Government asked to remove petty offences from law books

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  • High Court registrar, Ms Flavia Nassuna Matovu, also noted that there is a bit of confusion in these petty offences thus something should be done.

Human rights activists have asked the government to scrap petty offences out of  Ugandan law books, saying keeping them does not address the underlying social economic problems the country is facing now.

This was revealed during a national stakeholder’s dialogue on the decriminalization and declassification of petty offences in Uganda at Golf Course Hotel on Thursday.

Dr Adrian Juuko, the Executive Director Human Rights Awareness and promotion forum (HRAP), said that the sections forming these offenses are outdated as they were made by the colonial masters to discriminate against vulnerable and poor Africans.

"These offences were invented by whites to discriminate against poor Africans, keep them far away from them and to get taxes to sustain and keep their reign in power.  They do not relate or serve any purpose to the local poor," he said.

Dr Juuko noted that these petty offences encourage corruption and discrimination, leading to the diversion of resources that would have been used to address serious offences thus asking government to expunge the said sections from the law books because they also infringe on guaranteed personal liberties without necessarily serving to rehabilitate the offender.

He described petty offences as minor offences whose penalty ranges from a caution, low value fine, community service and a one month imprisonment term. The penal code lists these offences to be; idle and disorderly, prostitution, being a common nuisance, rogue and vagabond, easing oneself in public and begging on the streets.

The activists say conviction on petty offenses contributes to escalating prison numbers day by day and a violation of rights of marginalized groups such as street children, beggars, sex-workers, persons living with disabilities and hawkers.

According to the prison’s spokesperson, Mr Frank Baine, they have more than 24000 suspects who are in prison on petty offences, and amongst these are the youth between 18-32 years that contribute to the majority.

Mr Baine says that the imprisonment period given to petty offences are so short as the offenders are released without being rehabilitated which takes them back to their failure to manage juvenile justice.

The police spokesperson Mr Fred Enanga agreed with the activists that some of these laws are long overdue and no longer serves purpose, but insisted that the police will continue to carry on its obligation of arresting suspects on these offenses for as long as they are still maintained in the law books.

High Court registrar, Ms Flavia Nassuna Matovu, also noted that there is a bit of confusion in these petty offences thus something should be done.

“As stakeholders each of us has a role to play, we need to remove these offences from our law books and come up with clear offences to replace them and parliament should help us out on this,” she said.

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