Human Rights Watch has released a report saying the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic set off human rights crises worldwide. The report documents how government have allowed corruption to flourish, and used the pandemic to clamp down critics and the opposition.
The Human Rights Watch report says the coronavirus pandemic which has claimed more than 2.5 million lives worldwide should not be used as an excuse to trample on people’s basic rights.
Dewa Mavhinga, head of Human Rights Watch in southern Africa, said civic groups and the media must ensure governments account during the coronavirus pandemic.
Mavhinga sums up the HRW report: “Some government introduced some restrictions on movements including national lockdowns which were quite disproportionate or inappropriate for the level of public health threat that was being confronted. We saw in our report that some government instituted discriminatory policies and authorities enforced in a discriminatory way with excessive and sometimes fatal forces in terms of the enforcement of those regulations, including the killing of people in South Africa.”
The report says Zimbabwe’s government did not release political prisoners when President Emmerson Mnangagwa granted amnesty to decongest crowded jails to contain the spread of COVID-19.
“We also saw the excessive use of force by the military and police and the arrest of thousands of people into places of detention that are overcrowded already which further raise the risk of the further spread of the pandemic," said Mavhinga.
"We also saw that the virtually collapsed health system was not fully equipped to address the COVID19 pandemic challenges, especially in the context of serious reports of corruption in the procurement of COVID19 equipment. Journalists and anti-corruption activists who exposed the corruption faced harassment and arrests by the authorities in Zimbabwe.”
Monica Mutsvangwa, Zimbabwe’s information minister, said she has yet to see the HRW report.
Bright Matonga, a member of ruling ZANU-PF party and a former government minister, said the HRW report is “very partisan” toward Zimbabwe.
“Obviously with the pandemic, a lot of rights issues were canceled, people didn’t go to work because governments were following WHO procedures and processes. But let me say that the World Health Organization commended Zimbabwe for a well done during the lockdown for providing enough information, access to testing and obviously for getting the COVID vaccine on time. So I do not think that that report is a very accurate report,” said Matonga.
However, Fadzayi Mahere, spokeswoman for opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), says the HRW report is on target.
“Most fundamentally, the COVID-19 measures were used to curtail the right to protest, as we saw in July 2020, freedom of speech and the freedom of the media. We have also seen the weaponisation of the law to silence descending voices, including journalists, opposition politicians. So we can see that there was a list of rights that were violated over the last year using the veil or excuse of the COVID19 pandemic,” she said.
Mahere is one of the people facing charges of violating Zimbabwe’s lockdown regulations last July when she took part in protests against the government’s response to the pandemic.