On 5 May 2020, the Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria, held a webinar on human rights abuses by police officers during enforcement of government responses to COVID-19 in Africa. The discussion was held in Zoom.
Theme 1: Police enforcement of State of Emergency directives during COVID-19
MODERATOR: Prof Frans Viljoen
Director, Centre for Human Rights, University of Pretoria
- Marystella Auma Simiyu
Expression, Information and Digital Rights Unit
Marystella Auma Simiyu discusses the ongoing human rights abuses by police in Kenya in enforcing emergency orders with a special focus on the experiences of the youth, persons in lower income brackets and journalists. She also examines the past and present state of the public security sector in Kenya and attempts at reformation.
Litigation and Implementation Unit
Michael Nyarko covers the legal framework under which nations have issued the various emergency orders and whether these orders are justified under international law. He also examines cases that have been litigated in Africa in relation to emergency orders and police action under COVID-19.
- Patience Mungwari Mpani
Women’s Rights Unit
Patience Mungwari Mpani explores the gendered dimension of COVID-19 which can also be seen in police enforcement of emergency orders. She goes further to discuss the impact of COVID-19 on the welfare of women and girls in Africa particularly vulnerabilities associated with reliance on informal sector jobs, and positioning as essential workers and care givers that might place them in contact with security officers.
- Ayodele Sogunro
Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression, and Sex Characteristics (SOGIESC) Unit
Ayodele Sogunro takes a critical legal studies approach to examining the situation of the LGBTQI and other vulnerable groups during COVID-19. He underscores the principle of good citizenship and the resultant connection with access to state protection; emphasizing that vulnerable groups such as the LGBTQI who already are excluded from state protection become more susceptible to police brutality.
In a bid to contain the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, many governments across the world have invoked their state of emergency powers that has seen the limitation of certain human rights particularly, the right to movement and assembly. This is in line with the recommendation by the World Health Organization (WHO) for countries to adopt social distancing approaches. Consequently, countries have implemented measures such as lockdowns and curfews. The duty of enforcing these state orders has largely fallen on the police and in some cases both the police and the military. However, it is worrying that the enforcement of these directives has crossed into the realm of human rights abuses. Reports of heavy-handed approaches by security forces have left several injuries and deaths in their wake in South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, Nigeria, Burkina Faso and other countries in Africa. The Centre for Human Rights discusses police brutality in combating COVID-19 in Africa and its human rights implications.
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