About the campaign

The Issue

Around the world, criminal procedure, penal codes, and policing policy continue to reflect a brutal colonial legacy. Colonial-era offences such as vagrancy, loitering, begging, or being idle and disorderly are routinely deployed against homeless or poor people, people with disabilities, people who use drugs, women, children, members of the LGBTIQ+ community, sex workers, migrants, and informal traders, amongst others, for who they are rather than for what they have done.

In parallel, there is an increase in the pernicious use of criminal law to supress activism and quell dissent. Colonial-era sedition laws and newer public order laws, for example, are ubiquitous tools deployed by authoritarian States to quash protest and limit free speech.

In effect, States routinely use law enforcement, courts, and prisons against people for reasons that have little to do with citizen safety, but rather to protect the inherited boundaries of power, wealth, and privilege. This abuse of power has a profound human rights cost, manifesting in discrimination, use of lethal force, torture, arbitrary, and excessive imprisonment, disproportionate sentencing, and inhumane conditions of detention. Compounded by intersecting forms of oppression, such as gender, age, disability, race, ethnicity, nationality, and class, this abuse has a devastating impact on those who are already vulnerable.

There is a clear and urgent need to decriminalise laws that treat poverty, status, or activism, as a crime.

Our Response

The Campaign to Decriminalise Poverty and Status (the Campaign) is driven by a coalition of partner organisations from across the world that advocate for the review and repeal of laws that target people based on their status (social, political, or economic) or for their activism.

About the Campaign

Formerly known as the Campaign to Decriminalise Petty Offences in Africa, the campaign emanated from research by like-minded organisations observing that petty offences laws were arbitrarily and disproportionately enforced against poor and otherwise marginalised persons. In 2014, seven organisations operating at national, sub-regional and regional levels in Africa, came together to collaborate on research, advocacy, strategic litigation, law reform, policy development and campaigning aimed at decriminalising petty offence laws.

Seven years on, the regional campaign scored major wins for Africa including winning landmark cases against various ‘vagrancy laws’ at different national courts in Africa; the adoption of the Principles on Decriminalising Petty Offences at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights; securing an Advisory Opinion from the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights declaring ‘vagrancy laws’ as incompatible with the African Charter on Human Rights; and having the Pan-African Parliament establish guidelines for a Model Police Law.

Concurrently, there was growing recognition of the resonance of the issue beyond Africa, particularly in regions with a shared colonial legacy, such as in the Caribbean and South Asia, as well as in north America. Ongoing work further brought to the surface the perversive nature of these laws and how they directly link to inequality and political, social, and economic exclusion. In response, the Campaign went global in 2022, and widened its scope beyond petty offences, to challenge other laws that target people based on their status, whether social, political, or economic, and/or their activism.

Growing quickly in membership, the Campaign brings together advocates, lawyers, members of the judiciary, campaigners, activists and experts from over 50 organisations including national, regional and international non-governmental organisations; philanthropies; national human rights institutions; legal aid organisations; research institutes; academia and advocacy groups.

Our Theory of Change

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The Campaign to Decriminalise Poverty and Status is a coalition of organisations from across the world that advocate for the repeal of laws that target people based on poverty, status or for their activism.


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