A Judge of the Court of Appeals, Her Ladyship Justice Sophia Rosetta Bernasko Essah has condemned the jailing of vagrants, as this amounts to abuse of their fundamental human rights. Vagrants are persons who engage in petty economic activities for their survival. They include street vendors, head porters, truck pushers, market women, drivers, among others. Due to poverty and ignorance, these persons get into conflict with the laws relating to sanitation, for instance. They are then arrested and fined. When they are unable to pay the fines imposed by the courts, they are jailed for acts that may not be reprehensible.
Justice Essah was speaking on behalf of the Chief Justice of Ghana at the launch of a project dubbed ‘Decriminalizing Vagrancy Laws and Advocacy (DVLA)’, an initiative of Crime Check Foundation (CCF) with funding support from the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA). The main objective of the project is to create an enabling environment for vagrants to know, claim and exercise their rights and responsibilities in Ghana.
In an opinion ruling by the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights on 4th December, 2020, vagrancy laws or laws which tend to affect mainly the poor contravene the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other international Human Rights Instruments that Ghana has ratified.
According to Her Ladyship, it is unfair to jail people based on their financial status. According to her, “… only few people would want to be homeless and, it violates the tenets of fairness to jail someone because of their financial catastrophes. It is against human rights and it is against their fundamental rights”, she noted.
She therefore pledged the commitment of the Judiciary in protecting the rights of such individuals, and assured that the objectives of the CCF-OSIWA partnership to decriminalize vagrancy laws would be taken up by the Chief Justice of Ghana and other judicial authorities for deliberation to inform their actions. “I will take the concerns and the various aspects of the vagrancy laws and situations and communicate it to the Chief Justice and the other authorities so that we are made aware of it to the extent that we do not make others suffer because of the kind of sentences we impose on them”, she said.
The Judge who is also the Judicial Secretary called for a proper sensitization on ‘vagrancy laws’ as the Judiciary is prepared to support the project in order to improve the rights of vagrants.
Established in 2000, OSIWA is a grant making and advocacy organization focused on equality, justice, democratic governance, human rights and knowledge generation. It is part of the global network of Open Society Foundations spread across 37 countries around the world.