Month: Apr 2020

Yemen: Urgent Measures Needed to Protect Civilians from COVID-19

We partnered with 29 other organizations and issued a statement on the need for urgent measures in Yemen to protect Civilians from Covid-19.

The conflict in Yemen is entering its sixth year, resulting in what is considered the worst man-made humanitarian crisis in the world. On 10 April, the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in the country. The warring parties, donor states, the United Nations (UN) and the European Union (EU) must take immediate and urgent steps to mitigate COVID-19’s potential outbreak and catastrophic impact in Yemen.

In the face of COVID-19, civilians in Yemen are particularly and acutely vulnerable. Due to the war, the health system has been severely damaged. The warring parties have obstructed and impeded humanitarian aid. Other contagious diseases have spread, including in detention facilities. Thousands of civilians have been killed and injured; more than 3.6 million people have been internally displaced; and over 80 per cent of Yemen’s population is now dependent on humanitarian aid, including for food, shelter and other basic services. According to the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen, Lise Grande, “ten million people are a step away from famine and seven million are malnourished.”

Addressing the Health, Humanitarian and Economic Crises

The health sector in Yemen has been decimated, the economy has crumbled, and the humanitarian response has been repeatedly and blatantly obstructed and interfered with by the warring parties.

The routine destruction and repeated occupation of health care facilities, as well as the killing and wounding of medical workers, has weakened Yemen’s health system, inflicted widespread suffering on civilians, and contributed to making the country increasingly vulnerable to health shocks like that posed by COVID-19. Only half of the country’s health facilities are functional. Many specialists, essential equipment, and supplies, including medicine, personal protective equipment, and ventilators, are scarcely available. In addition, Yemen has a recent history of outbreaks of communicable diseases, with the highest recorded number of suspected cholera cases in recent history.

The warring parties have blatantly obstructed and impeded the humanitarian response throughout the conflict, as well as weaponized the economy and food[1]. Yemeni civil servants, including some doctors and health workers, in different parts of the country, have not been paid their salaries for nearly two years. In 2019, the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen (GEE) concluded that “starvation may have been used as a method of warfare by all parties to the conflict.”

Some international organizations announced the suspension of certain aid to Yemen in late March as a response to Houthi interference in aid deliveries and misuse of funds [2]. The United States, the largest donor to Yemen, decided to cut humanitarian assistance on 27 March 2020, including funding that would help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The day before Yemen’s first COVID-19 case was announced, the World Food Programme said it was set to halve aid to parts of Yemen. An end to the interference in humanitarian aid by parties to the conflict is crucial, but the withdrawal of humanitarian aid, including life-saving supplies, at a time of urgent need risks creating an escalating catastrophe in Yemen.

Unsurprisingly, those already vulnerable—the displaced, those deprived of their liberty, refugees, migrants, the sick, hungry, and poor—have been and will be hit the hardest. In calling for the immediate lifting of international sanctions to prevent hunger crises in countries hit by COVID-19, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food urged the international community “to pay particular attention to the situation of civilians trapped in conflict settings, and notably those already experiencing acute violations of their right to food, such as in Yemen.”

Releasing Arbitrarily Held and Vulnerable Detainees and Improving Detention Conditions

Hundreds of civilians, including journalists and human rights defenders, have been arbitrarily detained and disappeared by the warring parties. Conditions of detention in Yemen are abysmal. Detention facilities are overcrowded, unsanitary, and have already witnessed the spread of contagious diseases. Health care is routinely not available and in some cases all together denied to detainees, while prison systems do not have the capacity, medical supplies or resources to respond to COVID-19.

These conditions put detainees and prisoners at heightened risk in times of a pandemic. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that “in an overcrowded prison, once one person has COVID-19 it’s likely that hundreds of people will have it […] That means you’ll see a higher mortality rate in this prison population.”

In this context, the Group of Eminent International and Regional Experts on Yemen called on  parties to take effective measures to mitigate the spread of the disease, including by releasing prisoners and detainees who are “particularly vulnerable and exposed to substantial risk” in “appalling detention conditions.” In addition, a coalition of NGOs expressed grave concern over the situation of detainees and prisoners across the Middle East and North Africa, particularly in states where prisons and detention facilities are often overcrowded, unsanitary, and suffer from a lack of resources.

A Complete and Credible Ceasefire; an End to All Attacks against Civilians

Since September 2014 and the escalations of March 2015, the Yemeni government, Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group, the Saudi/UAE-led coalition and its affiliated proxy forces have persistently committed serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross human rights abuses. Abuses have included unlawful airstrikes, indiscriminate shelling, the use of landmines, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, torture, and the recruitment of children. Various efforts to achieve peace have failed. Accountability has been absent.

On 25 March 2020, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, echoing his appeal for a global ceasefire, called “on those fighting in Yemen to immediately cease hostilities, focus on reaching a negotiated political settlement and do everything possible to counter a potential outbreak of COVID-19”. Despite the calls for a cessation of hostilities in Yemen, fighting has continued with the Houthi shelling of a prison in Taiz killing five women, two young girls and a policewoman, and wounding nine, including six other women, two girls and a civilian man in Taiz. On 9 April 2020, the Saudi/UAE-led coalition declared a unilateral two-week ceasefire in Yemen. Civil society from around the world joined the appeal for a global ceasefire, including in Yemen. Yet to date, fighting has continued in Yemen. To ensure a response to COVID-19 is in fact possible, all parties to the conflict must commit to a ceasefire.

Adopting a Human Rights-Based Response to COVID-19

While the authorities in various parts of Yemen have a responsibility to take preventive measures and other steps to protect people in areas under their control from the spread of COVID-19, any response must respect human rights and fundamental freedoms. Any emergency measures should be necessary and proportionate. Yemenis must be informed of such measures, which should be time bound. The enforcement of emergency measures must be carried out in line with international law and without discrimination. In times of pandemic, access to information, including transparent coverage of the humanitarian situation and the spread of the virus in Yemen, is particularly crucial [3].

Times of crises have been repeatedly misused by those in power in Yemen to impose unlawful restrictions. Since September 2014 when Ansar Allah seized control over Sanaa, the warring parties have closed public spaces in the country, restricted the right to expression, and attacked, harassed, and detained journalists, media workers, activists and humanitarian workers.

Considering the dire need for immediate effective measures to be taken by all parties to the conflict and third parties in the face of this pandemic, we urge: The warring parties in Yemen, namely the Saudi/UAE-led coalition, internationally recognized government of Yemen, and Ansar Allah (Houthi) armed group to:

  • Immediately lift restrictions on humanitarian aid and critical life-saving goods going into and across Yemen and end all forms of interference with and obstruction of humanitarian operations. To this end, all parties must abide by international humanitarian aid norms and ensure that no aid is diverted or misused for political and financial gain. The warring parties must facilitate unimpeded access and movement of humanitarian aid, medical supplies, humanitarian workers, and life-saving commercial goods without interference or discrimination throughout Yemen; and end blockades, sieges and other actions that prevent or restrict humanitarian and essential commercial imports;
  • Immediately halt fighting across Yemen and implement a complete ceasefire on the ground. The warring parties should re-focus efforts on countering the outbreak of COVID-19 in Yemen, including through dialogue amongst the warring parties and the implementation of coordinated responses; and work with the UN Special Envoy to urgently restart comprehensive political negotiations to end the conflict;
  • Take urgent steps to reduce the prison population, and to disclose the fate of the disappeared. In this regard, the warring parties should:
    • Release all those arbitrarily detained in a manner which ensures the dignity, safety and security of those released;
    • Conduct a thorough review of the prison population and order the immediate release of “low-risk” detainees and prisoners and the particularly vulnerable, including children, the elderly and those with health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19;
    • Provide detainees with adequate sanitary installations, regular access to sanitary facilities and prompt accessible health care, including access to COVID-19 testing and adequate treatment on a standard equal to the general population;
    • Ensure access for recognized monitors of detention conditions to all detention facilities, official and unofficial;
    • Ensure that detainees are afforded the right to fair trial, and are provided with means of communication with the outside world.
  • Fulfil their obligations and duties under international law to protect and respect the rights of the Yemeni population in all parts of Yemen in their response to the COVID-19; and,
  • Come to an agreement to immediately begin Yemeni civil servant salary payments, with a priority for health workers, and work to facilitate other forms of support to Yemeni civilians.

The United Nations

Security Council

  • Take measures to ensure respect for a ceasefire in Yemen and a halt to acts of violence by all parties to the conflict in order to coordinate and carry out a response to the COVID-19 crisis.

Security Council and Human Rights Council

  • Demand that warring parties release individuals arbitrarily detained,  take urgent steps to improve conditions of detention and reduce the overall prison population, and demand an immediate end to the obstruction and interference with humanitarian aid and critical commercial imports;
  • Reiterate that accountability and redress are non-negotiable aspects of any sustainable peace.

Human Rights Council

  • Ensure the mandate of the GEE  includes collection and preservation of evidence of human rights violations and abuses, and provide all necessary support for the GEE  to monitor  the human rights and humanitarian effects of COVID-19 in Yemen, including the steps taken by the parties to the conflict to protect the right to health of the Yemen population.

The states, particularly those with influence over the warring parties, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and the European Union and its Member States:

  • Urgently and significantly increase funding for the full range of humanitarian programming in Yemen, including to support the call of the UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Yemen to maintain UN programs running;
  • Lift unilateral measures and reconsider funding cuts to Yemen which would affect the delivery of essential humanitarian services in facing the urgent threat of COVID-19 and pursue alternative, necessary prevention and mitigation measures to avoid obstruction and interference;
  • Increase the provision of basic services, medical supplies, treatment centers, field hospitals and prevention activities, as well as facilitate cooperative measures to avert and mitigate COVID-19 implications to avoid placing Yemenis at further unnecessary risk, particularly women, children, people with disabilities, the marginalized, internally displaced and refugees in northern areas, who are acutely vulnerable to the spread of the disease;
  • End all licensing for and deliveries of arms, ammunition and military equipment to all warring parties in Yemen to promote the implementation of a cessation of hostilities, in line with UN Security Council resolutions 2216 (2015) and 2511 (2020), the Arms Trade Treaty and the EU Common Position on Arms Exports;
  • Continue to effectively support the UN-led processes and tools to achieve an immediate and sustainable ceasefire in Yemen; and,
  • Support efforts related to achieving accountability and redress for violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law committed by all parties to the conflict.

Endorsing organizations:

  1. Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS)
  2. Mwatana for Human Rights
  3. Vredesactie
  4. The Conflict and Environment Observatory (CEOB)
  5. The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN)
  6. Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC)
  7. 11.11.11
  8. MENA Rights Group
  9. Campaign Against Arms Trade
  10. The African Centre for Democracy and Human Rights Studies (ACDHRS)
  11. CNCD-11.11.11
  12. GLAN | Global Legal Action Network
  13. Human Rights Clinic (Columbia Law School)
  14. ALQST for Human Rights
  15. Dhameer For Rights and Freedom
  16. Musaala for Human Rights
  17. Peace and Building Foundation
  18. Watch for Human Rights
  19. Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
  20. International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH)
  21. Shadow World Investigations
  22. Action Corps
  23. Saferworld
  24. Yemen Relief and Reconstruction Foundation
  25. Yemeni Alliance Committee
  26. PAX for Peace
  27. The University Network for Human Rights
  28. Gulf Centre for Human Rights (GCHR)
  29. Physicians for Human Rights
  30. Center for International Policy

Southern Africa Human Rights Round-Up

Issue 2, 19 – 24 April 2020

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network and Maverick Citizen launched the Southern Africa Weekly Human Rights Roundup, aimed at highlighting important human rights news in Southern Africa. The Human Rights Roundup integrates efforts of human rights defenders and facilitates evidence-based engagement with key stakeholders, and institutions on the human rights situation across the region.

China-Africa, Covid-19 and human rights

This week, we continue exploring the measures being taken to combat Covid-19 and their impact on human rights. Quite astonishingly, the measures in China had the biggest reaction from the civil society movement in Africa, including in Southern Africa.

Recent media reports and social media video footage suggest that Chinese officials accused African people living in China, mainly in Guangzhou province, of being responsible for the second outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in China. 

The reports allege that people of African descent were being systematically targeted and subjected to a variety of human rights violations, and abuses by the Chinese people, including by the Chinese police. Among other things, they were being forcefully evicted from their rented homes without notice, forcefully quarantined for 14 days despite having no symptoms, nor recent travel history or contact with Covid-19 patients, and subjected to forcible random and indiscriminate Covid-19 tests. 

In a number of incidents, people from Africa were being forcibly prohibited from shopping or going to public places such as restaurants. They were also having their travel documents seized without legal basis. 

In response to what was seen as China’s xenophobic violations and abuse of the rights of African people, some African Union (AU) governments and the African Group of Ambassadors in Beijing issued statements condemning the gross human rights violations and demanding the “cessation of forceful testing, quarantine and other inhuman treatments meted out to Africans”. 

Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Botswana and South Africa proved more vocal amid concerns that the xenophobic attacks would strain China-Africa relations. Others called on China to ease African countries’ debt burden or totally cancel the same as a sign of remorse. 

On 12 April 2020, the Chinese Foreign Ministry issued a statement affirming how much China values China-Africa relations, insisting that China and Africa are good friends, partners and brothers. In the statement, China committed to continue providing fair, just, cordial and friendly reception to African nationals, and to continue responding to reasonable concerns and legitimate appeals.

Unfortunately, the statement offered no apologies to Africa, despite overwhelming evidence of the racist and xenophobic attacks. 

In an unprecedented move, over 9,000 AU citizens, including Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), women and youth organisations, lawyers, judges, journalists, human rights activists and Africans in the diaspora, have submitted a petition to the AU. The petition was coordinated by the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and Africa Defenders. 

African civil society saw the reactions of the Chinese authorities as wholly inadequate and condescending. The petition urged African leaders to demand a full and independent investigation into the human rights violations in China and to ensure that immediate remedial action is taken, including bringing perpetrators to justice while offering full reparations and compensation to the victims. 

“As Africa civil society organisations and people, we feel that the relationship between the AU and China that our AU leaders always describe as excellent and of all-weather friends has never been sufficiently scrutinised by African civil society in terms of its impact on human rights. The brazen attacks on people of African descent in China have demonstrated that China is a bully in this partnership and part of it is explained on the basis of its clever use of debt diplomacy (large expensive loans) to shackle African leaders and take away their voice in the relationship.”

Charles Chimedza, the protection officer at the Defenders Network and coordinator of the open letter to the AU

African civil society will no longer be silent and will now hold AU and Chinese leaders to account for human rights violations against African people, whether in China or in Africa.

Status of lockdowns in Southern Africa

The spread of Covid-19 is at different stages around Southern Africa and authorities continue to take country-specific measures to contain the situation. While lockdowns were extended by an average of 2-3 weeks in some countries such as Namibia, South Africa, Zimbabwe and eSwatini, others like Zambia remained under partial lockdown across the country with a complete lockdown of Kafue district being in effect from 14 April 2020 after it was declared a hot-spot. 

In Malawi, efforts to lock down by embattled President Peter Mutharika hit a brick wall after High Court Judge Justice Kenyatta Nyirenda ruled against the lockdown, ordering a temporary injunction for seven days pending a full-blooded hearing on whether a lockdown should be imposed or not. 

The challenge in Malawi was made by the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition (HRDC). 

In Zimbabwe, stakeholders are questioning if the country’s lockdown is constitutional. While the Minister of Health promulgated a series of statutory instruments to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, the lockdown restricts freedom of movement and assembly guaranteed by sections 66 and 58 of the Constitution respectively. 

Human rights lawyer David Hofisi argued that: “Not only do the statutory instruments infringe fundamental freedoms, they create new powers, such as those allowing the Minister of Home Affairs to close ports of entry and exit as he deems fit.” 

He added that executive excesses were deliberate “institutional choices by a machiavellian executive. It is not an innocent mistake by a well-meaning administration. These are powerful functionaries circumventing constitutional imperatives to increase the scope and scale of executive power”. 

Lockdowns and police brutality

The week saw continued cases of harassment of defenceless citizens (including journalists), by state security agents, particularly the police and the army for allegedly breaching lockdown regulations or spreading fake news. 

A man from Alexandra, north of Johannesburg, died after allegedly being assaulted by soldiers on 10 April 2020, resulting in the South Africa National Defense Union (SANDU) reportedly calling for a military inquiry into the murder which is still under investigation

In Botswana, two people were severely assaulted by the police for allegedly breaching lockdown regulations. The government issued a statement on 11 April 2020, condemning the assault of citizens and calling for upholding the rule of law and respect for human rights.  

In eSwatini, police reportedly harassed Swaziland news editor, Zweli Martin Dlamini’s wife and children for spreading “fake news”, that suggested that King Mswati III had contracted Covid-19, insisting that the king “is well and in good health”. 

In Zimbabwe,  freelance journalist James Jemwa was temporarily detained by soldiers and police officers and forced to delete the footage he had recorded at Gwenyambira shops. The Zimbabwe Police Commissioner went on to say that journalists should stay at home and be bound by national lockdown regulations, arguing that they are not providers of an essential service and claiming that only journalists from “broadcasting services” (usually government-controlled) are exempted. 

Covid-19 measures should be targeted at producing public health outcomes and not be exploited as an avenue to clamp down on human rights. 

On 17 April 2020, in an unusual step, all the UN Special Rapporteurs expressed “grave concern at the multiplication of accounts of police killings and other acts of violence within the context of Covid-19 emergency measures”, expressing alarm: “At the rise of reports of killings and other instances of excessive use of force targeting in particular people living in vulnerable situations.” 

The UN SRs went on further to state that “breaking a curfew, or any restriction on freedom of movement, cannot justify resorting to excessive use of force by the police; under no circumstances should it lead to the use of lethal force”.

Lockdowns and poverty

Granted, the most effective way of slowing the virus down is isolation and physical distancing. However, the plight of a significant population that practically lives from hand to mouth in informal economies in Southern Africa needs to be taken into account to avoid criminalising normal human behaviour for everyday survival. 

In Malawi, many small-scale traders who declared that “it would be better to contract the virus than die of hunger,” rejected the lockdown through protests. The Malawi situation is worsened by the trust that has been lost between those who govern and the governed. A significant number of people view the lockdown as a means by which the president is trying to stop political activity ahead of fresh elections ordered by the Constitutional Court in February 2020.

Reports of chaotic mealie-meal distribution in Bulawayo, Zimbabwe where even the police are abusing their authority to get the bulk of deliveries for resale at exorbitant prices are disturbing. 

In Namibia on 17 April 2020, over 500 people gathered at the Moses//Garoeb Constituency office in Windhoek demanding Covid-19 food relief packages. The constituency has a population of an estimated 60,000 people yet the councillor’s office had only received 700 food packages. Physical fights reportedly broke out between civilians and law enforcement agents, as the former scrambled for the limited packages.  

The African Commission on Human and People’s Rights has already expressed alarm about the vulnerability “of homeless people, prisoners, the masses of people living in highly congested and poor neighbourhoods like slums lacking sanitation and those who survive on a hand-to-mouth basis, people in Internally Displaced Persons camps, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants with devastating consequences, including the risk of enduring severe illness and losing their lives without receiving adequate care”. 

Access to water 

Despite recommendations by the World Health Organisation (WHO) that water, sanitation and good hygiene are key elements in fighting the spread of Covid-19, access to clean and potable water in Southern Africa’s urban and informal settlements remains a huge challenge. 

Reports indicate that lockdowns may have worsened already existing challenges and inequalities in accessing water, and sanitation services – Cape Town and Harare being some of the most affected areas. 

South Africa’s Human Settlements, Water and Sanitation Minister Lindiwe Sisulu announced that the ministry procured 41,000 water tanks for national distribution to ensure water supply during the lockdown period. She, however, expressed concern that “the threat and risk of coronavirus in our informal settlements is real and that we have to make haste so that we don’t find ourselves overwhelmed”.  

Efforts to ensure that Gweru residents in Zimbabwe are supplied with water received a knock after Bulawayo High Court Judge Justice Maxwell Takuva dismissed an application filed by Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) on behalf of Gweru Residents Forum. 

The absence of water forces citizens, particularly women, to defy lockdown regulations as they search for water, hence endangering their lives.

Covid-19 testing, treatment and vaccination

Zimbabwe court ordered the government to provide healthcare workers with protective gear and to roll out mass testing. The Zimbabwe Doctors for Human Rights (ZADHR) brought the case to compel the government to provide protection for public hospitals and healthcare workers who are on the frontline of fighting the pandemic.

There is still no good news about the treatment and an effective vaccination against the Covid-19. Sadly, the UN Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) says that “the Covid-19 pandemic will likely kill at least 300,000 Africans” and push “29 million into extreme poverty” unless a $100-billion (R1.8-trillion) safety net can be found for the continent’s population.

Despite efforts by the US to oppose it, the UN General Assembly led by Mexico on 20 April 2020 adopted by consensus of 193 members, a resolution that calls for “equitable, efficient and timely” access to any vaccine developed to fight the Covid-19 pandemic.

In other news

Lesotho: On 18 April 2020, Prime Minister Thomas Thabane deployed armed soldiers, clad in bulletproof vests and helmets onto the streets to “restore order”, accusing unarmed law enforcement agencies of undermining democracy.  This resulted in South Africa sending a delegation to Lesotho to meet the prime minister, members of the opposition and civil society to mediate, resulting in the news that the PM had agreed to resign. 

Botswana: On 17 April, Botswana’s Ministry of International Affairs and Cooperation in a statement refuted claims that the government of Botswana has embarked on forceful deportation of Zimbabwean nationals, arguing that this was a voluntary repatriation exercise by both governments following requests from Zimbabweans who wanted to be assisted to go back home. 

Mozambique: On 17 April, Mozambique’s public prosecutor reportedly refused to compensate the family of an electoral observer who was gunned down by police in the run-up to the 2019 national elections. The development sparked outrage among local rights advocates. Adriano Nuvunga, head of Mozambique’s Centre for Democracy and Development, said Matavele’s murder was a “state crime”.   

Conclusion

Even though the Covid-19 disaster has engulfed the world with unimaginably disastrous consequences for life, health, economies and way of life, for Southern Africa, it has just served as a stark reminder of the urgent need to always address poverty, inequality and injustice by the Southern Africa authorities.  

Widespread poverty, inequality and injustice have complicated responses to the huge health emergency. Priorities need to change with a more sustained focus on improving almost moribund health systems in many Southern African countries. 

There can be no better way to manage these kinds of crises than investing in resilient systems that make effective responses possible. For now, we can only be thankful that the region is not the epicentre of the pandemic. Otherwise, we would be staring at a disaster of monumental proportions. 

Arnold Tsunga is a Human Rights Lawyer, the Director of the Africa Regional Programme of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Chairperson of the SAHRDN; Tatenda Mazarura is a Woman Human Rights Defender (WHRD), a Professional Rapporteur and an Election Expert; Mark Heywood is the editor of Maverick Citizen.

關於中國非洲人的仇外,種族主義和不人道待遇的公開信

SAHRDN連同我們的保護傘機構PANHRDN和姐妹分區域網絡一起,向非洲聯盟委員會主席穆薩·法基(H.E Moussa Faki)致公開信。在信中,我們呼籲非洲聯盟和非洲領導人要求對在COVID-19背景下生活在中國的非洲人的非人道和仇外待遇進行徹底調查並立即採取補救行動。 閱讀下面的信

收件人:H.E. 穆萨・法基

非洲联盟委员会主席

埃塞俄比亚,亚的斯亚贝巴

3243号邮政信箱

2020年4月13日

主席阁下:

主旨:关于非洲人在中国面临仇外、种族主义和不人道对待问题

谨向您致以崇高的敬意。本函签署者皆为来自社会各阶层的非洲联盟公民,包括公民社会组织、妇女组织及女权运动、劳工及学生运动、青年组织、专业协会、律师、法官、学者、商人、神职人员、艺术家、社运人士和新闻记者。

我们赞赏地注意到,非洲联盟持续推动将非盟从一个政府间的联盟变成一个真正属于非洲人民的联盟,普遍参与和所有权的真正非洲人民联盟的承诺。

我们更加赞赏非盟致力确保非洲在社会、政治和经济方面的整合。让非洲大陆在全球事务上众口一声。我们了解到,非盟2063议程的动力来自于伙伴关系的基础与价值,包括平等、相互问责、互惠和团结等价值。有鉴于此,以及非盟及其大多数会员国与中国之间的良好关系,我们愿意针对近期非洲人士在中国遭遇的歧视、仇外和种族主义行为表达深切关注和强烈谴责。

我们欢迎驻北京非洲使节团的声明,以及非洲各国政府和贵机构对此事的反应。相关声明有必要转化为实际行动,才能遏止非洲人在中国受到的畏人羞辱。

主席阁下,中国当局涉及对非洲人进行强迫筛检、隔离检疫和不人道待遇,特别是在广东省境内。对非洲人的歧视与污名化措施,包括强制接受疫情调查与核酸检测。非洲人还被强迫隔离检疫14天,不论是否曾经出境旅游,或接触确诊病患,或曾密切接触或出现新冠肺炎症状。这些待遇都违反国际人权法及相关准则,既不人道,又抵触中非关系理当遵守的一切有关尊严与人类共性的原则。专门针对非洲人士是一种仇外和种族主义的行为,有违中非合作论坛“八大行动”(FOCAC 8)的精神。

主席阁下,非洲与中国在经济合作方面的紧密关系,不应以人权和人类尊严为代价。这是我们2000年《非洲联盟宪章》的核心原则。

主席阁下,由于上述劣行恶迹,加上近期中国企业在非洲进行不正当活动所引起的民怨,亟需在合作框架中纳入相互问责的准则。这一相互问责准则的制定,必须有非洲各国公民的积极参与。我们相信,没有强有力的相互问责框架,中国不断向非洲反覆传达的团结讯息就只是外交词令。非洲人民参与制定伙伴关系框架,将能确保中非关系的发展保有人性面貌,并且体现在中国企业在非洲的行为,而我们的相互团结也能具体展现在中国各省市的大街小巷。

主席阁下,一个能反映阿克拉、釜山和墨西哥原则的参与式、包容性伙伴关系框架,将使人权和民族权成为核心。这个框架将强化监管机制,防范非洲中资企业的不当资金外流与贪腐作为,解决贸易不平衡、债务膨胀、限制劣质商品倾锁等问题。唯有坚决加以干预,才能维护非洲及其人民的尊严。

主席阁下,非盟通过向中国有关部门正式抗议,已经取得不错成绩。我们谨此敦促贵机构和非洲各国领导人,要求针对前述侵犯人权的行为进行全面和独立的调查,并立即采取补救行动。至少,我们认为,根据团结与伙伴关系的精神,中国应当向非洲人民道歉并消除其严重罪行。我们相信中国必能了解,我们非洲人民理应享有尊重与平等待遇。

阁下若有任何其他疑问,欢迎随时向我们查询。联络方式:哈桑・夏尔(Hassan Shire)Hassans@defenddefenders.org,电话+256772752752;或法图・迪安(Fatou Diagne)panafrica@defenddefenders.or,电话+221773335845;或阿诺德・宗嘉(Arnold Tsunga),atsunga@southernafricadefenders.africa. 电话+ 27716405926。再次向您致上我们最高的敬意。

您可以在此处签名请愿书;
http://chng.it/Y9TYyxVC

Open letter on the Xenophobic, racist and inhuman treatment of Africans in China

Together with our umbrella body the PANHRDN and sister sub-regional networks the SAHRDN sent an open letter to the African Union Commission Chairperson, H.E Moussa Faki. In the letter, we call on the African Union and African leaders to demand a complete investigation and immediate remedial action for the inhuman and xenophobic treatment of Africans living in China in the context of COVID-19. Read the letter below

To: H.E Moussa Faki

The Chairperson, African Union Commission

P.O. Box P.O. Box 3243, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia

13 April 2020

Your Excellency,

We present our compliments to Your Excellency. The undersigned Peoples represent a broad cross-section of the citizens of the African Union (AU) and include civil society organisations (CSOs), women organisations and feminist movements, labour and students movements, youth organisations, professional associations, lawyers, judges, academicians, business people, clergy, artists, activists, and journalists.

We note with appreciation the AU’s commitment to the continued transforming of the AU from a union of governments to a genuine union of African peoples that values popular participation and ownership by African peoples.

We further appreciate the AU’s commitment to ensuring that Africa is socially, politically and economically integrated. That the continent speaks with one voice in global affairs. We understand the basis and values of partnership that the drive AU Agenda 2063, including the values of equality, mutual accountability, reciprocity, and solidarity. In this regard and given the excellent relationship the AU and the majority of its member states have so far enjoyed with China, we want to register our most profound concern and strongly condemn the recent acts of discrimination, xenophobia, and racism against the Africans in China.

We welcome the statements of the African Group of Ambassadors in Beijing and reactions from different African governments and your good offices in this regard. There is a need to transform these statements into practical action that puts an end to the horrendous dehumanisation of Africans in China.

Your Excellency, Chinese authorities are allegedly forcefully testing, quarantining and inhumanely treating African people in Guangdong Province in particular. This discrimination and stigmatisation of Africans include being made to undergo epidemic investigation and the Nucleic Acid Test forcefully. The Africans have also been subjected to fourteen (14) days quarantine even if they have not traveled outside their jurisdictions or come into contact with infected persons, or had close contact or showing any symptoms of the COVID-19. This treatment is in violation of international human rights laws and principles. It is inhuman and against all principles of dignity and shared humanity that should ideally guide China-Africa relations. Singling out only Africans is a xenophobic and racist act contrary to the spirit of FOCAC 8.

Your Excellency, Africa’s strong cooperation economic ties with China, should not thrive at the cost of human rights and human dignity. These are the core principles of our Constitutive Act 2000.

Your Excellency, these despicable events and other recurrent complaints regarding illicit activities by Chinese businesses in Africa now demand that the framework of cooperation establish clear standards of mutual accountability. Such standards of accountability must be formulated with the active participation of African citizens. We believe that without strong mutual accountability frameworks, the message of solidarity preached by China towards Africans, will ring hollow. The participation of African people in defining the framework of the partnership will ensure that going forward China-Africa partnership has a human face and is reflected in Chinese business conduct in Africa and our mutual solidarity is also a reality reflected on the streets of Chinese cities and provinces.

Your Excellency, a participatory and inclusive framework of partnership that reflects the Accra, Busan and Mexico principles will place human and peoples’ rights at the centre. This framework will address the imbalance in trade; ballooning debt; restrain dumping of inferior quality goods by strengthening standards monitoring and control illicit financial outflows and corrupt practices by Chinese businesses operating in Africa. These decisive interventions are critical to preserve the dignity of Africa and its people.

Your Excellency, the AU has done well by officially protesting to its Chinese counterparts. We now urge your good offices and African leaders to demand a full and independent investigation into the violations referred to above and immediate remedial action is taken. At the very least, we believe that the spirit of solidarity and partnership demands that China apologises and makes good the grave offence to the African Peoples’. We believe that China understands that we, as African people, deserve respect and equal treatment.

We remain, at your disposal to respond to any additional queries that you may have via Hassan Shire Hassans@defenddefenders.org, phone +256772752752 or Fatou Diagne panafrica@defenddefenders.org phone +221773335845 or Arnold Tsunga atsunga@southernafricadefenders.africa phone +27716405926. We take this opportunity to reassure Your Excellency of our highest considerations once again.

You can sign on to the letter here: http://chng.it/Y9TYyxVC

Please read the full letter with signatures below

Human Rights Locked Down – Southern Africa Human Rights Roundup

Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN) and Maverick Citizen launched a new feature on the 15th of April 2020.
The weekly Human Rights RoundUp is meant to give snapshots of the main human rights news that happens in Southern African countries, particularly related to the growing Covid-19 crisis.

By telling and reflecting on these stories we hope we will be contributing towards integrating the efforts of human rights defenders across the region. It is also intended to inform the policy community of the main threats confronting human rights defenders.

Locking down human rights


The main issue is obviously the Covid-19 lockdown measures and their impact on human rights.
In the last few weeks, all ten Southern African countries have issued public measures to contain the coronavirus. These ‘lockdowns’ were generally of a minimum of three weeks, but are now all being systematically extended mainly by an average of a further two weeks.
For example, on April 9th 2020, South Africa’s President announced the extension of the lockdown measures for an additional two weeks (at least).
President Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe has already hinted that he may extend the lockdown measures and is currently reflecting based on recommendations coming from the WHO.
On 9 April, the Botswana Parliament endorsed the President’s 21 day declaration of state of emergency and extended it to six months. This gives the President Masisi significant power to make decisions with minimum Parliamentary oversight. Civil society groups are already concerned about this given the allegations already emerging of irregular tenders to procure equipment to fight Covid-19 that have been made and reduce government accountability to levels that are not normal in Botswana.
A quick investigation showed that Southern African countries used one international justification and one of two domestic legal reasons to impose the lockdowns. The international basis was the declaration of the Covid-19 as a global pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). The local basis was either the declaration of a state of disaster or the declaration of a state of emergency.
South Africa and Zimbabwe declared a state of disaster while Angola, Mozambique, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia, Eswatini and Malawi have declared states of emergency.

Police brutality


These declarations have given extensive powers to governments to impose measures to try and contain the spread of the Covid-19.
However, a major concern is the excessive use of force and violence by soldiers and police against unarmed civilians suspected of breaching lockdown regulations. The violations include extrajudicial killings in South Africa and Zimbabwe; assaults with sticks, open hands and booted feet; torture including forced exercises like crunches, push-ups and rolling on hard surfaces and mud. In Durban and Cape Town South Africa despite a government declared moratorium against evictions, there were violent evictions of shack dwellers such as Abahlali base Mjondolo.
In all countries, there have been reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions. This comes at a time when courts are not fully functional and exercising effective oversight over the police or the executive.
To their credit, Angola and South Africa are reported to have arrested some of the security officers who assaulted unarmed civilians. In Lesotho the Assistant Commissioner of Police Complaints and Discipline issued a Memorandum on 1 April to the police to stop torturing civilians as ‘that was not part of their deployment instructions’!
In Namibia Lt. Gen. Sebastian Haitota Ndeitunga, the Police Inspector-General also issued a statement denouncing violations of rights of people by the police on 8 April.
Sadly other countries like Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Zambia, and Malawi have not taken any action against errant police details and soldiers who assault, torture or violate the rights of civilians.
As a result, on 8 April prominent Namibian Human Rights lawyer Norman Tjombe invited members of the public who fall victim to abuse to seek free (pro-bono) legal services to sue the police for compensation in civil proceedings.

Locking down poverty


Another major concern has been the incompatibility between the lockdowns requirements and extreme poverty. Across Southern Africa, the requirement of social distancing has proved a tall order if not impossible in extremely poor communities with no adequate housing in all high population density locations in cities.
Near business as usual movement of people as they scramble for basics such as food for survival is still common in South Africa. In Zimbabwe Mbare and Highfields in Harare, Sakubva and Chikanga in Mutare and Mzilikazi and Makokoba in Bulawayo also experienced near business as usual conditions.
In Mozambique the townships of Chamanculo, Mafalala, Polana Canico, Maxquane and Hulene in Maputo; Manga, Munhava, Goto and Nhamudima in Beira are near impossible to impose social distancing due to overcrowding and limited accommodation.
Luanda, Lusaka, Windhoek and Gaborone have similar residential locations where social distancing is near impossible to implement.
It is fortuitous that, as yet, Covid-19 has not spread to such locations across Southern Africa.
The other incompatibility with social distancing is that communities in all these Southern African cities have to scramble for food on a daily basis making it difficult for them to remain in-doors.
In Mutare, Zimbabwe, armed police expropriated and burnt huge quantities of food from the poor at Sakubva market under the guise of imposing lockdown measures.

Access to water


The requirement to regularly wash hands was also near impossible to achieve due to the absence of clean and potable water in many urban centers in Southern Africa. Harare is just one example of a big city to have such a problem. The absence of water resulted in Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR) mounting a series of public interest litigation cases in different provinces to compel the authorities to supply water to the people during the lockdow
The 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe guarantees the right to safe and potable water for everyone and this is the first time that the lawyers have taken a concerted effort to assert such rights in Zimbabwe.
As a result, on 7 April in Mutare High Court Judge Justice Mwayera ordered the City of Mutare and the government of Zimbabwe to provide safe and potable water for residents of Dangamvura on schedules published and accessible to the public: the case was brought by Ephraim Matanda and United Mutare Residents and Ratepayers Trust against the City of Mutare and the Ministry of Local Government and argued by human rights lawyers Passmore Nyakureba and Kelvin Kabaya.
In Zambia, civil society expressed shock when videos started circulating on 8 April of a ruling party official distributing masks made of their political party regalia.
The material the masks are made from did not seem to meet WHO standards Martin Masiga, Secretary-General of Africa Judges Forum, arguing that “those cloth masks … offer 0% protection and 100% exposure.”

Vaccine Development and testing


Civil society in Southern Africa was engaged in hot debate after a video of two French doctors was leaked where they were discussing that Africa should be the main testing ground for vaccines.
The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus, condemned as racist the suggestion that the COVID-19 vaccines be tested first in Africa.
Prominent soccer players Didier Drogba and Samuel Eto’o were also at the forefront of arguing that Africa is not a laboratory.
The fear of Africans continuing to be used as guinea pigs to test vaccines to save humanity was raised in the SAHRDN discussion platform. While the need for the development and testing of a vaccine was generally accepted, there was concern after two French doctors were caught on video discussing extensive testing on African people.

In other news

Malawi: On 1 April 2020 prominent human rights defender Mr Timothy Mtambo resigned as Executive Director of the Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation and Chairperson of the Malawi Human Rights Defenders Coalition ahead of the fresh elections in July 2020 ordered by the Constitutional Court of Malawi.
In his resignation Mtambo publicly stated his support for the opposition coalition against incumbent President Mutharika whom he accused of breach of the Constitution and wanton violations of human rights and abuse of power with impunity. He also announced that he has formed a new citizen’s movement called the Citizens for Transformation, focussing on democracy consolidation.
Mtambo indicated that his decision to create a civil society movement that gave people a greater voice in socio-economic and political develpments was informed by the need to help rescue Malawi from what he referred to as “accidental and transactional leadership.” The former HRDC Chairperson has faced numerous arrests for spearheading anti-government protests since last year’s disputed presidential elections.
On 8 April 2020 the SAHRDN and the Pan Africa Lawyers Union issued a statement advising that the African Court on Human and People’s Rights (AfCOURT) has suspended the execution of a US$ 29,000 punitive personal costs court order imposed against Charles Kajoloweka, a Malawian frontline Human Rights Defender by the Supreme Court of Malawi.
Kajoloweka took the punitive costs order made against him by the Supreme Court of Malawi for scrutiny to the AfCOURT arguing that it amounted to indirect punishment by the judiciary of a human rights defender who used public interest litigation legitimately to demand good and accountable governance. This was after he had sued President Mutharika to fire a Minister, George Chiponda, who was alleged to have swindled millions of public funds in Malawi’s Kwacha in a scandal known as “Maize Gate”.

Mozambique: On 7 April 2020 the village of Muedunbwe in Cabo Delgado Province in the North of Mozambique came under attack by the so-called Daesh or rebels.
Southern Africa civil society continues to express deep concern at the deteriorating security situation in oil and natural gas rich Cabo Delgado province calling for a more nuanced and deep understanding of the political economy of the security situation and understanding of who solution holders are.
They call for stronger government action to protect civilians and for journalists to be allowed unimpeded access in order to report openly on what is going on. They have also called for SADC to declare the situation there a matter of threat to regional peace and security and intervene to restore the rule of law. Prior, Amnesty International issued a statement calling on authorities in Mozambique to do all needed to lawfully protect people in Cabo Delgado.

Eswatini: On 8 April 2020 Eswatini media reported that the latest United States of America 2019 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices alleges that the Eswatini government and its agents carried out ‘arbitrary or unlawful killings’ in 2019.
For example the report alleges that:
“In June police shot and killed a man suspected of harboring prison escapees and drug dealing. There were no reports that the suspect attacked or otherwise threatened the police. In early June, a man was found severely injured after being questioned by police. The man’s cousin alleged that the man was beaten by police, and then left to die in a secluded area some 18 miles away.”
The report alleges other violations by the Eswatini government including arbitrary arrests, torture and extra-judicial killings that happened with impunity.

Zambia: On 9 April the government-controlled Independent Broadcasting Agency canceled the broadcasting/television license of the popular Prime Television Station citing “public interest … safety, security, peace, welfare and good order” as the reason for such action.
Civil society sees this conduct as part of the wider government policy of systematically closing civic space ahead of the 2021 elections in order to consolidate power by President Edgar Lungu.
This is another high level of media closure after similar action was taken against The Post newspaper. The Law Association of Zambia issued a statement on 11 April 2020, strongly condemning the closure and asking the government to reverse the decision on account of numerous irregularities that they cited.
To date, the Zambian authorities have still not reversed the decision despite widespread criticism from various stakeholders with the latest being by the International Press Institute.
The attacks on civic space also include arbitrary arrests and detentions of human rights defenders; the case of Pilato, Laura Miti and Barnabas Mwewa is a case in point, the three defenders were arrested for promoting human rights in Livingstone. Their case is still pending.

Arnold Tsunga is a Human Rights Lawyer, the Director of the Africa Regional Programme of the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) and the Chairperson of the SAHRDN; Tatenda Mazarura is a Woman Human Rights Defender (WHRD), a Professional Rapporteur and an Election Expert; Mark Heywood is the editor of Maverick Citizen.

African Court temporarily stops execution of a US$ 29 000 punitive personal costs order against Charles Kajoloweka, a Malawian frontline Human Rights Defender

Johannesburg, Arusha, and Lilongwe

08 April 2020

The Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network (SAHRDN or the Defenders Network) and the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) have welcomed the ruling by African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Court) sitting in Arusha, to suspend the enforcement of the decision of the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal to slap Youth and Society (YAS) Executive Director and frontline human rights defender, Charles Kajoweleka (Kajoloweka) with a K21.6 million (US$ 29 000) costs order. Kajoweleka had filed a case before the national courts,   seeking orders that  President Peter Mutharika  fires his then Cabinet Minister George Chaponda following allegations of corruption in what was referred to as the “maizegate”, a controversial 2017 maize import scandal that caused losses of millions of Kwacha to Malawian taxpayers. The African Court made a finding that the costs order if executed against  Kajoloweka before the case is finalised on its Merits would lead to potentially irreparable harm to the human rights defender (HRD). This would, if it happened, amount to indirect punishment to Kajoloweka for having challenged President Mutharika to act against an allegedly corrupt Minister.

The conduct of Kajoweleka to sue President Mutharika on available evidence to take decisive action against a Minister involved in possible corruption and siphoning of public resources was very responsible and certainly undisputedly in the public interest to promote good and accountable governance”  stated Arnold Tsunga, the SAHRDN chairperson. “ On the face of it, such responsible and courageous conduct to demand public accountability in a very plausible case of corruption costing the country millions of Kwacha in taxpayers money did not warrant such huge punitive costs, let alone any adverse costs order at all and this naturally created the perception that Kajoloweka was facing s reprisal for speaking truth to power” added Tsunga.

The decision by the Supreme Court of Appeal to award such high punitive costs order in a strong public interest case has a potential chilling effect on HRDs or citizens who in the future would want to use public interest litigation as a legitimate vehicle to not just pursue remedies for human rights violations, but also to enforce separation of powers and the rule of law by subjecting questionable executive conduct, omissions or commissions to judicial scrutiny and oversight as a necessary check and balance in a modern democracy.  The impact of the costs order, if it had been executed, would have been an immediate threat of liquidation of Kajoloweka’s estate. This would be the message that would be understood by the HRDs community and citizens of Malawi, especially those in the good and accountable governance sector. On this basis Kajoloweka then decided to take the Malawi Supreme Court decision for scrutiny to the African Court, supported by his lawyers from PALU, under the instruction of SAHRDN.

Having come to the conclusion that if the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal Order is executed upon Kajoloweka, his immovable property and personal belongings may never be recovered thereby causing irreparable harm, the African Court ruled to;

     a) Stay the enforcement of the order of costs by the Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal against the Applicant (Kajoloweka) pending the finalisation of the application on the merits.

     b) [Malawi to] report to the Court within (15) days from date of receipt of this order on the measures taken to implement it [African Court order].

SAHRDN and PALU raise concern over the trend of awards of punitive costs against public interest litigants, which appears to be on the increase in the Supreme Court of Malawi. This is a cause for concern as it not only affects the rights to equality before the law, equal protection of the law, fair trial and access to justice, but it also generally shrinks the civic space which is the oxygen of citizens and human rights defenders to meaningfully participate in national affairs or issues that affect them. The courts should remain independent and impartial and be the foremost guardians for the protection of civic space and human and peoples’ rights.

The use of Public interest litigation as a tool to advance and protect human and peoples’ rights and the rule of law has become widely accepted as part of addressing inequality, injustice and impunity in African and other societies and to raise issues of public concern” stated Don Deya the Chief Executive Officer of PALU. “We hope that by taking this emerging jurisprudence on costs orders in public interest litigation cases in Malawi (and elsewhere) for scrutiny by the African Court, we are helping the Malawi judiciary (or any other jurisdiction) to re-examine such jurisprudence and evaluate if it is reasonably necessary and justifiable in a democracy” added Deya.

Malawi has a very good record of signing and ratifying international instruments that guarantee the promotion and protection of human and peoples’ rights and the opening up of civic space. The notable international instruments that Malawi has signed and ratified guaranteeing the rights: to establish good and accountable governance; an independent and impartial court system; to a fair trial; to equality and equal protection of the law; to freedom of expression and to receive and disseminate information include the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Constitutive Act of the African Union, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR), with its two Protocols, i.e. the Protocol on the Establishment of the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights; and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol). Malawi has also made the Declaration, under Article 34(6) of the aforementioned Protocol establishing the African Court, which allows its citizens and NGOs direct access to the African Court if they felt that their rights were being violated in Malawi and they have exhausted local remedies.

SAHRDN and PALU therefore jointly call on the Malawian authorities to respect and fully implement the interim Orders of the African Court including reporting to the African Court on measures of compliance as directed.  

Read more on the court ruling here.

  • ends –

For more information please contact Washington Katema, SAHRDN Regional Programmes Manager at wkatema@southernafricadefenders.africa  or +27 73 620 2608 and or Donald Deya, PALU Executive Director at secretariat@lawyersofafrica.org or +255 787 066 888