The Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC) has recommended to Government to decriminalize petty offences like prostitution, failure to pay debt and fouling the air, and have offenders cautioned or undertake community services.
The recommendation is contained in the 23rd annual report on state of human rights and freedoms in Uganda 2020 that was presented to Parliament on Thursday by Mariam Wangadya, the , Chairperson of the Uganda Human Rights Commission (UHRC).
The Commission wants Uganda Law Reform Commission to work together with the Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs and bring before Parliament amendments to the Penal Code Act and Criminal Procedure Code Act and review a number of criminal laws especially petty offences, saying most of these offences violate the human dignity of poor people.
Among the noted petty offences the Commission seeks to outlaw include; loitering, idle and disorderly, hawking, prostitution, fouling the air, begging, disobedience of parents, failure to pay debts among others.
“The Judiciary should allocate more resources for Magistrates Court sessions so as to try and dispose the petty offences cases. The penalties for the petty offences should be reduced to a caution and community services and in cases of repeated offences, then fines which are reasonable should be imposed on the offenders,” read in part the report.
The Commission defended the decision to outlaw the petty offences arguing that these restrict the ability of an individual to engage in life-sustaining activities, perpetuate the stigmatization of poverty and reinforces discriminatory attitudes against marginalized persons by criminalizing poverty, homelessness and unemployment.
The Human Rights Report cited Section 167 of the Penal Code Act on idle and disorderly that criminalises prostitution, loitering, playing games for money, begging on streets by exposing wounds or body deformities- activities that are all deemed idle and disorderly.
“The definition of prostitution is not clear and it makes it difficult for the prosecution to prove that a particular individual is a prostitute solely based on their conduct. It means a prostitute would have to be found engaging in sexual conduct for monetary value,” read in part the report.
Section 177 of the Penal Code Act criminalises acts of fouling the air with the provision stipulating that; Any person who voluntarily vitiates the atmosphere in any place so as to make it noxious to the health of persons in general dwelling or carrying business in the neighboring or passing along a public-way commits a misdemeanor.
UHRC is opposed to the 1year jail term imposed on the person found guilty of the offence arguing that the legal provision does not define what fouling the air means and the ingredients of the offence.
The Commission argued that criminalizing such acts does not address the underlying social and economic challenges like poverty, poor hygiene, poor drainage system and decline in public morality.
Instead, the Commission wants government to put in place, places of convenience free of charge to address some of the societal behaviors like urinating in public places or throwing rubbish.
Another petty crime the UHRC wants deleted from Uganda’s legal books is Section 210 of the Penal Code Act that criminalises attempting suicide and instead of arresting and detaining such persons, the Government should address their problems by providing psychiatric services, address unemployment and poverty.
Wangadya noted that the enforcement of petty crimes is frequently discriminatory in nature and in most cases target individuals because they are poor, homeless.
“Decriminalistion of petty offences in Uganda is long overdue and it centers on the fact that offences are defined in a broad and vague manner, leaving them open to interpretation and thus abuse by law enforcement officials. It is for those reasons that petty offences should be outlawed from Uganda’s laws and statues and instead corrective measures such as fines may be imposed where necessary,” said Wagadya.