UN Human Rights Office condemns SA’s “militarised” enforcement of lockdown

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SANDF members were boots on the ground as residents of Alexandra kept their distance but let their curiosity run wild as they obseved the soldiers in full gear. Picture: Tebogo Letsie
SANDF members were boots on the ground as residents of Alexandra kept their distance but let their curiosity run wild as they obseved the soldiers in full gear. Picture: Tebogo Letsie

While the Independent Police Investigative Directorate (Ipid), the military ombudsman and the military police drag out their investigations into the alleged heavy handedness by law enforcement officers while enforcing the nation wide lockdown, the UN Human Rights Office has condemned the country’s “highly militarised” response.

On Monday, Georgette Gagnon, director of field operations and technical cooperation for the UN Human Rights Office, said South Africa had created a “toxic lockdown culture” through heavy-handed and aggressive implementation by law enforcement.

South Africa had created a “toxic lockdown culture”
Georgette Gagnon, director of field operations and technical cooperation for the UN Human Rights Office

Gagnon added that the UN had received numerous reports of disproportionate use of force by security officers, particularly in poor areas and informal settlements.

“Rubber bullets, tear gas, water guns and whips have been used to enforce social distancing in shopping lines … and outside their homes,” said Gagnon.

READ: Friends & Friction: Send our soldiers back to the barracks

She echoed sentiments expressed by Michelle Bachelet UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Monday. Bachelet pleaded with political leaders not to take advantage of the pandemic and weaponise their powers.

“Emergency powers enacted as a result of the pandemic should not be a weapon that governments can wield to quash dissent and forcefully control their population, and even perpetuate their time in power,” said Bachelet.

She also lamented the “shooting, detaining, or abusing” of citizens who break curfews because they are desperately searching for food. She said this was clearly an unacceptable and unlawful response by governments in their attempts to enforce lockdown measures.

According to the UN, more than 17 000 people have been arrested in South Africa for breaking lockdown regulations. As a result, Gagnon said, although the UN was aware that Ipid was investigating complaints of “murder, rape, assault, discharge of firearms and corruption”, the organisation could not sit idly and not condone the “toxic lockdown culture” that had been created in the name of enforcing lockdown measures.

Both the Ipid and the military ombudsman announced that they were investigating more than 20 cases each of a range of complaints against the SA Police Service and the SA National Defence Force (SANDF) officers.

Meanwhile, the family of Collins Khosa of Alexandra township, who was allegedly killed by members of the SANDF and Johannesburg Metropolitan Police Department officers, have instructed attorney Wikus Steyl and Advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi to pursue a civil claim against the state and the defence department.

City Press understands that although Khosa’s killing is being investigated, no arrests have been made three weeks after the death.


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