From 27 to 29 September 2022, representatives from over 40 organisations from over 30 countries, gathered in Stellenbosch, South Africa, for the Campaign’s Annual Convening to explore the theme: “Decriminalising Status and Activism”. The meeting, hosted by Stellenbosch University (SU), provided a unique opportunity for campaign members to learn lessons from successful litigation and advocacy approaches; explore emerging themes around the criminalization of status and activism; and develop trans-regional, multi-national and national litigation and advocacy strategies.

Welcome remarks followed by a keynote speech from South Africa’s Deputy Minister of Justice and Constitutional Development, Hon. John Jeffery, opened an exciting, informative and refreshing three days of discussions, learnings and exchanges. Sessions covered a diverse range of issues with practitioners, advocates and litigants from around the world speaking on the similar challenges, opportunities and strategies to successful law and criminal justice reform.

Sessions covered:

  • Strategies for Success: Lessons from Africa on Advocacy and Law Reform
  • Challenging the criminalisation of status:
    • Policing of status: challenging discriminatory law enforcement policy and practice
    • The disproportionate impact of criminalisation on women and girls: A South African Case Study
  • Using research to effect change at a local, national, transregional and global level
  • Drivers of criminalisation: tracing colonial-era laws and newer laws that apply a colonial logic
  • Undercutting the Authoritarian Playbook: challenging the criminalisation of protest and activism
  • Multilateral and transregional advocacy strategies
  • Strategic litigation and legal defence strategies
  • Strategic communications and advocacy

A photo exhibition, ‘Residue and Ruin’ installed in the university’s historic Faculty of Law site, was also launched by Stellenbosch University’s Chancellor, Justice Edwin Cameron, to draw attention to the real human cost of these discriminatory laws on a global scale. Attendees to the conference, faculty staff and students were able to see how their work in addressing criminal justice reform, directly impacted the lives of people who fell victim to biased, discriminatory laws.

On his part PALU CEO Adv. Donald O. Deya spoke of how the Advisory Opinion sought by PALU  on behalf of fellow partners before the African Court on Peoples' Rights came to be citing that “The ACPHR Advocacy the court acknowledged the distinct colonial origin and colonial intent of vagrancy laws,” and how African states were advised to repeal such law.

The Conference ended with the reading out of the first draft of ‘The Cape Declaration on Decriminalising Poverty and Status‘, a testament to the bold statement of campaign partners in a rallying call to action. Closing remarks were delivered by the Hon. Maria Teresa Manuela, Commissioner & Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa, of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.

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