The African Policing Civilian Oversight Forum (APCOF) welcomes the opportunity to make this submission to the Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa, and we do so on behalf of the Regional Campaign to Decriminalise Petty Offences in Africa (‘the Regional Campaign’). More information about the Regional Campaign is available on this website: www.pettyoffences.org
The Regional Campaign remains deeply concerned about the criminalisation of poverty across our continent. While we welcome the African Commission’s adoption of the Principles on the Decriminalisation of Petty Offences, we urge the Commission, through the Special Rapporteur, to increase the visibility of the Principles and to further promote their implementation by Member States. This is particularly crucial during the current global Covid-19 pandemic which has exposed and exploited inequalities. Specifically, we have observed the enactment of legislative and regulatory instruments to curb the spread of Covid-19 which are increasingly impacting the poor and marginalised, and resulting in criminal justice sanctions in the context of what are public health and social justice issues.
The Regional Campaign raises the following issues in detail for consideration by the Special Rapporteur:
- The impact of Covid-19 regulations on the poor and marginalised, including issues pertaining to criminalisation, enforcement and sanctions;
- The impact of Covid-19 regulations on detainees across African prisons, and the general failure of Member States to take extraordinary measures to tackle overcrowding in prisons and protect the health of detainees (as well as staff/personnel working in detention facilities), and its specific impact on women in prisons, noting that many women are imprisoned for minor, non-violent crimes, and their exclusion from many prisoner release mechanisms; and
- The failure of Member States to curb prison admission rates, including the overuse of remand for petty offences, and explicitly those related to Covid-19 laws.
Though we do not provide further detail in this submission, we nonetheless note our concern and request the Special Rapporteur to take action regarding:
- Criminal records for persons who violate Covid-19 laws, which impacts those who are poor and struggle daily to put food on the table – this is particularly important given that most Member States do not have social security schemes; and
- Accountability for law enforcement officials who violate human rights law in the implementation of Covid-19 laws, including through the use of unnecessary and excessive force.
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