite being outdated and questionable in terms of constitutional validity, ‘Idle and disorderly’ laws are extensively implemented in Uganda. The Police usually carry out arrests under these laws in night swoops and operations, often violating the rights of arrestees in the process. Victims of these arrests are almost exclusively poor and marginalised persons and arrests are most common in areas where slums are located. It is also revealed that despite the widespread use of ‘Idle and disorderly’ laws to arrest and charge, the offences are of little prosecutorial value. The sanctioning of charges under section 167 and 168 is questionable seeing that the ingredients of these offences are difficult to identify, let alone prove beyond reasonable doubt. Accordingly, most ‘Idle and disorderly’ cases are dismissed and convictions only take place where the accused has pleaded guilty in the hope of receiving a more lenient sentence. Accused persons who have pleaded not guilty tend to spend long periods of time in detention on remand and contribute to the over-population of Ugandan prisons.
The study revealed that sex workers, LGBTI persons and drug users suffer the violation of a broad range of fundamental rights due to the enforcement of ‘Idle and disorderly’ laws including the right to equality and non-discrimination; liberty; dignity; freedom from cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment and freedom of movement.
The study makes recommendations to various stakeholders; such as the judiciary, the Uganda Law Reform Commission and the Inspector General of the Uganda Police Force; on alternative enforcement methods and harm mitigation strategies. Ultimately, the report calls for the repeal of section 167 and 168 of the Penal Code Act.
The report entitled ‘The Implications of the Enforcement of “Idle and Disorderly” Laws on the Human Rights of Marginalised Groups in Uganda’ was launched by the Ms Ruth Sekindi, the Director of Complaints, Investigations and Legal Services at the Uganda Human Rights Commission on 29 September 2016.