COVID-19 – human rights experts underline importance of preserving freedom of opinion and expression in Africa

Sierra Leone Telegraph: 21 May 2020:

Tens of millions of people in Africa could become destitute as a result of COVID-19 and its catastrophic impact on fragile economies and health systems across the continent, human rights chiefs from the United Nations and the African Commission warned on Wednesday.

As of 19 May 2020, COVID-19 had reached all 54 African States, infecting 88,172 people

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, and Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, Solomon Dersso, issued a joint call for urgent measures to mitigate the ripple effects of COVID-19 on the most vulnerable.

“We cannot afford to stand idly by and hope this most viral and deadly of diseases bypasses Africa, which is home to many of the world’s poorest countries who are simply not in position to handle such a pandemic”, Bachelet and Dersso said.

Cases in every country

As of 19 May, COVID-19 had reached all 54 African States, infecting 88,172 people – 16,433 of them in South Africa, which recorded the highest number of cases.  The continent had lost a total 2,834 people to the virus.

Poverty, lack of social protection, limited access to water, poor sanitation infrastructure, pre-existing disease burden, conflict and overstretched health systems, have created heightened risk for spreading the disease.

Ms. Bachelet and Mr. Dersso called for equitable access to COVID-19 diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, urging creditors of African countries to freeze, restructure or relieve debt.

“This health crisis – along with the debt burden of the continent and its already fragile economies – threaten to further drain reserves, cripple nascent job creation schemes and annihilate gains made in social development,” they said.

Potential poverty explosion

Such losses could “throw millions more people into want and poverty,” they said, pointing out that the costs of water and basic commodities have already spiked in many countries.

People are facing hunger due to disrupted access to food and cooking fuel.  Recession in the region now looms large for the first time in more than 25 years.

“It is a matter of human rights necessity that there must be international solidarity with the people of Africa and African Governments,” they said.

Priority investments are needed in health, water and sanitation, social protection, employment and sustainable infrastructure.

Acknowledging the economic pain

Ms. Bachelet and Mr. Dersso said that while measures to restrict movement and increase physical distancing were essential in the fight against the virus, they are now having a dramatic impact, in particular, on those who rely on informal daily work for their survival.

In addition, the human rights experts underlined the importance of preserving freedom of association, opinion and expression, as well as access to information during this critical time.

They called on Governments and businesses operating in Africa to consider making Internet tariffs more affordable so that information can reach broader audiences.

Learning from Ebola, malaria

More broadly, the rights chiefs said Africa has learned from its experiences with Ebola and malaria about the need to take swift action in countering disease spread.  They reminded African Governments that it is a legal imperative – and a pre-requisite for success – that they protect the most vulnerable and stamp out any violations that emerge during the pandemic, including discrimination in all its forms, violence against women, food insecurity, excessive use of force and extrajudicial killings.


1 Comment

  1. For me African countries are not difficult places to develop. All we have to do is bring in the youths, the older people, the people that want their country to look like a paradise, people that are desperate to open a business in the country. People that think the future brings them together and find out our most priority needs work on it until it is completed. Such as state of the art hospital and clinics, clean water supply, affordable housing, dig water wells for easy access to water, public toilets (not Pits), offer small business loans to all citizens interested in bushings and allow one year to return Loan plus a small interest.

    For students, implement bus trips to offices, business areas for educational purposes, allow school choices. Mandatory volunteers to help one another, plant trees ( can be in the school back yard then later transfer to places around the city to keep the grounds strong and prevent floods and erosion). Educate students from age 5 years that telling lies, misusing public funds, crime, cheating is unacceptable. Frequent education, update communication with potential investors, lessen registration restriction, allow easy access to business registration without obstruction or bribery.

    Allow business people to donate and take pictures with leaders then use the funds to build structures for socialization or loan people to refurbish their old house. For minor offenses, both men and women will be sent to work in the farms for a period of few months at a time, for major offenses will be sent to prison. Allow the army to block all porous areas entering the country, police monitor the city for crimes. All places must be kept crime-free. All citizens must be educated to obey the law of the land – if you are caught disobeying the law, you will have to pay fines.

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