By Spy Uganda
The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the terrible legacy of deliberately divisive and destructive policies that have perpetuated inequality, discrimination, and oppression across Sub-Saharan Africa, Amnesty International said in its annual report.
Across the region, the devastating impact of armed conflict in countries such as Ethiopia, Mozambique, Cameroon, and Nigeria, was compounded by the pandemic as a number of states weaponized it to crackdown on human rights. The crackdowns included killings of civilians and arrests of opposition politicians and supporters and human rights defenders and activists in countries such as Angola, Guinea, and Uganda.
The report describes those already most marginalized, including women and refugees, as bearing the devastating brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic, as a result of discriminatory policy decisions by leaders in the region.
“COVID-19 has brutally exposed and deepened inequality across Sub-Saharan Africa. Governments should urgently re-invest in people and “repair” the broken economic and social system which perpetuates poverty and inequality, including leaving too many behinds,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director.
COVID-19 worsened the already precarious situation of refugees, asylum seekers and migrants in many countries, trapping some in squalid camps, cutting off vital supplies, or precipitating border controls that left many stranded.
For example, Uganda, the largest refugee-hosting country in Africa with 1.4 million refugees, immediately closed its borders at the start of the pandemic and did not make an exception for refugees and asylum seekers trying to enter the country. As a result, over 10,000 people were stranded along its border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
The report highlights a marked increase in gender-based and domestic violence with many women facing increased barriers to protection and support due to restrictions on freedom of movement.
For example, 21 women and children had been killed by intimate partners in South Africa by mid-June, while over 3,600 rapes were recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria. In CAR, the UN recorded 60 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, including rape, forced marriage, and sexual slavery, between June and October.
The report also paints a dismal picture of countries where authorities continued to restrict liberties in their handling of the pandemic.
From Togo to Kenya and Angola to South Africa, the annual report highlights governments using excessive force to enforce compliance with COVID-19 response measures.
“In many countries, authorities violated freedom of expression and peaceful assembly to silence critical voices leading to large numbers of arbitrary detentions and killings of demonstrators,” said Samira Daoud.
Authorities using legislation criminalizing commentary related to the pandemic has been a presiding pattern. They used the COVID-19 pandemic as a pretext to continue suppressing the right to freedom of expression, including by prosecuting individuals, who posted comments on social media about government responses to the pandemic, for spreading “false news”.
The use of excessive force led to several cases of multiple killings, including while enforcing COVID-19 measures. In Nigeria, brutal policing has resulted in security forces killing people for protesting in the streets, demanding their rights, and calling for accountability. In Zimbabwe at least 10 people were killed, while thousands including protesters, were arbitrarily arrested and detained in the context of enforcing COVID-19 measures. In Guinea, seven people were killed during demonstrations against the security forces’ enforcement of COVID-19 movement restrictions.
Some leaders have gone a step further, using the distraction of the pandemic to clamp down on criticism – and critics – unrelated to the virus, and perpetrate other human rights violations. For example, in Tanzania, authorities further cracked down on civil society activists, including restricting human rights such as freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly ahead of the October election.