SA failed to protect human rights during lockdown - Amnesty International

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The use of excessive force by police and SANDF during the pandemic was highlighted by Amnesty International in its latest report on human rights.
The use of excessive force by police and SANDF during the pandemic was highlighted by Amnesty International in its latest report on human rights.
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  • South Africa failed to protect people's human rights during lockdown, according to a report.
  • Amnesty International's report cites police brutality and corruption as some of the government's failures.
  • The report also referenced an increase in gender-based violence during lockdown.

Amnesty International has given South Africa a scathing assessment for its treatment of citizens during the national lockdown.

Amnesty International's 2020-'21 annual report, The State of the World's Human Rights, details the response by countries to the Covid-19 pandemic, and how this impacted on human rights.

Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary-general, said in the report the pandemic highlighted human rights infringements caused by decades of poor leadership.

Callamard added:

Covid-19 has brutally exposed and deepened inequality both within and between countries, and highlighted the staggering disregard our leaders have for our shared humanity. Decades of divisive policies, misguided austerity measures, and choices by leaders not to invest in crumbling public infrastructure, have left too many easy prey to this virus.

The report found the South African government slipped up on several fronts, including the misappropriation of Covid-19 relief funds.

"The president established a ministerial team to investigate allegations of corruption connected to Covid-19-related procurements, including PPE (personal protective equipment) and food aid, which was allegedly distributed by … politicians in a way that favoured certain communities," the report stated.

One of the high-profile scandals faced by the government included a cancelled PPE contract awarded to the late husband of former presidential spokesperson Khusela Diko. The ANC's disciplinary committee in Gauteng earlier found that Diko had brought the ANC into disrepute.

But corruption was not the only failure that marred the government's Covid-19 response, the Amnesty International report found.

According to Amnesty International, authorities used excessive force when police and the military enforced the lockdown regulations, and provided insufficient assistance to victims of sexual violence against women and children.

"In March, during lockdown, the authorities deployed around 76 000 officers of the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) and police officers onto the streets to enforce lockdown restrictions. Widespread reports of their use of excessive, and sometimes unnecessary, lethal force against the population quickly emerged," the report said.

READ | Amnesty International calls on SA to keep a check on its mercenaries in Mozambique

Among others, the report referenced the murder of Collins Khosa on 10 April 2020 in Alexandra, Johannesburg.

Khosa was allegedly assaulted and brutally beaten by members of the SANDF and metro police. The SANDF held an internal investigation, which cleared its members. Criminal investigations have been handed over to the National Prosecuting Authority, News24 previously reported.

Violence was also experienced on a domestic level, with the number of gender-based violence cases soaring during the lockdown. Amnesty International has put the rate of gender-based violence at nearly five times the global average.

"Reports of rape and sexual assault increased by 1.7% in the first quarter of the year, with more than 42 000 rapes reported in 2019-'20 and almost 144 sexual offences committed every day. Such violence increased during the lockdown period, and within the first week police had received over 2 300 complaints. Twenty-one women were reportedly killed in June alone," the report found.

This included the murder of 28-year-old Tshegofatso Pule. The pregnant woman was found hanging from a tree with multiple stab wounds. Ntuthuko Shoba, Pule's boyfriend, is currently on trial for the murder.

"We are reaping the results of years of calculated neglect at the hands of our leaders. In 2020, under the unique strain of a pandemic, health systems have been put to the ultimate test and people have been left in financial freefall," Callamard said.

"The heroes of 2020 were the health workers on the front lines saving lives and those bunched together at the very bottom of the income scale, who worked to feed families, and keep our essential services going. Cruelly, those who gave the most, were protected the least."

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