On 4 December 2020, the African Court on Human and Peoples Rights (the Court) rendered a landmark Advisory Opinion on the consonance of the Vagrancy Laws with the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) and other relevant human rights instruments. Responding to a submission by the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) which has the mandate to make such fillings before the Court due to its standing MoU with the African Union and did so on behalf of a broad coalition of civil society organizations. The Court unanimously declared these laws inconsistent with the African Charter, the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child, and the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women in Africa. It further placed a positive obligation on African States to review and amend or repeal the relevant offences.
A pronouncement such as this is a major advancement for human rights on the continent. Delivered by the principal judicial organ of the African Union (AU) it carries significant legal weight and moral authority and has the potential to reshape profoundly criminal justice outcomes for poor and marginalized people in Africa.