Why Global Citizens Should Care
It’s necessary to put in places rules aimed at slowing down the spread of COVID-19, but some, like being home-bound for weeks, are increasing hunger and violence against women and marginalised people. The United Nations calls on countries to protect human rights while containing its spread, not compromising the UN’s Global Goals. You can join us in taking action to tackle COVID-19 while protecting the rights of the world’s most vulnerable through our Together At Home campaign here.

Countries around Africa have started enforcing rules aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19 in the continent, which has very limited resources to deal with a large-scale outbreak, according to the World Economic Forum.

Besides campaigns that promote regular hand-washing with soap and water, social and physical distancing, and self-isolation, lockdowns and curfews are also in place.

Rwanda was the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to go into a lockdown of two weeks, while South Africa is currently on week one of a 3-week lockdown.

Only businesses that offer essential services are allowed to operate, and anyone who is not a frontline worker is not allowed to leave their home unless it’s to buy food or get medical help.

Uganda, Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, eSwatini, and Congo-Brazzaville are also on curfew or some degree of lockdown.

Lockdown, the World Economic Forum explains, is necessary in managing the global COVID-19 outbreak, because it reduces the number of new cases while also protecting those who are at the greatest risk of being infected.

Even so, lockdowns and curfews are also escalating existing inequalities, and are already starting to put a strain on food security, girls and women’s rights, access to education, and safety.

Here are three outcomes that are already making lockdowns about much more than social distancing and isolation.

1. Police violence is being used to enforce social distancing

In Africa, lockdowns and curfews are enforced by the police and the military. Meanwhile, the law enforcement around the continent is synonymous with force and brutality.

On Tuesday, a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed in Nairobi, Kenya, while playing on his balcony by police who were patrolling the neighbourhood to enforce the curfew. 

Meanwhile, a TV news team in Mombasa, also in Kenya, filmed a journalist being beaten by police who were enforcing the curfew. The journalist was on duty. Health workers have also reported incidents of intimidation.

Amnesty International Kenya in partnership with 20 other human rights organisations has released a statement this week condemning the violence.

"We were horrified by the excessive use of police force [in Mombasa]. Police indiscriminately threw teargas, frog marched, and beat up members of the public trying to get home in time for the curfew," the statement said.

The statement added that human rights organisations are collating testimonies from people who have experienced or witnessed police brutality, and urged Kenyans to report violations to the National Commission for Human Rights.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has apologised for the police violence.

"I want to apologise to all Kenyans for ... some excesses that were conducted," he said on Wednesday in Nairobi. "But I want to assure you that if we work together, if we all understand that this problem needs all of us, and if we pull in the same direction, we will overcome."

In South Africa, a police officer and security guards were arrested on Monday for the killing of a 40-year-old man, and shooting of four children, during an alleged lockdown rampage at the weekend. 

Within just three days of the curfew being launched, the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) in South Africa had received 21 reports of murder, rape, assault, and discharging of fire arms by the police. The IPID is an agency that investigates violence and other crimes and human rights abuses by the police.

The South African Human Rights Commission said in a statement that it is monitoring how law enforcement officials act towards citizens, and warned against use of excessive force.

The statement added: "The Commission reminds members of law enforcement that the fundamental human rights of everyone in South Africa remain intact, even under lockdown conditions which have limited other rights."

Meanwhile, civil society organisation Fair and Equitable Society (FES) on Wednesday approached the High Court of South Africa in a bid to get excessive use of violence made illegal.

2. Gender-based violence could increase

Pandemics magnify inequalities and other social ills, and from the onset of COVID-19, global and local agencies that work on women's rights have warned that lockdowns could lead to increased gender-based violence (GBV) around the world.

South Africa, which has some of the highest rates of GBV globally, is not an exception.

Dr. Zubeda Dangor, director of the Nisaa Institute for Women'ss Development, told News24: "An unfortunate consequence of the severe COVID-19 measures being implemented is an anticipated increase of gender-based violence rates during this time."

Dangor added that while the lockdown is a much-needed and proven intervention, it is important that the most vulnerable of our society are not left to fend for themselves.

Activist Maungo Dolo told Gauteng-based Power FM there is no clear indication of what the government plans on doing to protect women from the likelihood of increased violence.

"It's unfortunate that a lot of departments have been making contingency plans for the constituency. We have not seen anything that is powerful or that is strong being said about what happens to victims of gender-based violence," Dolo said.

Europe, meanwhile, is also bracing itself for a rise in domestic violence as a result of lockdowns. "It's a perfect storm. Lockdowns will lead to a surge in domestic abuse, but also severely limit the ability of services to help," Suzanne Jacob, chief executive of British charity SafeLives, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

3. Marginalised communities are at even greater risk of harassment

Police in Kampala, in Uganda, arrested 20 LGBTQ+ people this week, saying that living in a shelter defies the rules of social distancing. Police spokesperson, Patrick Onyango, told the Guardian that the group defied social distancing rules by congesting in a school-like dormitory setting within a small house.

Gatherings of more than five people are currently banned in Uganda due to COVID-19. But activists said the coronavirus outbreak is fuelling homophobia in the East African country, where homosexuality is illegal. 

Frank Mugisha, the executive director of Sexual Minorities Uganda, said: "The arrests were initially around homophobia and transphobia because neighbours reported them and so the security forces came and raided them. These people were at home and they all know each other."

Activists in Uganda said the pandemic had contributed to a rise in homophobic rhetoric in Uganda, with the LGBTQ+ community being blamed by some for the disease.

Meanwhile, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned the growing spread of coronavirus is going to make displaced people all over the world more vulnerable to challenges like lack of adequate sanitation and clean water.

Africa has more than 18 million refugees. "Three-quarters of the world's refugees and many migrants are hosted in developing regions where health systems are already overwhelmed and under-capacitated," UNHCR said in a statement on Tuesday.

Many live in overcrowded camps, settlements, makeshift shelters, or reception centres, where they lack adequate access to health services, clean water, and sanitation, the statement continued.

"Migrants, refugees, and the internally-displaced are disproportionately vulnerable to exclusion, stigma, and discrimination, particularly when undocumented," UNHRC explained

It said governments must ensure that the rights of all people, including refugees and internally-displaced people, are protected. "Protecting the rights and the health of all people will in fact help control the spread of the virus," added the statement.

You can join the global efforts against the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic by urgent taking action through our Together At Home campaign. You can urge world leaders to step up funding to global health efforts; learn more about the virus and how to keep yourself healthy; and urge leaders to protect the rights of refugees and the world's most vulnerable people; among other actions.

You can see all of Global Citizen's COVID-19 coverage here.

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