Monthly Archives: August 2020

Comments Off on Integrated, rights-based and developmental policy interventions are key to combating COVID19 and its impact – Take Urgent Action

The 40th Ordinary Summit,held virtually for the first time, occurs at a time of acute global crises, described as an “existential crossroads involving a pandemic, a deep economic recession, devastating climate change, extreme inequality…” SADC leaders and Member States,confronting these crises, are urged to reset the fundamentals of regional integration and move speedily towards a community upholding and respecting human rights, advancing and promoting socio-economic justice and building a strong, resilient and self-sufficient economies which serve all people.

We recognise that the inequalities and inequities within and between countries are structural and systemic, particularly gender, race and class based inequalities. It is vital that responding to the pandemic does not exacerbate and worsen these inequalities. The virus does not discriminate; however its impact will be felt disproportionately by the poor and vulnerable in our society. A regional emergency plan of action, supported by a SADC COVID-19 Relief Fund, is required which is integrated, regional/continental, multi-sectoral and multi-facetted in order to arrest the spread of COVID-19, mitigate against it impacts, providing a platform for a new social contract and making us less suscpetible to future pandemics.

We urge all Member States to resist using the measures necessary to combat COVID-19 for narrow political gains or to roll-back civil and political space. A rights- and equitybased approach is essential in effectively combating the spread of COVID-19. Restrictions placed on society must be consistent with the UN Economic and Social Council Siracusa principles, based on scientific evidence, through the least restrictive alternative, subject to review and in line with the norms and standards of open and free society, which includes freedom of the press and respect for human dignity. Restrictions which target persons or groups unrelated to the public health necessity during this period must not be allowed by those in authority.

In this regard the entire civil society in SADC expresses deep concern and alarm at events unfolding in Zimbabwe. We call on the government of Zimbabwe to:

1)Immediately release all the trade union and CSO activists who are in detention for merely exercising the right to peaceful assembly and association
2)Restore and uphold civic and political rights in accordance with that country’s Consitution
3)Commit to credible social and political dialogue with stakeholders and roleplayers to find appropriate responses and shared actions for sustainable recovery
4)Addrress the justified concerns of health workers to provide protection against their risk of COVID at work
5)Publicly dissassociate from attempts at classifying of trade unions and CSOs in Zimbabwe as terrorist organisations

The denial of basic human rights and freedoms in Zimbabwe is a matter of regional concern for all of us. We extend our full solidarity to the people of Zimbabwe and furthermore call on neighbouring states, particularly South Africa, to ensure the safety and wellbeing of Zimbabweans and other non-nationals within their borders.
We reiterate our call to the government and people of South Africa to combat xenophobia and violence against Africans in that country. We urge all roleplayers in South Africa to act in accordance with their Constitution and in the spirit of solidarity which contributed immensely to that country’s freedom from Apartheid tyranny.
We further urge SADC to activate the Mediation Reference Group to assist in supporting its response to the on-going instability in parts of Mozambique and to undertake the urgent development of a multistakeholder component of the SADC Early Warning Unit, as well as the civil component of the SADC Standby Force. We remind SADC that military interventions will not produce lasting peace or security and that an integrated and holistic response must be developed with the government of Mozambique as well as local stakeholders. In this regard we support a SADC fact-finding mission to Mozambique to engage all stakeholders coordinated with the support of the incoming SADC Chair, President Nyuzi.

Our common goal is to mobilse our people, especially women and youth, in a movement against corruption, for improving public accountability and maintaining peace and stability throughout the region and in all spheres of society including food security, climate change, adequate nutrition and social wellbeing, as committed to in the Sustainable Development Goals. Special measures must be developed by Member States to prevent malfecence, corruption and graft of COVID-19 relief funds and swift action must be taken were these are found to happen.
We further note with concern that decades of Structural Adjustment Programmes and neo-liberal policies on the continent have left us and our key public health services vulnerable and exposed to the COVID-19 pandemic and recurrent epidemics of cholera, typhoid and other infectious diseases due to inadequate investment in preventive health and safe water, sanitation, clean energy and other infrastructures essential for public health; weak testing and tracing capacity and services; inadequate staffing and training in public health; weak local production capacity for medicines, diagnostics and other essential health products and inadequate procurement management systems, weak protection against gender based violence, amongst others. Weak or severely limited community health systems have also been exposed at this time of crisis, as have the vulnerability of migrant and refugee communities.

We call on Member States to carefully consider and take into account these reasoned calls as they deliberate on the next steps of our journey towards a SADC free, prosperous and inclusive Africa, underpinned by justice for all.

The COVID-19 pandemic gives us an opportunity to build back better, more inclusive, resilient and effective socio-economic systems by:
•Ensuring that measures designed by Member States in response to COVID 19 are rights- and equitybased and prioritise access to comprehensive prevention and care services, placing those most in need at the centre of the respective measures.
•Ensuring that the necessary health resources are pooled and shared between Member States in a coordinated manner to increase and improve local production and procurement of essential health equipment, therapeutics, pharmaceuticals and vaccines.
•Ensuring access to information on cases, and to safe water, soap, face masks and for water, food and income support for those affected by quaratine provisions.
•Ensuring that responses to the catastrophic impacts of COVID-19 should be developed and implemented in consultation with CSOs as well as the most representative employers’ and workers’ organizations
•Ensuring that all, including migrants and refugees, have access to public health services and dignified treatment, preventing stigmitisation and discrimination.
•Ensuring the provision of adequate Personal protection Equipment (PPE) such as surgical masks, gowns and gloves, and infection protection for all health care professionals and workers, including community health workers.
•Involving communities fully in the planning and roll-out of public health campaigns and measures
•Ensuring effective oversight, transparency and accountability in all loan negotiations and agreements related to financing COVID-19 responses, particularly with mulit-lateral and private lending institutions
•Removing barriers that impede sustained access to sexual and reproductive health (SRH) services during the COVID-19 crisis, including restrictions on movement for people who need critical services such as contraceptives, post abortion care or HIV medicines.
•Ensuring continued access to the full range of planned and budgeted health services, including SRH services for adolescents and young people. Earmark ample resources to prevent stock-outs of essential medicines including anti-retrovirals (ARVs) and make arrangements to counter trade limitations in commodities due to border closures.
•Putting measures in place to detect and deter price-gouging and other profiteering practices by merchants of essential medical goods and pharmaceuticals
•Instituting heightened safety measures for patients in waiting areas at health centres and facilitate provision of non-restricted COVID-19 screening and testing services by persons living with HIV, tuberculosis or silicosis, and other immune-suppressing conditions.
Furthermore we urge SADC and Member State to:
•Put in place a comprehensive social protection and income guarantee schemes to support small scale farmers and the informal economy to avert the very real dangers of a loss of income and falling livelihood opportunity for the already vulnerable and precarious sectors of society. A Universal Basic Income Grant for poor and vulnerable groups, informal workers, migrants and unemployed, is also essential to prevent a human catastrophe.
•Put in place mitigation strategies for both domestic burdens, economic hardship and increased gender based violence that need to be implemented in conjunction with civil society and faithbased organisations.
•Engage effectively with small scale farmers, producers and vendors to tailor support to the sector and that such support needs to extend across the region through SADC wide regulations and funding.
•Special attention must be given to the situation of migrant workers many of whom are particularly vulnerable and continue to be excluded from social protection schemes. Public health measures and health care services for prevention and treatment of Covid19 should be available for all workers and their families, whatever their residence status.
•Ensure food supply is maintained, prioritising procurement from smallholder farmers to local markets, roadside stands and informal shops. Additionally, COVID-19 regulations must consider smallholder farmers and support farm workers to enable them to produce and sell food even when local markets are shut.
•As SADC and the AU, ensure that border closures in the region do not disrupt food value chains, while protecting all those involved against risk of infection. While food production and support are considered essential services, other related restrictions will likely cause backlogs at border posts, which will require actions such as the ‘fast lanes’ for maize exports from South Africa to Zimbabwe already being implemented.
•Expand and strengthen national and SADC grain reserves to ensure regional food security, particularly in times of crisis; and food processing and storage facilities should be brought closer to farms.
•Ensure access to information particularly to those living in rural communities and take active measures to ensure greater digital democracy by reducing data costs.
•Ensure that all migrants, undocumented nationals and residents are treated fairly during this time of crisis. Governments are urged to treat all within their borders equitably in line with need and not to discriminate in providing support to the entire population.
•Allocate and spend at least 20% of their national budgets on education and 15% on health. Governments can raise additional funds to sustainably finance education through domestic and innovative financing for education, and by taking decisive action to prevent revenue lost to debt and harmful tax incentives.
•Ensure education systems are inclusive, equitable and transformative. SADC member states should take firm action to provide quality inclusive education for all children (including those with disabilities) and ensure no child is left behind by applying a gender and inclusion lens at all stages of planning, budgeting and expenditure.
•Protect our children and only reopen the schools in January 2021, when there is a drastic decrease in infection rates.
•Prepare proper infra-structure and support to ensure that schools are provided with the necessary protective materials to keep all learners and teachers safe until such a time that there is no longer a threat of the virus.
•Put support measures in place to prepare learners from working class communities and in particular rural youth for schools reopening.
•Ensure that each rural household has access to electricity, free data and devices to access educational programmes.
•Train and employ unemployed youth to become tutors and educational support mentors to small groups of learners.
•Minimise the inequality in access to education, through transforming the educational system in order for all children to have equal access to quality education.
•Make public the scientific basis for measures taken in the epidemic and set up a public commission in each country and SADC wide involving states, civil society, professionals, domestic private sector and WHO to review the response to COVID to identify lessons learned , improvements and investments to prevent and more effectively respond to any future pandemics.
•As a region form alliances and contest interests that undermine the solidarity of the region by strengthened unity and common action.

In support of these demands Civil Society in SADC hereby commits itself to the following actions:
# Continue to build social solidarity and support the local grassroots efforts to raise awareness, respond to the needs of communities and contribute to national and regional level efforts to contain and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on all our communities, particularly women and marginal groups
# Develop, strengthen and share knowledge and information with communities, vulnerable and marginalised groups, and create a common portal and repository of local, national and regional efforts to combat COVID-19 in all 16 SADC Member States
# Promote sector specific coordination and response efforts focused on migrants, small scale farmers, small and cross border traders, women, youth, children, persons with disabilities and those living with HIV/AIDS, etc to more effectively communicate and engage with these sectors
# Promote accountability and transparency in government efforts, particularly in ensuring the protection of human rights and the rule of law

Category: covid-19

Comments Off on Africa Human Rights Day – 25 MAY 2020

Human Rights Institute of South Africa (HURISA) statement presented at the Pan African Parliament (PAP) for the commemoration of Africa Day. PAP hosted a virtual “Meeting with Civil Society” themed: Reflections on the African Union Agenda 2063 and Silencing the Guns.

Brief introduction to Africa Day

On 25 May 1963 the African Union (AU), formerly the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), was established as the apex regional intergovernmental body. This continental body consists of the 55 Member States that make up the African continent. It was officially launched in 2002 as a successor to the OAU, 1963 – 1999.

HURISA statement presented at PAP on 25 May 2020

Thank you to the Moderator Mr, Don Deya, CEO of the Pan-African Lawyers Union (PALU) and the Mistress of Ceremonies Mrs. Lyn Chiwandamira, Senior International Relations Officer, Pan-African Parliament –

•Honourable Bouras Djamel, Acting President of the Pan-African Parliament;
•Honourable Chief Fortune Charumbira, Vice- President of the Pan-African Parliament;
•Honourable Admore Kambudzi, Acting Director of the Peace and Security Department of African Union;
•Honourable Commissioner, Dr Solomon Dersso, Chairperson of the African Commission for Human and People’s Rights;
•Honourable Members of Pan African Parliament;
•Distinguished State Delegates, Dignitaries;
•Development & Cooperation Partners;
•Colleagues, ladies and gentlemen, all protocol duly observed.

It is my singular honour and privilege to speak at this august virtual meeting convened by the Pan African Parliament for the commemoration of Africa Day. Let me first extend my gratitude to Hon. Bouras Djamel, the Acting President of the Pan-African Parliament, for creating this opportunity for PAP engagement with the people of Africa. PAP is the voice of the people of Africa and we appreciate you bringing the parliament to the people of Africa on this occasion. My name is Corlett Letlojane, I am wearing two hats at this platform. One is speaking as the PAP CSO Forum Chairperson and the other as the Executive Director of Human Rights Institute of South Africa.

The significance of this day reminds us of the strides achieved by our forefathers in establishing the AU (formerly OAU). We admire the founding principles entrenched for promoting Pan Africanism, unity, solidarity, cohesion and cooperation between the people of Africa and the African States. If there’s anything that COVID-19 has done in our nations besides devastating our lives, especially the needy, it is that it is changing attitudes of people across the world. Chief Justice Mogoeng has put it well by stating “the lockdown has given us an opportunity to reflect on how materialistic we are at times and how much the need is out there, the need that must not be theorised, or intellectualised, but a need that cries out for practical steps to be taken by each citizen to share”. This resonates with the AU Founding principles and the need to cultivate positive responses for curbing COVID-19 in Africa. This unprecedented crisis has turned people’s lives upside down and stripped off what seemed to be normal for the poor, the middle class and the rich.

The Social Impact of COVID-19

As for the poor, COVID-19 regulations have devastating impact on them because of the vulnerable lived realities they endured for many generations. This is in spite of most constitutions safeguarding the individual’s right to life, to live in a clean and safe environment, and to their health and well-being. Governments are obliged to ensure citizens enjoy these basic fundamental rights. However, many Africans still yearn for freedom despite many decades of the continent’s liberation from colonisation and the 25 years since apartheid. There’s a need to restore the human dignity of the people of Africa through the realisation of African mechanisms, making democratic institutions effective, and upholding the rule of law and human rights. COVID-19 provides a unique opportunity to take stock of the negative impacts of bad governance on the people’s struggle for land, as most Africans occupy land with no infrastructure developed for safe water and sanitation. And, importantly, the occupants of these lands often have no title deeds. There is considerable valuable academic research studies and recommendations for improving the living conditions in Africa. There are also existing mechanisms to overcome the housing and land issues facing Africans on the continent. But millions of people continue living in backyards and squatter camps as shacks dwellers on the African continent . This means we still have a long way to go to address the appalling living conditions in Africa and we need leaders that will change this situation .

Most African constitutions safeguarded the universality of the right to adequate housing. We need to improve Africa’s living conditions to sustainably put an end to overcrowding, informal settlements and squalid slums. These conditions pose life-threatening health risks to people and also make it hard for people to adhere to COVID-19 prevention protocols, including washing of hands with safe water and soap and ensuring social distancing. COVID-19 is challenging leaders to do more to deliver land and dignified housing to Africans. This can be achieved through accelerated implementation of AU mechanisms such as the AU Programme for Infrastructure Development Action. It will make universal access possible for safe water, sanitation, electricity, health centres, schools and roads in Africa. The AU Agenda 2063 is Africa’s vision to end health risks to ensure a safe and secure continent . It should change the lives of over 200 million African people who occupy land which is not surveyed or proclaimed for residential purposes .

In South Africa, when the army was deployed to assist the police to maintain law and order, the budget of R641 million was increased to R4.9 billion after adding 73,000 military personnel to assist the police. If there was similar government surges to address equally important human crises like corruption, poor service delivery, housing, land, water and sanitation, there could be vast progress to curb the systemic gaps. Instead, innocent lives were lost from excessive police force, torture, evictions, shack demolitions, riots, murder, assault, harassment, and arbitrary arrests. This contrasts starkly with the peoples’ expectations that a deployment of the army would not undermine fundamental rights but help the government to save lives. Africa needs to raise leaders that will remember their commitment to uplift the lives of people. Every effort should be made to popularise the AU campaign for 2020, Silencing the Guns, with plans to reduce states’ enormous budgets for the purchase of military equipment.

Although resources have also been provided for assisting the needy with humanitarian aid, the suffering has increased as help is not reaching those who qualify for it. Many stand on the side of roads begging for food. Funds contributed by various sources towards Solidarity funds seem inadequate to cover millions of families.

The response to COVID-19 has also exposed the disproportionate gender-based violence, loss of livelihoods and rising poverty levels as many in vulnerable communities have lost jobs. There’s no policy considered for domestic workers, informal traders and recycling waste pickers to be part of unemployment insurance fund Undocumented migrants and refugees as vulnerable groups have also been impacted, as a number of repatriations and deportations were enforced by South Africa and Botswana. It was only some two weeks ago that measures were put in place to support the needy with a relief grant.

The other sector facing challenges is the essential service providers who are on the frontline of curbing COVID-19, especially in health care. It seems their lives are being put at risk because of inadequate PPE. This has resulted in frontline workers engaging in protests and neglecting people affected by COVID19.

The Role of civil society efforts in curbing COVID-19
CSOs have continued playing important roles in communities through awareness-raising and education campaigns, increasing knowledge and the prevention of COVID-19. There have been significant adjustments, diversified programmes and approaches to enable CSOs to function effectively in the new COVID-19 environment. New pathways have been identified, such as: collaborations, fostering relations with humanitarian aid organisations; obtaining accreditation to serve as volunteers and essential service providers on the ground to reach the needy and vulnerable communities.

Our organisations produced simplified materials to help communities, especially based in far remote areas, including township and vulnerable communities, to understand the legal framework implemented to curb COVID-19 and how to play roles at municipal level. Research studies have been conducted on human rights and the impact of COVID-19. Networking with a view to monitoring the promotion of human rights and Human Rights Documentation Handling was also implemented with partners across South African provinces.

Research studies, publications and media platforms have also been rolled out at the SADC level to analyse whether the space for human rights was enhanced or diminished by measures to control the spread of COVID-19. Moreover, there has been sustained advocacy for promoting the use of regional human rights bodies, and support for drafting petitions against reprisals, abductions, torture, and discrimination during the COVID-19 era. Products of these activities are accessible on our website and social media platforms.

Strengthening PAP mechanisms for innovative engagements & CSOs partnership

The PAP Rules of Procedure place PAP in a unique position to engage in vibrant initiatives with civil society. It also elaborates special powers and procedures for PAP participation in awareness-raising, which is an area with huge gaps where CSOs and PAP can map out ways of engaging effectively. Very few CSOs understand the PAP mechanism, including its procedures, how to access Committees, and how to contribute to the deliberation pertinent to human rights. However, CSOs have the knowhow for accessing both national and regional core expertise, stakeholders and networks working on diverse issues corresponding to PAP work. CSOs are available and willing to enhance PAP’s effectiveness by providing resources, technical assistance for impacting initiatives for various stakeholders, and platforms based within remote communities. COVID-19 offers States and non-state actors an opportunity to review progress in effecting the AU frameworks established decades ago for collaborations in Africa.

The promotion of human and people’s rights is another important role of PAP where synergies can be tapped with CSOs. CSOs can offer solutions for PAP to create cultures of respect for human rights, including social cohesion, unity and solidarity on the Continent. Furthermore, considering that corruption is one of the root causes of conflict on the continent, Article 72 of the PAP Rules of procedure provides PAP the opportunity to increase its visibility to help in overcoming this challenge through consolidation of democratic institutions, democratic culture, and good governance. PAP also has creative models for effective functioning that include the establishment of ten (10) permanent PAP Committees to work on various issues for advancement of democracy, human rights and the rule of law on the continent. The Committees on Justice and Human Rights; on Health, Labour and Social Affairs; on Gender, Family, Youths, and People with Disability; among other committees are important to respond to COVID-19 and should work hand-in-hand with CSOs.

Rule 23 provides PAP with the power to receive evidence, hold public hearings, call witnesses, and permits any organ of the AU as well as other persons outside PAP to attend and speak at its proceedings. CSOs can also lodge Petitions to PAP’s attention on the various human rights problems to be considered. This is an important process that will enhance similar processes applied by other human rights bodies in the region to systematically address in collaboration and complementarity with other AU Organs. The opportunity for PAP to complement the work of the African Court on Human and People’s Rights, African Commission on Human and People’s Rights and Expert on the Rights and Welfare of the Child is clear. We recognize the presence of the Chairperson of ACHPR in this meeting and encourage PAP to do more on this aspect of complementarity of AU Organs. Although, we have to bear in mind possible conflicts with meeting timeframes of AU Organs that might make this hard to actualise. Encouraging CSOs’ submission of shadow reports, such as practiced by the ACHPR after presentations of the States reports, will further enhance advocacy for compliance with Concluding Observations, ratification, domestication and implementation of AU human rights instruments for change in the region.

Honorable Members of PAP offered responses to HURISA intervention and the following were discussed.

1.Freedom of expression and information must be upheld, especially the dissemination of information relating to curbing COVID-19.
2.People’s voices should participate in the law making and decision making for development of adequate laws to curb COVID-19.
3.Need for one continental legislation to curb COVID-19.
4.The lockdown, humanitarian aid, as well as education should be seen to represent people’s views.
5.COVID-19 changes should encourage PAP’s move towards new technology in meeting online and advancement of social media.
6.COVID-19 has taught us many lessons, especially in its exposure of poverty, lack of land ownership, housing, inequality, the plight of vulnerable communities which need to be addressed for provision of safe livelihoods, to save lives, and responsibility to adhere to protocols.
7.There’s a need for Continental Research to be conducted on Informal traders and workers who need sustainable solutions.
8.Clear targets should be set indicating impact where the majority live.
9.Capacity building training for CSO stakeholders’ participation in PAP initiatives.
10.Unity should be Africa’s strength and encouraged practice.
11.Transparency in respect of resource mobilization, especially regarding funding from the World Bank, IMF and effective monitoring and distribution of resources to prevent corruption.
12.Promotion of Citizens rights enshrined in Constitutions, and scrutiny of law and policies, while also monitoring laws that impede the freedom of movement.

National Women’s Month

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In South Africa, the 9th of August is Women’s Day and the month of August is National Women’s Month. On 9 August 1956, more than 20 000 women marched to the Union Buildings in Pretoria. They protested against the extension of Pass Laws enforced on women in South Africa.

This month should not just be a National Women’s Month but a claim for Women’s Right that has been jeopardized by the increase in gender-based violence and femicide.

It is devastating to document the increase in gender-based violence and femicide, especially during the COVID-19 lockdown. The COVID -19 crisis has exacerbated the problems faced by women in abusive relationships because they become trapped with their abusers. In most cases when women decide to leave the toxic relationship, it results in their death and that is why so many just opt to stay. Gender-based violence, rape and femicide is a crisis that is tearing the country apart.

Just recently, we documented some traumatizing cases of gender-based violence that has been increasing on a daily basis across communities in South Africa:

· A 2-year-old girl was raped at Dr George Mukhari Academic Hospital while placed in isolation for COVID-19.

· Hlengiwe Msimango, a mother of two from Kempton Park, Gauteng, was shot dead by her partner because he had mistaken her for a burglar.

· Phumeza Pepeta, a 45 year old woman from Eastern Cape was shot dead by her ex-husband who had disguised himself as a woman at her father’s funeral in Nelson Mandela Bay on the 26th of July. Phumeza has had a restraining order against her ex-husband since 2018.

· Lesedi Mokgosi a 25-year-old teacher from Magong, North West was raped and murdered on the 29th of June. Lesedi was found with her hands and feet tied and was strangled to death. An arrest has been made.

The justice system is failing to end gender-based violence and the perpetrators are aware that whatever they do, they will get away with it. We call upon the government to take gender-based violence and femicide seriously and to establish measures to prevent, investigate and prosecute cases of violence against women and children in the country. The government should provide well- trained police officers who have zero tolerance for gender-based violence. The government should implement National Strategic Plan and partner with the Civil Society Organizations dealing with gender-based violence and provide them with appropriate tools and enough finance to sustain their work during this crisis. We encourage victims not to suffer in silence and report perpetrators to Law Enforcement Agencies. Civil Society Organisations should be encouraged to continue raising awareness and instil a culture of gender equality and protect human rights of women and promote women’s welfare. We want a society where women, children, and other vulnerable groups to live in a free society, without fear of either being abused or killed.

As we commemorate National Women’s Month, we encourage women to fight back and be reminded that they are warriors that ensured national commemoration of this legacy. Women’s month is an opportunity to reflect on women’s achievements, the struggles they faced and the important role they play in the society. Make no excuses or justification to compromise your worth as a woman. “Wathint Abafazi – wathinti – imbokodo” You strike a woman you strike a rock”. You are the universe, You are the fire and You are limitless!

HURISA is relaunching its hashtag campaign #HerVoice #HerPeace #SheMatters, to increase social cohesion and solidarity against GBV/FEMICIDE

HURISA is planning to host workshops to deepen a culture of respect on women, girls and the elderly to join hands to stop the scourge of gender-based violence and femicide. This will cover awareness raising, capacity building, reporting, monitoring for effective law enforcement to combat suspects responsible for atrocities of women, girls and the aged in our society.

Follow us on our reconstructed page #HerVoice #HerPeace # SheMatters

Also follow us on our twitter and facebook

We express our deepest condolences to the families that lost their beloved due to gender-based violence and femicide in South Africa. We also stand in solidarity for justice to all women and girls survivors of GBV and those facing arbitrary arrests, torture, cruel, inhuman treatment under the hand of law enforcement in South Africa and beyond.

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COVID-related human rights issues

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COVID-related human rights issues

State of Public Emergency
Following the announcement of the confirmation of the first cases of coronavirus on 30 March 2020, on 31 March, President Masisi declared a State of Public Emergency Emergency in accordance with section 17 of the Constitution, ‘’until further notice’’. Section 17 empowers the President to declare it for a period of 21 days, when Parliament is not sitting. He further resolved to hold a Parliamentary Meeting to ‘’. seek a resolution of Parliament for the state of emergency to continue for a longer period’’. During a press conference on 7 April 2020, President Masisi stated that he would seek a resolution for a State of Emergency for a period of 6 months. Section 17 of the Constitution limits maximum period for which such a declaration can be approved, is six (6) months. On 9 April 2020, Parliament passed the resolution tabled by Vice-President Tsogwane, for the State of Emergency to last for six (6) months. On 8 April 2020, President Masisi had stated that ‘’The State of Emergency is intended to deal only with the COVID-19 crisis and will not in any way undermine people’s fundamental rights’’. However, of concern is that States of Emergency risk being used for purposes other than that for which they have been allegedly been declared. On 31 March 2020, President Masisi declared a 28 day lockdown for the period 2-30 April 2020. On 30 April 2020 it was extended for a further 21 days.

Early reported human rights abuses during the State of Emergency include:

•The spokesperson of the Botswana Patriotic Front, Justice Motlhabane, allegedly assaulted and arbitrarily arrested on 10 April 2020 by the police (BPF President Biggie Butale 11 April 2020);
•Nicholas Kgopotso of the Umbrella for Democratic Change (UDC), who was allegedly harassed by 12 police officers for allegedly causing noise during the current COVID-19 lockdown;
•Two persons (Neo Dikgole and Thuso Sebinyane) who were allegedly assaulted by the police (Office of the President, 11 April 2020); and
•Three suspects arrested for ‘’… publishing, through electronic communications, offensive statements against government …’’ (Botswana Police Service, 11 April 2020). In terms of the Emergency Powers Act No 61 of 2020 section 31 (3) ‘any person who publishes a statement … with the intention to deceive … about any measure take by the Government to address COVID-19, commits an offence and is liable to a fine not more than P100 000 or to imprisonment for not more than 5 years or to both. It is not clear in which law the offence of ‘offensive statement against government’ is contained. Additionally, the right to freedom of expression is protected under section 12(1) of the Constitution. It can only be limited under exceptional circumstances provided by law and which are necessary for the protection of … public health … (article 19.3 (b) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights).

Human Rights which have been curtailed during the State of Emergency are: freedoms of movement, speech, expression, assembly religion and the rights to work and to education for those schools which are unable to implement an e-learning programme for their students, following the closures of schools.

Right to counsel
The right to counsel is constrained due to the limitations placed on lawyers through the Emergency Regulations. Legal services are considered to be essential services. However, the issuing authority for permits for the Ministry of Defence, Justice and Security shall be the Registrar of the High Court in respect of urgent litigation matters and the Ministry as regards non-litigation urgent matters. Determination as to the urgency of matters rests with the issuing authorities. This necessitates lawyers being forced to violate the principle of lawyer-client confidentiality as they are expected to provide information about the cases, to the issuing authorities before their application for a permit may be considered. Without prior access to their clients to determine the facts, the right to counsel and a fair trial will be severely compromised.

CSOs have established 2 call lines for the reporting of human right abuses, but as they are not toll free numbers, they are not accessible to the most vulnerable in the community who have no money to pay for airtime. DITSHWANELO and Molao Matters are managing the call lines which were established on 21 April 2020.

Gender-Based Violence
There was a surge in the number of reported GBV cases which has led to the opening of 5 temporary shelters in Gaborone during the April lockdown period.
CSOs working directly in the field of GBV receive calls on their emergency telephone numbers and are able to house the GBV survivors in shelters and to offer counselling. The Botswana Gender Based Violence and Prevention Centre coordinates this work.

Child Abuse
Civil society organisations working on issues relating to children have reported concern for those children who are confined to their homes, in cases where they experience cases of incest.

CSOs working directly in the field of children’s rights receive calls on their toll free telephone number and are able to house the abuse survivors in shelters and to offer counselling. Botswana Network for Mental Health and Childline are coordinating the counselling activities.
Right to work

Informal sector workers – including domestic workers, farm workers, taxi drivers, hairdressers, artists, street vendors, car washers, piece-job workers; car park attendants, youth; and informal sector migrant workers (they are not eligible for any wage subsidy or COVID-19 Government feeding scheme) – all form a group of workers which is most vulnerable to the economic consequences of the lockdown. They are not registered under any of the government social protection schemes (such as the Supplementary Feeding for Vulnerable Groups, Destitute Programme, Labour Based Drought Relief Programme) and are consequently invisible to the authorities. This group of workers is facing hunger and is dependent on food handouts. As a group which has been self-sufficient and able to provide for itself, it is experiencing a COVID-induced poverty and an undermining of its dignity.

CSOs receive calls through the group counselling telephone numbers from informal sector workers unable to cope due to having no income and no food. The Government’s feeding scheme has taken time to reach the beneficiaries. It is also not clear for how long it will last. DITSHWANELO is coordinating the humanitarian support activities and engaging with BOISA – an informal sector workers’ group.

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Category: covid-19

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Human Rights during the Lockdown in Lesotho

Mr Mokitimi Ts’osane on behalf of the Transformation Resource Centre (TRC)


The Government of Lesotho under its duty of guarantee stemming from the Constitution, human rights treaties and conventions has a duty and obligations to protect its citizens from any threat to their Fundamental Human Rights under Chapter II of the Constitution of Lesotho and socio-economic rights termed “Principles of State Policy” under Chapter III. It is this duty of guarantee which prompted the government to undertake extraordinary measures curb the spread of the novel Covid-19 which presented imminent and uncompromising threat to human life, health and well-being. The virus was ravaging first world countries and it exposed the inefficiencies of the system in the health sector.

In response, on the 27th March 2020 the Right Honourable Prime Minister of Lesotho declared a State of Emergency which was deemed to have come into effect on 18th March 2020. The State of Emergency proclamation was published a Gazette in accordance with section 23(1) and (7) of the Constitution. The State of Emergency also corresponded with the dictates of Public Health Order No 12 of 1970 under section 16(2)(a) which mandates enforcement and imposition of isolation during surveillance of infections. The Magistrate court also has to be applauded for the release of prisoners in order to ensure the reduction of numbers of prisoners during this desperate time of crisis.

On the 29th March 2020, the government published another gazette which ordered a stringent lockdown as recommended by the World Health Organisation (W.H.O). This nationwide lockdown was for a period of 21 days which were to commence on the 1st April 2020 and was to be enforced by the army and the police. On the 22nd April, the lockdown was extended for a further 2 weeks.

Our Commentary as TRC covers and takes cognizance of the security agencies excesses against the citizens in the course of the enforcement of the nationwide lockdown to curb the spread of the novel Covid-19. We also cover Covid-19 used as a pretext to undermine parliament and to disregard the fundamental constitutional and political values in a representative democracy. Additionally, our commentary notes that apart from the induced health crisis, the pandemic has rapidly ignited a colossal economic crisis and the Government of Lesotho under its duty of guarantee has an obligation to protect its citizens from the economic impact of this crisis.

It is against the background of this economic crisis that governments, including that of Lesotho, have had to formulate fiscal, monetary and macro-financial relief measures aimed at mitigating the socio-economic impact of Covid-19 and to provide support to individuals, households, firms and the markets crucial for a recovery. Ultimately, the fiscal and macro-economic relief measures guarantee citizens’ right to life, well-being and health. The existence of these policy measures were engineered for effective softening of the economic impact of Covid-19.
2. Human Rights Violations

We welcome the drastic measures with which the government responded to Covid-19 to enforce social distancing and deploying the army and the police to break the chain of viral transmission which greatly mitigated the risk of the spread of the virus. Further, we welcome the Right Honourable Prime Minister and the Police Commissioner Holomo Molibeli’s respective appeals to the police and army to observe human rights and refrain from acts of brutality against citizens during the nationwide lockdown. The police had also promised take action against officers who did not heed this call. However, we cannot turn a blind eye to the material that went viral on electronic and social media platforms that pointed to the excesses committed by the security agencies in course of discharging their noble duties during the lockdown.

In response, TRC launched an online human rights violations register, which is undergoing evaluation in the Human Rights Department as the Lockdown has been lifted. TRC acted on the basis that all state’s measures and responses to Covid-19, including the enforcement of the lockdown, should be proportionate, within the context and ambits of the rule of law, legal and necessary to protect public health in accordance with the constitution and international human rights instruments. We also hold a firm view that the security agencies’ should have been cognisant of the cross-cutting principle of respect to human dignity and integrity hence our condemnation of the brutal acts of torture, degrading and inhuman treatment on the citizens.

A local human rights organisation, Lesotho Lawyers for Human Rights (LLHR) through its president, Advocate Zwelakhe Mda KC also weighed in on the instances of the police and army excesses and in letter urged the Law Society of Lesotho to file an urgent application in the High Court interdicting the army commander and the police commissioner from assaulting people. The LLHR further urged the Prime Minister Thomas Thabane to ‘exact accountability from the said public officers in terms of the relevant legislative framework’. The LLHR further said it would be in the interest of justice for the rogue soldiers and police officers to be suspended from their official duties pending determination of their criminal cases. LLRH has about 10 cases of excesses committed by the security agencies in course of discharging their noble duties during the lockdown.

Up to this day the government had not acted on the letter and we have no reports of any investigations to bring the perpetrators to account despite the availability of materials which pin point the aggressors. It was reported on government website that eleven people were arrested for disregarding the lockdown protocols in the Maseru and Berea districts. The suspects were charged for contravening Section 3(14) read with Section 10(2) of Public Health Regulation COVID-19 Legal Notice 27 of 2020. We are of a view that apprehension should be applied equally between members of the security agencies and private. The culture of the members of the security agencies flouting the law with impunity has to end.

We note that under the Penal Code, 2010, the charges would be assault with intent to cause grievous bodily. We find this too insufficient given the magnitude of the torture, degrading and inhuman treatment that individuals suffered in the hands of the security agencies.

3.Covid-19 as a pretext: Prorogation of Parliament

On the 18th March 2020 the Cabinet met and decided that COVID-19 be declared a national emergency. On the 20th March 2020 the four leaders of the political parties which have formed Government attended a meeting at the Royal Palace at l8H00 whereat the Prime Minister adviced the King to prorogue Parliament and was given an ultimatum to act by 21H00. This move was opposed by 2(two) other coalition partners in Chief ‘Maseribane, the Minister of Communications and Miss K. Rants’o, Minister of Labour and Employment.

Three(3) hours later, when the King had not acted in terms of the Prime Minister advise, the Prime Minister proceeded to prorogue Parliament and issued Legal Notice No.21 of 2020. The Prime Minister’s prime reason was “due to prevalence of Corona Virus (Covid-19) which has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) it is advisable not to have large gatherings of people in order to avoid the spread of the virus.”

Notably, this move was condemned the National Executive Committee of the party the Prime Minister leas being All Basotho Convention, political parties in parliament (mainly opposition), civil society organisations and most prominently from one of the coalition partners in Basotho National Party (BNP). At the time the Prime Minister prorogued Parliament he was facing an imminent motion of no confidence launched by Members of Parliament of the party he leads and was supported by ABC’s National Executive Committee. The move by Prime Minister was also condemned for the apparent unjustifiable involvement of the King in the Prime Minister’s political battles as he was facing an imminent motion of no confidence in the National Assembly. One of the Applicants’ prayers in ABC & 6 Ors and Prime Minister & 4 Ors Constitutional Case No. 0006/2020) be declared that the Prime Minister and the Deputy Prime Minister have put the office of His Majesty the King (Head of State) into disrepute and lowered its esteem.

Proroguing parliament signalled a desperate move by the Prime Minister to frustrate the enactment of the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution which would strip him off the unilateral option of advising His Majesty to dissolve parliament in case he is faced with motion of no confidence. The motion simply means that to advise His Majesty on the particular issue, the PM will need to command the two third majority of Parliament for approval. The net effect of prorogation is termination of the life of bills that lay before parliament. In this context, this could have included a bill of the magnitude of the Ninth Amendment to the Constitution.

A constitutional challenge was launched against the Prime Minster by All Basotho Convention and Basotho National Party together with 4 Members of Parliament and one member of the Senate. One of the reliefs sought was for the decision to prorogue parliament pursuant to the provisions of section 91 (3) of the Constitution of Lesotho 1993 (as amended) be reviewed, corrected and/or set aside. As alluded to at paragraph 76 of the ABC judgement the constitutional court was called upon to audit the legality of prorogation as a means to implement the Government’s policy to contain COVID-19.

In the end, the High Court sitting as the Constitutional Court found that the Prime Minister did not apply his mind to the issue of proroguing Parliament by not taking into account the role of Parliament to allocate resources to deal with the health emergency posed by COVID-19. In his response to the originating application, the Prime Minister failed to respond to the averment that he failed to take into account importance of Parliament in fighting COVID-19 and that failure amounted to an admission and the Prime Minister’s version was palpably implausible considering that it is needed most to authorise emergency funding to deal with the pandemic. The Court found that the Prime Minister by ignoring the fact that by “proroguing Parliament, its constitutional financial-resources-allocative capacity which is crucial to fighting the scourge of COVID-19, would be virtually crippled, and, therefore, render his decision irrational.”

The Prime Minister’s decision to prorogue parliament was ultimately controversial. It elicited a clear disregard of the fundamental values which are crucial to the operation of the constitutional system. The actions added fire to constitutional and political crises which have been engineered by a prime minister who “has the propensity and has persistently displayed some modus operandi to damage critical arms of government” and demonstrated a “persistent behaviour of indulging in unconstitutional decisions compromising the Kingdom of Lesotho” as noted at para. 26 of ABC’s judgement.

The prorogation of parliament indicated an unambiguous disregard for fundamental tenets of democracy and an abominable disregard of constitutional values from a pair, the PM and DPM, which should be the embodiment of the highest values. The use of Covid-19 as pretext to sideline parliament for 3 months came at a moment when political decisions of immense importance regarding the pandemic and governance were to be made. Prorogation challenged the core democratic constitutional concept of checks and balances, disregarded the importance of separation of powers and was an attempt to erode the executive’s accountability to parliament and. It was also a sheer overreach of the Prime Minister which would have embroiled the Office of the King in political battles. This was also violation of the right of citizens to participate in the conduct to of public affairs their democratically elected representatives as per section 20(a) of the Constitution.

As noted by the Court, it was undeniable that the Prime Minister used Covid-19 as his reason for prorogation but at the end it was ostensibly clear that it was just a pretext to hold onto power by a complicit collusion between the Prime Minister who is facing a murder charge and his Deputy who would qualify for lifetime deputy ministerial benefits in July 2020. The court has to be applauded for saving the core values of democracy on which the Constitution of Lesotho was developed.

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Category: covid-19