COVID-19 epidemic which started in Wuhan, China in December 2019 became a global health issue after spreading to many countries overwhelming the health sector of both rich and poor nations including countries with the most powerful health system which previously have been regarded as one of the very best.
As of April 30, 2020, more than 3, 059, 642 people have tested positive with 211, 028 lives lost in 213 countries or territories with China, Europe, and America accounting for the most cases (WHO; April 30, 2020 update).
This pandemic has strained the world’s health care system, shot down countries, and brought the global economy to a standstill. The virus spread to other parts of the world including countries in Africa due to the movement of people from one country to another prompting border closures affecting land, water, and air transport.
- Africa & COVID-19
According to the WHO, Africa’s first COVID-19 case was recorded in Egypt on 14 February 2020. WHO on March 11, 2020, declared the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak a global pandemic at which time the world has experienced 118, 000 people infected and 4,300 deaths worldwide – and the United States by then has reported 1,200 cases.
This unprecedented spread of the virus impelled an advisory provided by the WHO, requiring all countries to prepared for the worst and to put in place measures which included the need to ‘’accelerate and scale up a comprehensive response to the pandemic, including an appropriate combination of proven public health and physical distancing measures. Further advice included ‘’ early isolation of all cases, including mild cases, as one of the key control measures, along with early detection, early treatment and contact tracing (WHO 2020). To complete these measures, the WHO further suggested a timely and accurate epidemiological data collection’’. All advisory measures were scientific and complementary with clear indications that the potential to uphold human rights was still intact and that the frameworks were still in the interest of public good.
Regionally, the African Union working closely with the Africa CDC, WHO, and other stakeholders moved in quickly to support member states – there is enough evidence of this ongoing support.
2. Africa and the State of Emergency
Within the framework of the African Union support, WHO advises and the CDC, no measures were indicating that any country needed a State of Emergency to address the Pandemic. However, politicians in Africa understanding these times as tough and difficult derived a formula to instate State of Emergencies. By late March, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire, and several countries started an unprecedented state of emergencies curbing the rights of citizens using the law. However, several questions remain unanswered:
- Does state of emergency erode the human and people’s rights?
- Is a state of emergency a suspension of the human and people’s rights?
- Does State of Emergency suspend national Constitutions?
In any sense, it is an absolute NO.
It must be noted by all that a State of Emergency is legal in many constitutions but such provisions in no sense suspend the constitution. In fact, for a state of emergency to be accepted, it must be approved by the national legislatures in most countries. This means, it takes a democratic value and all democratic values remain in place. To be SMART with a state of Emergency, it must be defined, and an action plan for its execution must be adopted. This specification limits the extent to which a state of emergency can be used.
It also helps to manage the powers and processes that accompany it. By large, the present state of emergencies is limited to the movement of people and the right to Association. This is because, by logical thinking, the disease requires Social Distancing. Any action beyond these two constrained rights will be legally wrong (not supported by the provisions of the State of emergency) and all abused beyond the constrained rights is constitutionally wrong.
Recently, I have listened and followed on Social Media where citizens are being beaten and maltreated and many are justifying this to the existence of a State of Emergency. In addition, some countries have directed violence against media houses – and this must be known that of all the existing states of emergencies, there is none that limits the right to information. Using Fake News propaganda does not still suffice as a basis to curtail the right to information or freedom of information in any of the countries.
In Africa, anybody justifying extra judiciary actions against citizens is also justifying the Chinese actions against Africans in China. All government functionaries and security apparatus must know that a State of emergency does not suspend the Constitution and existing laws. Accordingly, the constitution and existing laws must be used to implement a state of emergency. In the absence of such a proper use of the law, the government and all those taking actions against citizens have committed human rights abuses and can be liable to international tribunals and processes.
To ensure this, Civil Society and the national legislatures must ensure that the ongoing state of emergencies are reviewed, and subsequent state of emergencies must follow the below-stated recommendation:
- Clear definition of the state of emergency and the specifics rights being constrained. This should include the process by which existing laws are applicable and if they are not applicable a new process should be described to hold people accountable.
- A Reporting Mechanism should be integrated into the pronouncement and approval of all state of emergencies used as a Monitoring framework. Legislators should put this in place at the time the Legislature is deliberating the State of emergency and ensure that appropriate measures and funding are allocated to capacitate civil society to monitor and protect the rights of citizens – ensuring that government upheld the rights of its citizens.
- The government should be constrained to maintain its operations within the confines of the law
- At the end of a State of Emergency, the national legislature must set up a Commission of inquiry, funded and empowered to review the implementation and provide recommendations on the way the State of Emergency was implemented, challenges, best practices and those who performed outside the law should be made to account.
 COVID-19: according to WHO, Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses that may cause illness in animals or humans. In humans, several coronaviruses are known to cause respiratory infections ranging from the common cold to more severe diseases such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The most recently discovered coronavirus causes coronavirus disease COVID-19 (https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/q-a-coronaviruses).
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
M Sahr Nouwah is a Pan African, Advocate, and Civil Society Capacity Development Practitioner. Skilled in servant-leadership strategies, with hands-on and result-oriented gifts and a solid background in governance, community development, advocacy, and empowerment.
He has gained National and International Advocacy expertise working in the Pacific with continental intercultural exposure in Africa, Europe, Asia, and the Pacific. M. Sahr Nouwah grew up from a field Officer to the rank of a Manager leading projects in Land Rights and Nutrition. His experience includes projects geared towards increasing Political Participation, good governance, education, Gender-based Violence, and accountability.
Sahr uses a mixed methodology including Multi- Actor Partnerships (MSPs) and social innovative approaches to effect change using constructive dialogue and engagement. Sahr’s passion entails an empowered Youth and women who are engaged and leading National Development with a specific interest in the Mano River Union. Added to his academic credentials is a Diploma in Humanitarian Diplomacy from Europe, A certificate in Capacity Building, and a Certified Project Management profession from APMG International.
Sahr is also the Board Chair of Youth Coalition for Education in Liberia (YOCEL)
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