The regional campaign on decriminalisation of petty offences in Africa will be holding a virtual regional conference in September 2020. The overall objective of the Conference is to provide a continental platform for a broad-based discussion and review of measures adopted to contain public emergencies and crisis, such as the novel coronavirus (COVID-19); analyse policing policies and practices adopted in response to such emergencies; and determine whether there are any linkages between these measures, their enforcement and the rights and welfare of those experiencing social marginality and other forms of social-economic disadvantage. Additionally, the Conference aims to identify regional best efforts and practices - on responding to pandemics - that are right-based in nature and promote the targeted mainstreaming of such efforts into other existing commitments to address public emergencies.
The Conference will be held over three consecutive days on 14th, 15th and 16th of September 2020, as separate sessions from 11h00 GMT. The Conference will be held online, using a Zoom facility provided by a Campaign member.
The general theme of the Conference is “Policing Pandemics: Balancing Rights.” This theme is divided into three separate sub-themes- each to be discussed at a separate session. These sub-themes are:
Day 1. Criminalisation of poverty: This sub-theme will explore problematic COVID-19 regulations and measures adopted by African states to combat and prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The enforcement of these measures have created new sets of laws or “petty offences” which previously did not exist. What was once considered permissible actions or activities now result in arrest and detention. These regulations or measures were created on the back of a public health problem with little public consultation or investigation into the possible adverse consequences for poor and marginalised people, who bear the heaviest burden resulting from lock-down measures. The panel will share regional and country-specific perspectives on how the enforcement of COVID-19 regulations or measures has had undesired or disproportionate effects on the rights of vulnerable and marginalised groups in society. Discussions will also reflect on whether or not there were less intrusive laws or ways to deal with the pandemic. The latter inputs will be beneficial in reflecting on lessons learnt for the handling of future pandemics.
Day 2. Approach adopted in the enforcement of measures aimed at combating COVID-19: Sub-theme two will assess the approaches adopted in the various sub regions of Africa to enforce measures aimed at containing covid-19. It will offer a unique platform to discuss whether the criminalisation of public health crisis - and the subsequent application of principles of criminal law- and the employment of a highly militarised and securitised approach to combat a public health emergency is an appropriate response. To do this, it will, inter alia, review practical examples of instances in which policing decisions and practices, adopted on the continent to enforce laws and regulation, resulted in widespread police violence and brutality, rather than increased protection of the health and safety of all. Further, it will examine whether the continent should have adopted non-policing efforts to address covid-19, in light of its past experience with other public health emergency, like Ebola.
Day 3. Impact of the adoption and enforcement of criminal law to combat public emergencies on, amongst others, the poor and marginalised: Sub-theme three will allow participants to reflect on the impact of the use of criminal law to combat a pandemic on, amongst other, access to justice for the of the poor and marginalised. Discussions will also engage with the impact of such enforcement on social and economic rights of the poor and its impact on public health and the criminal justice system.