After a rights group argued in court that the law was being unfairly applied against the most marginalized members of society and that it was being used to extract bribes from them while they were in custody, a colonial-era law against being a “rogue or vagabond” has now been declared unconstitutional in Uganda.
Hawkers and other petty traders, sex workers, drug users and the homeless are who most often receive these charges of vagrancy under the country’s Penal Code Act, said Adrian Jjuuko representing the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum.
“Anyone found walking the streets could be rounded up and charged for being a vagabond. It is a convenient charge because it is vague,” he tells the BBC.
Sex work is illegal in Uganda, and hawking is not permitted in some areas of the capital Kampala. It is common for the police and city authorities to carry out mass swoops against hawkers and sex workers.
On Friday Uganda’s constitutional court ruled that anyone under arrest should be clearly informed of what they are being charged with, that the legal provisions for “rogue and vagabond charges” are unconstitutional, and that the Penal Code Act clauses are against freedom of movement, and freedom of liberty from arbitrary arrest and detention – which is every Ugandan’s right.
Judges however said that the petitioners did not provide enough evidence to justify that the clauses are used to discriminate between the poor and the rich.
“This gives us motivation to draw up petitions on clauses such as those on being a common nuisance or idle and disorderly. When certain provisions have been declared unconstitutional, then it signals to parliament that the entire law is up for amendment,” Mr Jjuuko tells the BBC.