“Draconian” lockdown measures in SA – UN Human Rights Commissioner


South Africa is among countries the UN Human Rights Commissioner maintains have instituted “draconian” and “repressive” measures to combat the spread of coronavirus.

UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, is quoted as saying in a statement “emergency powers should not be a weapon governments can wield to quash dissent, control the population and even perpetuate their time in power”.

“Shooting, detaining, or abusing someone for breaking a curfew because they are searching for food is clearly an unacceptable and unlawful response. So is making it difficult or dangerous for a woman to get to hospital to give birth. In some cases, people are dying because of inappropriate application of measures supposedly put in place to save them.

“Respect for people’s rights covers inherent freedoms across the spectrum, including economic, social and cultural rights as well as civil and political rights,” the statement reads.

Her office highlighted abuse allegations that apparently transgress key basic freedom from “South Africa to the Philippines and from Hungary to Jordan”.

Bachelet’s director of field operations Georgette Gagnon said: “Many countries adopted a heavy-handed and highly militarised security response to the virus, including South Africa.

“We’ve received reports of disproportionate use of force by security officers, particularly in poor and informal settlements. Rubber bullets, tear gas, water guns and whips were used to enforce social distancing in shopping lines and outside homes,” she said.

Three weeks into the South African lockdown data indicated over 17 000 people arrested for breaking COVID-19 regulations.

The Independent Police Investigative Directorate (IPID) is investigating complaints against officers for “murder, rape, assault discharge of firearms and corruption” which Gagnon said, highlighted a “toxic, lockdown culture”.

Fifteen complaints regarding alleged use of excessive force and physical abuse by soldiers were lodged with the Office of the Military Ombud in the first four weeks of the national lockdown.