Challenging Criminalisation Globally:
Un-Policing Identity, Morality, Sexuality and Bodily Autonomy

Accountability International began the Challenging Criminalisation Globally Project as a way to catalyse cross-movement involvement in rethinking and re-strategising around how a larger variety of stakeholders can challenge criminalisation collectively, with a particular focus on communities and civil society from the global South.

This project, begun in 2016, aims to accelerate the work being done on criminalisation, and ultimately to eliminate the human rights abuses of marginalised people. This is in response to a global clampdown on people who are perceived to be “criminal”. States, often driven by pressure from society, religious groups, police, and the judicial services, are morally policing, oppressing and intimidating civilians, activists and organisations that do not fit into the “acceptable social norms”. This discrimination takes the form of harassment, coercion, detention (without trial in many cases), illegal arrests, stifled media, shrinking democratic space, physical and sexual abuse and even murder. The consequences of this oppression is multi-faceted: firstly acting on individuals, secondly acting on society as a whole and thirdly acting on the closure of space for civil society to freely work and express their dissatisfaction and demands.

The behaviours and identities that we specifically include in our work are ones that fall under the ambit of identity, morality, sexuality and bodily autonomy, and sexual and reproductive health and rights, but we are not limited to this area. Examples include same-sex sex (being lesbian, gay), being trans diverse or transgender, accessing abortions, working in the sex industry, adultery, possession of pornographic materials, use of drugs, engaging in anal sex, being HIV positive and similar behaviours, identities or just ways of being.

This overuse of the law affects the least powerful amongst us. Women, LGBT people, people of colour, the under or unemployed, those in rural areas, people with less formal education, young people, people with fewer financial resources, and those living in societies with less equality are worst affected. This is not a complete list and never can be because criminalisation is about comparative power, and it is those who have less who are criminalized by those who have more. People with resources and privilege are able to avoid criminalization using expensive lawyers, networks and connections, affluence, or access. It is important to consider what alternatives exist to the current system which leads to high arrests and high incarceration rates for people who are marginalised.

The Challenging Criminalisation Globally project is grounded in the fact that neither the global commitment to end AIDS as an epidemic by 2030, nor the sustainable development goals will be achieved unless the current trend for mass, random and discriminatory criminalisation is done away with.

This work was born in the global South and, as with all our work, the voices of the affected community are considered pivotal to success.

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