On 7 March 2024, the Institute of Commonwealth Studies (ICwS) presented its joint project on the decriminalisation of poverty and status to the 2024 Commonwealth Law Ministers Meeting in Zanzibar, United Republic of Tanzania.

The project is being implemented together with the Commonwealth Secretariat and the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ).

Co-presenting on the project was Supreme Court Justice of Mauritius and ICJ Commissioner, Justice Aruna Devi Narain who described the global challenge and introduced the ICJ’s publication, The 8 March Principles, on a Human Rights-Based Approach to Criminal Law.

The project will deliver a Practitioners’ Guide (PG) on a human rights-based approach to criminal law, including on ways to further the decriminalisation of poverty and status.  

The PG will serve as a reference and guide to justice sector actors and others – such legislatures, government officials, policy-makers, national human rights institutions, oversight bodies, victims’ groups, human rights advocates, civil society organizations and academics – offering a clear, accessible and operational legal framework and practical legal guidance.


The ICwS and the ICJ are both members of the global campaign to decriminalize poverty and status.

Around the world, including within the Commonwealth, marginalized communities are disproportionately represented in criminal justice systems. 

Those experiencing poverty are criminalized through petty/minor offences laws, e.g. loitering, begging, informal trading, sleeping rough, vagrancy, littering, and inability to pay civil debts.

Enforcement of these “offences” clogs up criminal justice systems causing unsustainable case backlogs.

The project is grounded in Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16 (Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions) and SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities).  

It is also aligned with the commitments of the Commonwealth Heads of Government to “fully implement laws that promote and protect inclusion, to eliminate discriminatory laws, policies and practices, and to promote appropriate legislation, policies and action.”   

Following validation convenings in Africa, South Asia and the Caribbean, the PG will be launched in October 2024 at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Samoa. 

It will later be the subject of regional dialogues and presented to the Commonwealth Law Ministers in 2026 to be considered for adoption.