The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the terrible legacy of deliberately divisive and destructive policies that have perpetuated inequality, discrimination, and oppression across Sub-Saharan Africa, according to an Amnesty International report.

The 2020/2021 report published on Wednesday is titled The State of the World’s Human Rights.  It says that across the region, the devastating impact of armed conflict in countries such as Ethiopia, Mozambique, Cameroon, and Nigeria was compounded by the pandemic as a number of states weaponized it to crack down on human rights.  

The crackdowns included killings of civilians and arrests of opposition politicians and supporters and human rights defenders and activists in countries such as Angola, Guinea, and Uganda. 

 The report says discriminatory policy decisions of leaders in the region are costing the already marginalised, including women and refugees, dearly. It says existing inequalities have also left the marginalised communities,  including older people and health workers disproportionately negatively affected by the pandemic, with gender-based violence exacerbating the situation. 

“For example, 21 women and children had been killed by intimate partners in South Africa by mid-June, while over 3 600 rapes were recorded during the COVID-19 lockdown in Nigeria. In CAR, the UN recorded 60 cases of conflict-related sexual violence, including rape, forced marriage, and sexual slavery, between June and October,” it reveals.

It also found that health workers in the region operated in insanitary and unsafe environments due to shortages of PPE and sanitisers. 

“For example, in South Africa, by early August, at least 240 health workers had died after contracting COVID-19. By July, about 2 065 health workers in Ghana had been infected and six had died due to COVID-19-related complications. Despite facing increased workloads and additional occupational risks, health workers in most countries remained without adequate compensation,” says the organisation.

 Weaponising COVID-19

The report also paints a dismal picture of countries where authorities continued to restrict liberties in their handling of the pandemic. 

From Togo to Kenya and Angola to South Africa, the annual report highlights governments using excessive force to enforce compliance with COVID-19 response measures. The use of excessive force led to several cases of multiple killings, including while enforcing COVID-19 measures.  

The report also details many important victories that human rights activists helped to secure in 2020.  These include new legislation to counter violence against women and girls in Sudan and the overturning of a ban preventing pregnant girls from attending school and sitting exams in Sierra Leone.

“Leadership in 2020 came not from power or privilege. It came from the countless people marching to demand change. We saw an outpouring of support for #End SARS, #ZimbabweanLivesMatter as well as public protests against repression and inequality in places across the continent,” says Amnesty International’s Director for West and Central Africa, Samira Daoud.

“We are at a crossroads. We must release the shackles that degrade human dignity. We must reset and reboot to build a world grounded in equality, human rights, and humanity. We must learn from the pandemic and come together to work boldly and creatively so everyone is on an equal footing,” adds the organisation’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena.

The document below contains the full report:

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