Civil society steps in to monitor complaints against cops and army

The Anti-repression Working Group is monitoring and collecting complaints made against security agencies operating during the lockdown.
The Anti-repression Working Group is monitoring and collecting complaints made against security agencies operating during the lockdown.
Ashraf Hendricks, Ground Up, file
  • The Anti-Repression Working Group has been established by the Covid-19 People's Coalition.
  • Hundreds of monitors have monitoring and reporting back on how lockdown regulations are being implemented.
  • The group has set up a tracker where complaints against security forces can be lodged.

A group of civil society organisations has created a platform to track and monitor human rights violations and abuses by the police, army and other security forces during the lockdown.

The Anti-Repression Working Group is one of many working groups established by the Covid-19 People's Coalition, reports GroundUp.

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The coalition is a collective of more than 300 civil society organisations, community groups and social movements, including the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC), the Social Justice Coalition and Lawyers for Human Rights.

The working group consists of hundreds of monitors across the country, who have been on the ground, reporting back on how lockdown rules have been implemented.

Kelly Gillespie of the Anti-Repression Working Group said that at the start of the lockdown, most people could not move around freely, unless they were essential workers who had permits.

"We were very worried that if the police and military were on the streets with very little oversight, it was going to be a serious problem, particularly for people in townships," she said.

Gillespie said they had asked the SAHRC to "extend their mandate toward activists and organisations that are working on the ground".

The SAHRC did not respond to questions sent by GroundUp.

Ghalib Galant, a member of the working group and Right2Know, said their monitors on the ground consisted of middle- and working-class residents.

The coalition also had smaller teams deployed to sites, such as the former Strandfontein temporary site for homeless people and the Paint City site for refugees.

In addition to the monitoring, the group has created the Security Forces Violence Tracker, where members of the public can submit complaints about security force violations.

Thato Masiangoako, an analyst in the working group and a researcher at the Socio-Economic Rights Institute of South Africa, said that the most common complaints received so far were for incidents of police brutality, unlawful arrests, and people being harassed or abused unprovoked.

"We want to be able to gather as much evidence about abuses during this time for both medium- and long-term purposes," said Masiangoako.

She said that urgent complaints on the site, such as assault, were passed on immediately for legal assistance and advice. This also helps people figure out how to proceed with opening a case against authorities, if necessary.

Masiangoako said they were still working out how to share their data with the public.

Since the beginning of the lockdown, there has been an emphasis on militarising the lockdown as opposed to treating it as the public health crisis that it is, said Masiangoako.

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