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Human rights undermined during pandemic

There is no reason to continue holding back communities and limiting their freedoms.

In Summary

• As a result of the social distancing rule and attempts to reduce the spread of the disease, police stations and courts have drastically reduced their reach and availability.

• While we understand the need for police and court officials to protect themselve , it must be noted that this has contributed to increased human rights violations.

Police use force on Likoni residents trying to beat curfew deadline.
HEAVY-HANDED: Police use force on Likoni residents trying to beat curfew deadline.
Image: FILE:

The Covid-19 pandemic control measures have undermined respect for human rights country and limited the enjoyment of fundamental freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution.

The measures have given certain authorities the false impression that human rights have been suspended and that the Covid-19 pandemic justifies extra-legal means.

There are various reasons that have led to this situation. To begin with, the government’s decision to partially lock down the country only at night through the curfew was not effective.

 

If anything, it only left room for abuse by citizens, more activities during the day and heightening tension towards the evening.

Since the pandemic, as a result of the social distancing rule and attempts to reduce the spread of the disease, police stations and courts have drastically reduced their reach and availability.

While we understand the need for police and court officials to protect themselves, it must be noted this has contributed to increased human rights violations.

 

It is now difficult and challenging to get the two important justice actors to address human rights activists' complaints.

Moving forward, Kenyans need to see the immediate resumption of normal service by police and courts, albeit with their officers provided with protective gear.

In retrospect, to control the spread of the disease, the government should have moved to a complete lockdown of the entire country as Uganda did. The night curfew only worsened the spread of disease during the day.

Having said this, we are now at a point where the spread is communal and any form of lockdown and/or curfew will have zero effect.

 

The half measures are presently doing more harm than good particularly for enjoyment of human rights.

A good example is what happened at the Likoni ferry in Mombasa, where as a result of needing to beat the curfew deadline and get home, the country witnessed gross human rights abuses of ferry users by the police.

Another human rights challenge is access to information. During the Covid-19 pandemic, national and county governments have not done enough to share information about what they are doing to counter the pandemic.

This has led to suspicion and mistrust.

Presently, there is a lot of misinformation and half-truths circulating about the disease.

For example, many people at the Coast believe there is no Covid-19 and that it’s a government gimmick to attract international funding. This wrong perception has greatly contributed to the spread of the virus and further violation of the right to healthcare. 

Stigma remains the single most challenging hurdle in the fight against Covid-19. How Covid-19 was introduced in Kenya and the Coast particularly led to many fearing the disease and those who contracted it.

Scenes of persons suffering in quarantine, others dying and others separated from their loved ones led to stigma.

The general public wanted nothing to do with those found to be Covid-19 positive.

If we are to win the war against the disease, there is urgent need for the authorities to address stigma within communities and ensure those who test positive are treated with love and compassion.

 

Following the experience of other countries, it is safe to assume the disease will be with us for months, if not years.

We must, therefore, find ways to live with the disease. As scientists continue to study the disease and come up with better ways of dealing with it, people must ensure the promotion and protection of human rights in the new reality of Covid-19.

There is no reason to continue holding back communities and limiting their freedoms.

We just need to learn and appreciate the need for social distancing, wearing masks and washing hands. Kenyans must understand that we need to take care of our health and keep the elderly and sickly safe.

The state must appreciate that without respecting human rights and the dignity of each person, we will fail in addressing the Covid-19 pandemic challenges that our communities are faced with.

Now more than ever, the government must give hope to its people by safeguarding their well-being and protecting their livelihoods. If we safeguard the peoples’ rights, we shall definitely overcome.

Khalid is the Executive director, Haki-Africa


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