Press release of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa on the protection of Human Rights Defenders during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa, Honourable Commissioner Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, expresses concern following reports of reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society in Africa and the adverse effects that national responses of States Parties to combat the COVID-19 pandemic have on their work.

In the context of this COVID-19 global pandemic, the role of human rights defenders has become ever more important to safeguard the fundamental human rights enshrined in the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter).

The Rapporteur notes, in particular, serious violations of the freedom of assembly and association, as enshrined in the African Charter and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

The Rapporteur deplores the fact that, notwithstanding the press releases of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights of 17 and 24 March 2020 encouraging States to ensure compliance with the provisions of the African Charter and advocating for effective and human rights-based responses to curb the spread of the COVID-19  pandemic in Africa, several human rights defenders continue to be detained in overcrowded or unsanitary prisons and other detention centres without being charged, and this makes them especially vulnerable to COVID-19 infection. The Special Rapporteur stresses the obligation of States Parties to ensure that measures adopted within the framework of COVID-19 national responses are not used as an opportunity to discriminate against, stigmatize or target particular individuals or groups, including civil society organizations and human rights defenders.

The Special Rapporteur would like to remind that efforts deployed by States Parties to curb the spread of COVID-19 in their respective territories should not result in the silencing of human rights defenders and should comply with the provisions of the African Charter.

The Special Rapporteur would also like to call on human rights defenders to continue, with determination, their activities to promote and protect human rights in compliance with the laws and regulations adopted in the context of this global threat.

The Special Rapporteur urges States Parties to:

  1. Ensure that national responses to the COVID-19 pandemic do not lead to the targeting or undue interference with the work of human rights defenders;
  2. Refrain from using COVID-19 related emergency declarations to justify the adoption of repressive measures against specific groups such as human rights defenders;
  3. Also refrain from adopting measures that restrict civic space and contribute to creating a hostile environment for human rights defenders;
  4. Ensure that human rights defenders can communicate freely without fear of reprisal;
  5. Take all necessary measures enabling human rights defenders to conduct their core activities, in particular, those providing support to the most vulnerable populations, while complying with the health measures necessary to combat COVID-19; and
  6. Promptly release human rights defenders detained without charge.

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The Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and Focal Point on Reprisals in Africa, Honourable Commissioner Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, expresses concern following reports of reprisals against human rights defenders and […]

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Kenya is turning a public health crisis into a law-and-order one

Kenya’s cabinet secretary for health, Mutahi Kagwe, is an unhappy man. A week after the government tentatively allowed restaurants to reopen from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m., he seems surprised that Kenyans are actually patronizing these establishments and having beer with sausages. While bars remain closed, eateries can still serve alcohol to their clients. Ordering a token meal with one’s drink has long been one of the tactics used to get around the country’s ill-considered, poorly drafted and widely ignored law restricting the sale and consumption of alcohol, which was enacted in 2010.


Kagwe’s frustrations reflect the approach of a government used to demanding obedience rather than seeking consent. Efforts to control the coronavirus pandemic have treated it less as a public-health issue than as a problem of law and order. But using the criminal-justice system to address a public-health crisis has unintended consequences.


This approach leaves Kagwe’s initiatives mired in the contentious relationship the criminal-justice system, and especially the police, has historically had with the public. Kenyans have come to see the advice dispensed by the Ministry of Health as the latest excuse for the perpetuation of decades of predatory policing.
Unschooled in the principles of public health, the police seem to have completely misunderstood the objective. Rather than encouraging compliance, officers have resorted to type, employing the blunt implements of brutality and arrest to expand opportunities for the extraction of bribes. This results in perverse and dangerous outcomes, where police force people into crowded vans and cells under the pretext of enforcing social distancing rules, arrest motorists for failing to wear masks even when alone in their vehicles, and drag families from their homes for not wearing masks indoors.


Another characteristic of the government’s response has been the branding of those who circumvent restrictions as lacking in personal discipline. By attributing citizens’ choices to a failure to control impulses, this language refuses to engage with citizens’ gripes and instead assumes they cannot have legitimate reasons for disagreeing with the government’s policies. Kagwe’s repeated decrying of Kenyans’ supposed “indiscipline” has grated on the public as a result.


But even as the state seeks to positions itself as a father figure, its own conduct has been questionable, to say the least. Its agents have engaged in the illegal demolition of homes while also urging citizens to stay indoors. Its utilization of funds for the coronavirus response has been shown to be less than prudent. It has also prioritized paying hundreds of millions of shillings in unconstitutional retirement benefits to politicians over repatriating citizens stranded abroad, paying the costs of putting people in mandatory quarantine and fulfilling a promise to provide free masks to the poorest Kenyans.


Kenyan media reporting, meanwhile, has tended to repeat rather than question the government line. There have been few attempts to distill the reality behind the numbers announced at the daily briefings and probe the choices that the government has been making. While public officials have not made the media’s job easy, restricting the flow of information and the number of questions they are willing to answer during press briefings, it is also true that journalists have generally been reluctant to delve beyond official narratives. “Trust and obey” has seemed to be the overriding message.


Many have pointed to the success of South Korea and Taiwan as evidence that compliance with government directives is critical to defeating the coronavirus. But the trust in governments as custodians of the public interest is high in those societies — as is the ability for citizens to hold errant politicians to account.


In Kenya, on the other hand, more than a century of humiliation, oppression and robbery — first by the British colonial authorities and then their successors in the independent government — has not left the populace so sanguine about the role of the state in public affairs. Government actions are now transferring this lack of trust to the health system, resulting not just in defiance, but also in people staying away from health centers and being fearful of testing.

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Kenya’s cabinet secretary for health, Mutahi Kagwe, is an unhappy man. A week after the government tentatively allowed restaurants to reopen from 5 a.m. to 4 p.m., he seems surprised […]

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How Will the Coronavirus Reshape Democracy and Governance Globally?

The new coronavirus pandemic is not only wreaking destruction on public health and the global economy but disrupting democracy and governance worldwide. It has hit at a time when democracy was already under threat in many places, and it risks exacerbating democratic backsliding and authoritarian consolidation. Already, some governments have used the pandemic to expand executive power and restrict individual rights. Yet such actions are just the tip of the iceberg.

The coronavirus will likely transform other pillars of democratic governance—such as electoral processes, civilian control of militaries, and civic mobilization—and potentially reset the terms of the global debate on the merits of authoritarianism versus democracy. The pandemic will almost certainly usher in broader effects on governance by overburdening countries’ basic governance functions, taxing their sociopolitical cohesion, exacerbating corruption, unsettling relations between national and local governments, and transforming the role of nonstate actors.

This article surveys this wide spectrum of effects. Of course, much remains uncertain as long as the ultimate scope and severity of the crisis are unknown. As the pandemic penetrates lower-income and fragile states, it will likely have even more profound and unpredictable effects than those visible thus far. This article focuses on the first-order political effects of the pandemic and governmental responses to it. Powerful second-order effects resulting from the unfolding global economic slowdown will pack a further governance punch.

The overall picture is foreboding. Yet the pandemic’s impact may have silver linings. Civil society groups mobilizing responses on the front lines of the pandemic may reinforce democratic vitality at the local level. In some places, effective state responses may shore up trust in government or technocratic expertise. Electoral disruptions may spur needed innovations in election administration. It is essential that supporters of democratic governance everywhere attend to this sweeping range of effects, both negative and positive, to identify entry points and interventions that can preempt long-term political damage and nurture potential gains...

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The new coronavirus pandemic is not only wreaking destruction on public health and the global economy but disrupting democracy and governance worldwide. It has hit at a time when democracy […]

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How Will the Coronavirus Reshape Democracy and Governance Globally?

The new coronavirus pandemic is not only wreaking destruction on public health and the global economy but disrupting democracy and governance worldwide. It has hit at a time when democracy was already under threat in many places, and it risks exacerbating democratic backsliding and authoritarian consolidation. Already, some governments have used the pandemic to expand executive power and restrict individual rights. Yet such actions are just the tip of the iceberg.

The coronavirus will likely transform other pillars of democratic governance—such as electoral processes, civilian control of militaries, and civic mobilization—and potentially reset the terms of the global debate on the merits of authoritarianism versus democracy. The pandemic will almost certainly usher in broader effects on governance by overburdening countries’ basic governance functions, taxing their sociopolitical cohesion, exacerbating corruption, unsettling relations between national and local governments, and transforming the role of nonstate actors.

This article surveys this wide spectrum of effects. Of course, much remains uncertain as long as the ultimate scope and severity of the crisis are unknown. As the pandemic penetrates lower-income and fragile states, it will likely have even more profound and unpredictable effects than those visible thus far. This article focuses on the first-order political effects of the pandemic and governmental responses to it. Powerful second-order effects resulting from the unfolding global economic slowdown will pack a further governance punch.

The overall picture is foreboding. Yet the pandemic’s impact may have silver linings. Civil society groups mobilizing responses on the front lines of the pandemic may reinforce democratic vitality at the local level. In some places, effective state responses may shore up trust in government or technocratic expertise. Electoral disruptions may spur needed innovations in election administration. It is essential that supporters of democratic governance everywhere attend to this sweeping range of effects, both negative and positive, to identify entry points and interventions that can preempt long-term political damage and nurture potential gains...

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The new coronavirus pandemic is not only wreaking destruction on public health and the global economy but disrupting democracy and governance worldwide. It has hit at a time when democracy […]

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How Will African CSOs Need to Adapt in the Pandemic?

The past decade has seen considerable changes in civil society dynamics in Africa, with reductions in traditional forms of funding. In the middle-income countries shrinking space for civil society has been witnessed in many contexts and hence eliciting questions around the legitimacy and accountability of organizations dependent on aid investment.

These changes create multiple challenges for civil societies. For many organizations, movements and activists in Africa, the future is unclear. This uncertainty has even been worsened as the world battles with the Coronavirus pandemic posing challenges on running programmes, coordinating staff, financial systems, planning, security, and communication. Yet CSOs are critical to humanitarian assistance in these times. However, as CSOs we are challenged today, probably more than ever, to remain able to deliver across communities. Therefore, organizations are being challenged to innovate to ensure that interventions are executed effectively and timely in the face of unprecedented disruption.

At WACSI, we recognize the urgent need for civil society to review their structures, roles and responsibilities with communities, governments and international and domestic funders to ensure their long-term sustainability. This will help civil society entities especially community-based organizations, grassroots associations and less-resourced CSOs to carry out such crucial activities as supporting the poor, the disenfranchised and the marginalized, enabling collective action and holding decision-makers and the private sector to account.

The institute envisages that the potential operational challenges that CSOs will face due to the coronavirus include:

  1. The strain on the traditional ways of working and programme delivery;
  2. Disruption to resource streams, financial systems and planning;
  3. Health and availability of staff;
  4. Communication and workflow challenges between staff members who are now all working remotely;
  5. Challenges with implementing programmes in communities in an environment of physical distancing particularly organizations which work in health, education and social protection.

It is essential that during these times, CSOs take practical steps to operate and respond to their constituencies. These are some proposed measures that can be taken to navigate this unprecedented experience…

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The past decade has seen considerable changes in civil society dynamics in Africa, with reductions in traditional forms of funding. In the middle-income countries shrinking space for civil society has […]

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“States responses to Covid 19 threat should not halt freedoms of assembly and association”

The Covid-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to human rights around the world. “I salute the efforts of governments, international organizations and civil society working together to protect the public from this health hazard. Where human rights are the compass, we will be better placed to overcome this pandemic and build resilience for the future” said Clément Voule, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, in a statement today.

“No country or government can solve the crisis alone; civil society organizations should be seen as strategic partners in the fight against the pandemic. I am thus concerned due to the information I have received from online consultations with civil society around the world, suggesting several worrying trends and limitations, including on civil society’s ability to support an effective response.”

Laws limiting public gatherings, as well as freedom of movement, have been passed in many States. Restrictions based on public health concerns are justified, where they are necessary and proportionate in light of the circumstances. Regrettably, civil society organizations have rarely been consulted in the process of designing or reviewing appropriate measures of response, and in several cases the processes through which such laws and regulations have been passed have been questionable. In addition, those laws and regulations have often been broad and vague, and little has been done to ensure the timely and widespread dissemination of clear information concerning these new laws, nor to ensure that the penalties imposed are proportionate, or that their implications have been fully considered. In many cases, it appears these measures are being enforced in a discriminatory manner, with opposition figures and groups, together with vulnerable communities, constituting prime targets.

Particularly worrying are cases in which governments have seized on the crisis to suspend constitutional guarantees, to pass sweeping emergency laws and to rule by decree, developments which various UN human rights experts, including the Special Rapporteur, have already cautioned against. In many cases, it appears the measures adopted are geared more at cementing control and cracking down on oppositional figures than at ensuring public health. A trend towards the militarization of crisis management is similarly worrying. Several States have also delayed planned elections, without exerting full efforts to exploring safe alternatives to in-person voting.

Civil society organizations are also facing numerous restrictions and limitations on their work. In some States, new associations are not being registered, where they are unable to demonstrate internal rules geared to the current crisis situation. While civil society workers have a key role to play in responding to the crisis and providing support to vulnerable populations, their ability to play that role has been limited by restrictive laws as well as by funding shortages, themselves brought on in part by limitations on access to cross-border funding. Members of civil society together with other workers, moreover, have been constrained by lack of access to necessary personal protective equipment. In this context, accounts of cases where labor representatives have faced retaliation for speaking out concerning dangerous situations at the workplace are particularly troubling.

The crisis has also been used to limit access to information broadly. Several States have adopted new measures penalizing the spreading of ‘false news,’ or have increased reliance on similar provisions of law already in place, while individuals reporting on the crisis have been cautioned, detained or expelled. Internet access is particularly crucial in times of crisis; existing and new limitations on access to the internet, or censorship of particular websites and forms of information, are hence particularly troubling in this period.

In the face of the current public health emergency, the Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association would like to remind States of the necessity of responding in a manner compliant with their human rights obligations…

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The Covid-19 pandemic has posed unprecedented challenges to human rights around the world. “I salute the efforts of governments, international organizations and civil society working together to protect the public […]

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10 police officers held for ‘torturing’ women over breaking curfew

A Uganda court on Tuesday charged 10 police officers with “aggravated torture” for allegedly forcing dozens of women to rub mud on their genitals as punishment for breaking a coronavirus curfew.

The incident took place on April 2 in the northern town of Elegu, on the border with South Sudan, the day after a nighttime curfew took effect in the fight against COVID-19.

The police officers appeared before the court in nearby Gulu on Tuesday and were ordered held until May 7, Ugandan police said on their Twitter account.

On Monday, police spokesman Fred Enanga had announced a joint investigation with the army into the “alleged aggravated torture of several women and a few men who were being accused of flouting curfew orders and the ban on public spaces”.

He said security forces had used a “heavy-handed approach” to disperse the 31 women, described by Uganda Radio Network as sex workers, and seven men.

“The patrollers kicked doors open and dragged the occupants out, and some fell in the muddy surfaces. Several vlnerable women and a few men were injured in the process.”

Victims reported the incident to their landlady, Beatrice Auma, who took photos of their injuries, Enanga said, adding: “The images went viral.”

The injuries included wounds on the women’s thighs and buttocks apparently from caning — a known practice of the Ugandan security forces.

Auma told local journalists that the police officers forced the women to roll in the mud and rub mud on their genitals. Seven men were allegedly assaulted by security forces in the same incident, and one is in a military hospital with “significant injuries”, according to Enanga.

On April 2 Human Rights Watch accused Ugandan security patrols of using “excessive force, including beating, shooting and arbitrarily detaining people across the country” in enforcing social distancing and lockdown requirements.

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A Uganda court on Tuesday charged 10 police officers with “aggravated torture” for allegedly forcing dozens of women to rub mud on their genitals as punishment for breaking a coronavirus […]

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China sued over coronavirus pandemic

In less than a month, more than 5,000 Americans have joined a class-action lawsuit in Florida seeking reparations from the Chinese government for COVID-19 damages.

The plaintiffs claim to have suffered huge losses due to Beijing’s negligence in containing the virus. Similar class-action lawsuits also were filed in Nevada and Texas.

“Our lawsuit addresses those who have been physically injured from exposure to the virus … it also addresses the commercial activity China has engaged in around the “wet markets” trade,” Berman Law Group, which filed the Florida suit, told VOA.

The law firm cited the ‘commercial activity’ and ‘personal injury’ exceptions under the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act [FSIA] as legal grounds for suing China.

Chimene Keitner, professor at the University of California Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco, disagrees.

“If you read any of the cases that have been decided under the statute [FSIA], it is extremely clear that personal injury, the conduct of a Chinese official needs to happen in the territory of the U.S. for that to apply. And there’s no allegation of commercial activity here,” Chimene noted.

She added, “you can’t sue foreign states for their policy decisions.”…

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In less than a month, more than 5,000 Americans have joined a class-action lawsuit in Florida seeking reparations from the Chinese government for COVID-19 damages. The plaintiffs claim to have […]

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Press Release by the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa and the Importance of Access to the Internet in Responding to the COVID-19 Pandemic

The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), acting through the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (the Special Rapporteur), Commissioner Lawrence Mute, expresses concern on internet shutdowns amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recalling the Commission’s statement of 24 March 2020 on human rights based effective responses to the COVID-19 virus in Africa, the Special Rapporteur reiterates the critical duty of States in times of public health emergencies to ensure that members of the public receive accurate, regular, accessible and science-based information on the threat COVID-19 poses to their health, the role and impact of the measures adopted for preventing and containing the virus, the precautionary measures that members of the public should take, and on the scale of the spread.

The Special Rapporteur notes that any attempt by States to cut or restrict access to the internet, block social media platforms or other communications services, or slow down internet speeds, restricts the public’s access to health information that may be used not only to protect them from contracting the virus but also contain its spread. Additionally, at a time when Governments have imposed measures that limit movement, closed schools and businesses to contain the pandemic spread, the public needs access to the internet for educational and economic purposes. Internet shutdowns also disrupt the ability of journalists to verify information and keep the public updated on the measures governments are taking to contain the spread of the virus.

The Special Rapporteur notes that in Ethiopia, the Government began cutting connections to mobile phone networks, landlines and the internet in the Oromia region in response to unrest in the region on 03 January 2020, and services were not restored until 31 March 2020. The Government of Guinea imposed an internet and social media shutdown between 21 March and 23 March 2020, coinciding with parliamentary elections and a contested constitutional referendum.

The Special Rapporteur reminds African States that internet and social media shutdowns violate the right to freedom of expression and access to information, contrary to Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The internet and social media have given voice to the people of Africa who may now discourse on social, economic and political issues far more than ever before, and States should not take away that voice.

Indeed, Principle 38(1) of the Declaration on Principles of Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa, adopted during theCommission’s 65th Ordinary Session in November 2019, provides as follows:

  1. States shall not interfere with the right of individuals to seek, receive and impart information through any means of communication and digital technologies, through measures such as the removal, blocking or filtering of content, unless such interference is justifiable and compatible with international human rights law and standards.

Paragraph 2 provides that:

  1. ‘States shall not engage in or condone any disruption of access to the internet and other digital technologies for segments of the public or an entire population.’

The Special Rapporteur calls on African States to take all measures to guarantee respect and protect the right to freedom of expression and access to information through ensuring access to internet and social media services especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. States should not disregard rule-of-law dictates by exploiting the pandemic to establish overreaching interventions.

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The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the Commission), acting through the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression and Access to Information in Africa (the Special Rapporteur), Commissioner Lawrence […]

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Joint Civil Society Statement: States Use of Digital Surveillance Technologies to Fight Pandemic Must Respect Human Rights

The COVID-19 pandemic is a global public health emergency that requires a coordinated and large-scale response by governments worldwide. However, States’ efforts to contain the virus must not be used as a cover to usher in a new era of greatly expanded systems of invasive digital surveillance.

We, the undersigned organizations, urge governments to show leadership in tackling the pandemic in a way that ensures that the use of digital technologies to track and monitor individuals and populations is carried out strictly in line with human rights.

Technology can and should play an important role during this effort to save lives, such as to spread public health messages and increase access to health care. However, an increase in state digital surveillance powers, such as obtaining access to mobile phone location data, threatens privacy, freedom of expression and freedom of association, in ways that could violate rights and degrade trust in public authorities – undermining the effectiveness of any public health response. Such measures also pose a risk of discrimination and may disproportionately harm already marginalized communities.

These are extraordinary times, but human rights law still applies. Indeed, the human rights framework is designed to ensure that different rights can be carefully balanced to protect individuals and wider societies. States cannot simply disregard rights such as privacy and freedom of expression in the name of tackling a public health crisis. On the contrary, protecting human rights also promotes public health. Now more than ever, governments must rigorously ensure that any restrictions to these rights is in line with long-established human rights safeguards.

This crisis offers an opportunity to demonstrate our shared humanity. We can make extraordinary efforts to fight this pandemic that are consistent with human rights standards and the rule of law. The decisions that governments make now to confront the pandemic will shape what the world looks like in the future.

We call on all governments not to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic with increased digital surveillance unless the following conditions are met:

  1. Surveillance measures adopted to address the pandemic must be lawful, necessary and proportionate. They must be provided for by law and must be justified by legitimate public health objectives, as determined by the appropriate public health authorities, and be proportionate to those needs. Governments must be transparent about the measures they are taking so that they can be scrutinized and if appropriate later modified, retracted, or overturned. We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse for indiscriminate mass surveillance.
  2. If governments expand monitoring and surveillance powers then such powers must be time-bound, and only continue for as long as necessary to address the current pandemic. We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse for indefinite surveillance
  3. States must ensure that increased collection, retention, and aggregation of personal data, including health data, is only used for the purposes of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. Data collected, Fed, and aggregated to respond to the pandemic must be limited in scope, time-bound in relation to the pandemic and must not be used for commercial or any other purposes. We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse to gut individual’s right to privacy.
  4. Governments must take every effort to protect people’s data, including ensuring sufficient security of any personal data collected and of any devices, applications, networks, or services involved in collection, transmission, processing, and storage. Any claims that data is anonymous must be based on evidence and supported with sufficient information regarding how it has been anonymized. We cannot allow attempts to respond to this pandemic to be used as justification for compromising people’s digital safety.
  5. Any use of digital surveillance technologies in responding to COVID-19, including big data and artificial intelligence systems, must address the risk that these tools will facilitate discrimination and other rights abuses against racial minorities, people living in poverty, and other marginalized populations, whose needs and lived realities may be obscured or misrepresented in large datasets. We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to further increase the gap in the enjoyment of human rights between different groups in society.
  6. If governments enter into data sharing agreements with other public or private sector entities, they must be based on law, and the existence of these agreements and information necessary to assess their impact on privacy and human rights must be publicly disclosed – in writing, with sunset clauses, public oversight and other safeguards by default. Businesses involved in efforts by governments to tackle COVID-19 must undertake due diligence to ensure they respect human rights, and ensure any intervention is firewalled from other business and commercial interests. We cannot allow the COVID-19 pandemic to serve as an excuse for keeping people in the dark about what information their governments are gathering and sharing with third parties.
  7. Any response must incorporate accountability protections and safeguards against abuse. Increased surveillance efforts related to COVID-19 should not fall under the domain of security or intelligence agencies and must be subject to effective oversight by appropriate independent bodies. Further, individuals must be given the opportunity to know about and challenge any COVID-19 related measures to collect, aggregate, and retain, and use data. Individuals who have been subjected to surveillance must have access to effective remedies.
  8. COVID-19 related responses that include data collection efforts should include means for free, active, and meaningful participation of relevant stakeholders, in particular experts in the public health sector and the most marginalized population groups.

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The COVID-19 pandemic is a global public health emergency that requires a coordinated and large-scale response by governments worldwide. However, States’ efforts to contain the virus must not be used […]

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How Technology is Aiding the Covid-19 Fight in Africa

As the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) continues to spread globally, various African governments have imposed sweeping measures such as travel bans, curfews, prohibition of mass gatherings, mandatory quarantines, closure of learning institutions, entertainment spots and borders to curb the pandemic. Some of these measures have boosted the use of digital technologies. But in some countries, responses are marred by pre-existing regressive measures and could affect the enjoyment of digital rights during and post-coronavirus.
Various governments have been quick to encourage mobile money use for local transactions and payment for goods and services in lieu of cash, to stem the contagion. In response, mobile network operators have increased daily limits and waived fees on nominal transfers via mobile money. Effective March 17, for 90 days, Kenya’s Safaricom increased the daily transaction limit via M-Pesa from Kenya Shillings (KES) 140,000 to KES 300,000 (USD 1,400 to USD 3,000) and waived fees off peer-to-peer transfers up to USD 10. Airtel and MTN have done the same in their major markets including Cameroon, Ghana, Rwanda, Sudan, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.

Other efforts by telecom companies have included doubling internet speeds for home fibre packages at no extra cost to users for at least a month and the deployment of Google Loon to boost 4G network coverage in remote areas in Kenya; promotional ‘work from home’ data bundles and a campaign to educate the public on the pandemic by MTN Uganda; and zero-rating information from the health ministry website and free text messaging services to ‘keep public connected’ by Airtel Uganda.
Global mobile operator Vodafone, operational in 10 African countries, is reported to have said that it is offering governments the ability to send text messages free of charge to people living in areas that have been hit by the coronavirus. MTN Cameroon is supporting the national response strategy through dissemination of awareness messages and facilitation of communications between health personnel and the operations of test centres. All providers in Cameroon – Camtel, MTN, Orange and Viettel – are offering subsidised data bundles to facilitate remote work and citizens’ access to information via the internet.
Meanwhile, broadcast media is increasingly being recognised as an essential service alongside more recent digital media forms as a channel for public sensitisation. To ensure access to current information, the pan-African pay TV operator DStv/Multichoice is availing 24-hour news channels to non-subscribers for free.

The potential of technology to facilitate containment of the spread of the coronavirus notwithstanding, the internet is now also posing a significant threat to fighting the pandemic. Social media in many African countries has been awash with speculation, false and misleading information on Covid-19. In Uganda, unverified reports circulated that a Rwandan national who had tested positive for Covid-19 had escaped to Uganda. In Kenya, vigilantes acting on false information beat a man to death on suspicion of having the coronavirus.
National health authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO) are also  fighting disinformation on the virus through counter-narratives online and offline. For instance, Uganda’s health ministry used its social media accounts to dispel several false reports of positive cases that were circulating prior to confirmation of the first case. Many African governments have set up portals, opened toll-free lines and WhatsApp channels to disseminate reliable information on the pandemic as well as enable citizens to report suspected cases. These channels are available in multiple languages.

In Senegal, the Covid-19.gouv.sn platform set up by the State Information Technology Agency (ADIE), provides reliable information on Covid-19, practical advice and awareness videos, and statistics on the spread of the virus via an interactive dashboard showing data for each locality. Individuals can also report a case of infection via the covid19.gouv.sn platform. Additionally, a “Doctor covid chatbot” accessible on Whatsapp allows dynamic interactions with integrated voice in French and Wolof.
Further, social media platforms have not only served as moderators of content on the virus but also as conduits of information from their users, including those with malicious intent. However, Facebook has indicated that due to its staff working from home, it is currently relying more on automated tools, rather than individuals, to identify problematic content. As a result, mistakes could be made and it may take longer to take down harmful content.
The front line against misinformation online has also shifted to legislative means which have been received with concern. Upon declaring Covid-19 a national disaster, South Africa passed regulations criminalising the spread of false news on the virus, punishable by up to six months imprisonment, a fine, or both.

In Kenya, the health minister said misinformation was jeopardising the government’s efforts to fight Covid-19 and warned that authorities would arrest those spreading false information. Kenya’s cyber crimes law has since been used to prosecute two individuals for spreading false information. Well-known blogger Robert Alai was charged over claims that two individuals had died in the coastal city of Mombasa; while another individual was arrested for claiming the government was lying about the first coronavirus case in Kenya.
Uganda’s communications regulator issued an advisory warning against circulation of false information on Covid-19. In Guinea, Kaka Touda, an independent journalist, was arrested in early March for posting information on social media about a possible Covid-19 case at the National referral hospital.

Nonetheless, some countries have in place measures that undermine citizens’ access to digital communications, which hampers the use of ICT in fighting against the spread of the coronavirus. For instance, Ethiopia still maintains an internet blockade on the Oromia region, denying citizens access to critical information. Uganda’s social media tax of USD 0.05 per day of access is an impediment to access to information for many citizens, notably lower income groups. In most of Africa, internet access remains out of reach for many, with high taxation being a key driver of the high cost of access.

In Cameroon, MTN has committed to “ensure the availability of its network and its services, to allow Cameroonians to stay connected in these difficult times”. This is particularly crucial as Cameroon has in the past initiated two internet shutdowns in the Anglophone region of the country, which together lasted 240 days.

As the situation on the pandemic evolves, governments and telecom companies should refrain from arbitrarily shutting down the internet as a way of containing misinformation and false news, as this would violate citizens’ right to express themselves and to access information, and the resulting information void would provide fertile ground for the virus to spread. Meanwhile, taxes on access to vital platforms such as social media should be scrapped to enhance citizens’ access to information

As the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) continues to spread globally, various African governments have imposed sweeping measures such as travel bans, curfews, prohibition of mass gatherings, mandatory quarantines, closure of learning […]

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Covid-19 in Africa: When is Surveillance Necessary and Proportionate?

As the world grapples to contain the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the role of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to enhance disease surveillance, coordinate response mechanisms, and promote public awareness has become more significant. This role of digital technologies is particularly crucial in sub-Saharan Africa where systemic vulnerabilities such as weak health systems and high levels of illiteracy could slow the response to the pandemic.
As of March 25, 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported 2,245 confirmed cases of Covid-19 in 44 countries and 58 deaths in 12 countries in Africa. For a continent of 1.2 billion people across 54 countries, these numbers are still relatively  low, but could potentially escalate. The head of the WHO has advised African governments “to prepare for the worst and prepare today.”

In order to stem the spread of the coronavirus, several countries across the world have deployed the use of big data, mobile apps and other digital technologies. Austria, Iran, Israel, Italy, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, and the USA, are among the countries using geo-location technology reliant on data from tech platforms and telecom companies in order to contain the spread of the Covid-19.
In Austria, A1 Telekom has provided the government with real-time data on its subscribers to enable disease surveillance, while Deutsche Telekom is providing anonymised subscriber data to the Robert Koch Institute which is coordinating the German national response to Covid-19. Singapore’s contact tracing app is purportedly privacy conserving and data protection sensitive. Given the urgency of the pandemic and the dire social and economic costs, countries such as the USA and Israel are triggering emergency powers to institute state-level surveillance previously reserved for counter-terrorism operations.
China’s approach has seen the country leverage its pervasive and sophisticated digital surveillance infrastructure for disease control. Citizens in provinces such as Hubei – the worst hit by the virus – are required to install mobile apps that track travel and medical history and effect ‘digital quarantines’ to control access to subways, malls, and other public spaces. Drones and robots have also been deployed in the affected areas. In Italy, the second hardest-hit country after China, Vodafone has indicated in a statement that it is “providing Italian officials with anonymised customer data to track and analyse population movements in the hard-hit Lombardy region, where people are in lockdown.”

According to Bloomberg, about a dozen countries are testing a disease surveillance tool developed by Israeli spyware firm NSO Group. The software purportedly collects up to two-weeks of mobile tracking data from an infected person and matches it with geo-location data from mobile operators, which identifies individuals who were in close proximity with the infected person. The NSO Group has over the years been at the centre of spyware schemes in authoritarian and repressive governments in Africa and elsewhere.
The extent to which African countries are conducting technology-based disease surveillance is not fully known. However, according to an unconfirmed report, Kenya is monitoring the mobile phones of individuals who are under self-isolation, to arrest those who violate the restrictions imposed on their movements. Further, the Kenyan government has announced it will launch a contact tracing app for public transport to provide critical contact data that will help trace back the movements of confirmed or suspected cases. In South Africa, telecom companies have agreed to give the government location data to combat Covid-19.
In Uganda, where health authorities struggled to locate several individuals who travelled on the same flights as persons who tested positive for the coronavirus, there has been a suggestion to use information from the immigration department and telecom companies to locate those individuals.

While well intentioned, Covid-19 surveillance and data-based tracking interventions have been effected in haste, and with limited precedent and oversight mechanisms.

As the world grapples to contain the novel coronavirus disease (Covid-19), the role of Information and Communications Technology (ICT) to enhance disease surveillance, coordinate response mechanisms, and promote public awareness […]

Continue reading "Covid-19 in Africa: When is Surveillance Necessary and Proportionate?"

COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker

 The COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker is a collaborative effort by the ICNL, ECNL, and other global network of partners, with generous research support from the UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism, Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin. 
COVID-19 weakens a country’s immunity to Governmental Over-reach. This tracker is a tool that monitors government responses to the pandemic and prevent over-reach from infecting civic freedoms and human rights. It also monitors government responses to the pandemic that affect civic freedoms and human rights, focusing on emergency laws.
To date, the tracker has information on 117 responses in 88 Countries. The tracker is frequently updated with new information added. This is an ongoing effort, and we welcome you to email us at epage@icnl.org and simona@ecnl.org to share additional resources.

 The COVID-19 Civic Freedom Tracker is a collaborative effort by the ICNL, ECNL, and other global network of partners, with generous research support from the UN Special Rapporteur on the […]

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Uganda’s Constitutional Court has nullified section 8 of the Public Order Management Act, 2013

Uganda’s Constitutional Court has nullified section 8 of the Public Order Management Act, 2013 in a 4-1 Decision. The Court Further declared that all acts done under the law are null and void.

Find the judgement document in the File manager section.

Source

Uganda’s Constitutional Court has nullified section 8 of the Public Order Management Act, 2013 in a 4-1 Decision. The Court Further declared that all acts done under the law are […]

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Uganda police shoot 2 for violating movement ban

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has urged people to stay home but has stopped short of ordering a lockdown. Bans on movement, or complete lockdowns, are hitting the poor hard in Africa, where many live hand to mouth on the money they can make any given day. In East Africa Rwanda and Mauritius are the only two nations to implement a total lockdown, while Kenya and South Sudan have a night time curfew.
Ugandan police said on Friday that two men were in hospital after being shot for violating restrictions on transport in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Schools, places of entertainment and worship and some agricultural markets have been shut for a month and people have been banned from using public transport, and being more than three to a car, or one on a private motorbike.
“Police officers on duty to enforce a presidential directive stopped two men on a motorbike in Mukono (near Kampala) on Thursday,” Uganda metropolitan police spokesman, Patrick Onyango…

Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni has urged people to stay home but has stopped short of ordering a lockdown. Bans on movement, or complete lockdowns, are hitting the poor hard in […]

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Chaos and teargas as Kenyans rush home to beat curfew

Hundreds of Kisumu residents in western Kenya braved a heavy downpour on Friday evening as they rushed home to beat the nationwide curfew that kicked off Friday 7pm.
There was desperation as only a few public service vehicles were available, forcing many to camp outside buildings as they waited for means of transport.

A spot check by Nation established a number of residents also sought refuge in different petrol stations and Kondele flyover.
Many streets within the CBD remained empty while major supermarkets including Naivas Khetias and Quickmart closed despite a government directive listing them as essential service providers.

In Summary, There was desperation as only a few public service vehicles were available in Kisumu.In Kakamega, the town centre was deserted by 6.45pm as residents rushed home from their places of work.
Several motorists who failed to beat the curfew deadline were arrested at roadblocks.
Source

Hundreds of Kisumu residents in western Kenya braved a heavy downpour on Friday evening as they rushed home to beat the nationwide curfew that kicked off Friday 7pm. There was […]

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COVID-19: States should not abuse emergency measures to suppress human rights – UN experts

GENEVA (16 March 2020) – UN human rights experts* today urged States to avoid overreach of security measures in their response to the coronavirus outbreak and reminded them that emergency powers should not be used to quash dissent.
“While we recognize the severity of the current health crisis and acknowledge that the use of emergency powers is allowed by international law in response to significant threats, we urgently remind States that any emergency responses to the coronavirus must be proportionate, necessary and non-discriminatory,” the experts said.
Their appeal echoes the recent call by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to put #HumanRights at the centre of #CoronavirusOutbreak response.
Declarations of states of emergency, whether for health or security reasons, have clear guidance from international law, the UN experts said. “The use of emergency powers must be publicly declared and should be notified to the relevant treaty bodies when fundamental rights including movement, family life and assembly are being significantly limited.”
“Moreover, emergency declarations based on the Covid-19 outbreak should not be used as a basis to target particular groups, minorities, or individuals. It should not function as a cover for repressive action under the guise of protecting health nor should it be used to silence the work of human rights defenders.
“Restrictions taken to respond to the virus must be motivated by legitimate public health goals and should not be used simply to quash dissent.”
Some States and security institutions may find the use of emergency powers attractive because it offers shortcuts, the experts said. “To prevent such excessive powers to become hardwired into legal and political systems, restrictions should be narrowly tailored and should be the least intrusive means to protect public health.”
Finally, in countries where the virus is waning, authorities must seek to return life to normal and must avoid excessive use of emergency powers to indefinitely regulate day-to-day life, they said.
“We encourage States to remain steadfast in maintaining a human rights-based approach to regulating this pandemic, in order to facilitate the emergence of healthy societies with rule of law and human rights protections,” the UN experts said.

GENEVA (16 March 2020) – UN human rights experts* today urged States to avoid overreach of security measures in their response to the coronavirus outbreak and reminded them that emergency […]

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