The United Nations’ ‘Human Rights and Gender Working Group will host an e-dialogue on the most urgent priorities for protecting and advancing human rights and gender equality during Covid-19.
The e-conference will be aimed at ensuring that the most marginalised and discriminated against are not left behind in the national efforts to combat the COVID-19 and to identify innovative approaches to reinforce societal bond in order to carry the community along in recovery efforts.
The e-conference will air on NBS TV on June 19, 2020.
In a statement, the UN said during the conference, government, civil society and development partners will share vital information on the magnitude of these issues, and together come up with a strategy for united response to address human rights, gender and challenges for social cohesion, and reinforce the understanding of the important work being done by our partners in these areas.
“The recently launched COVID-19 Emergency Appeal by the United Nations in Uganda provides response pathways for addressing multiple risks and impact. Failure to address these issues is likely to jeopardize the gains Uganda has made in promoting human rights and gender equality,” the statement noted.
Rationale for E-conference
As a State party to core international and regional human rights instruments, the statement noted that Uganda has legally binding obligations to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all people, with specific attention to be accorded – as per some of the instruments – to particularly vulnerable and marginalised groups, including persons with disabilities and women. While the COVID-19 outbreak emerged primarily as a health crisis, it has in many respects’ ways become a human rights crisis.
Accordingly, the UN Secretary General, on 24 April 2020 launched a policy brief entitled “COVID-19 and Human Rights: We are all in this together.” In seeking to overcome the COVID-19 outbreak in Uganda, it is essential to ensure that human rights remain at the centre of our efforts, both in terms of response to the outbreak, and the recovery from it.
By supporting government and development actors at national and local levels, the UN will help to identify gaps and recommend the most effective solutions to mitigating the rise in human rights violations and abuses, including gender-based violence, in Uganda.
On 11 March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the Novel Coronavirus disease a global pandemic.
COVID-19 pandemic is one of the most severe challenges the world has faced in our generation, a crisis coupled with human rights violations, health and socio-economic consequences unprecedented.
Governments and communities across the world are now struggling to respond to the socio-economic and health impacts of this global crisis.
Commendably, the government of Uganda has taken timely measures resulting in limited spread and penetration of the virus into the population to date.
However, there is emerging evidence that much as the measures were well intended, they infringe on some of the basic human rights of people while others have unfortunately escalated inequalities at community and individual levels.
Women and girls, persons with disabilities, people living with HIV, migrants, refugees and other marginalised communities have been greatly affected due to unequal power relationships and social expectations; a total halt on income generating ventures especially for workers in the informal sector which are putting many, and in particular women, under additional stress that has the potential to increase vulnerability, risk of conflict and domestic violence; enforcement of the lockdown measures that saw security operatives behave in ways that did not comply with human rights.
The current situation has greatly weakened the economic fabric and livelihoods of people, escalated fear and anxiety among communities and heightened conflicts, human rights violations and abuse.
Truck drivers from the region, suspected and recovered patients of Covid-19 have been victimized by some in communities and at home.
Political, economic and cultural rights have also taken a hit.
The diversion of resources by the government to respond to the pandemic has impacted negatively on service delivery with healthcare systems in many of the poorest and most vulnerable regions and communities at risk of collapse.
Moreover, the highly securitized enforcement of the preventive measures has resulted in alleged human rights violations especially on small scale traders and low-income earners as well as journalists.
Consequently, there is need for coordinated, decisive and strong partnerships to innovatively influence institutional and policy action, in addressing the implications of COVID-19 on the most marginalised and vulnerable groups
Emerging Issues that are of Human Rights Concern
The COVID-19 pandemic is having devastating effects on individuals, families, communities and economies and the Government of Uganda has been praised for the measures taken to limit the spread of the disease.
However, access to social protection services remains inadequate.
The rush and haste to prevent the spread of corona virus disease and the subsequent restrictions on individual and collective freedoms violate fundamental human rights that unless addressed continue to risk eroding the fabric of society and threaten social cohesion and peace.
Effective platforms to engage marginalised, vulnerable and affected communities remain non-existent across levels and this further erodes the trust, questions the suitability and effectiveness of the proposed interventions while increasing indirect harm to the already vulnerable populations such as women, children, PWDs and individuals with chronic illnesses.
- the need to address the impact of COVID-19 on migration and social stigma, violence and discriminatory speech and attitudes towards targeted populations such as lorry drivers and suspected or healed patients of COVID-19, is key to promote peaceful co-existence and social cohesion. Migrants stuck in other countries and how these can access support for basic needs, talk to their families and eventually cope with Xenophobia and racism as well as access to essential other services has been greatly impacted. To date there is no clarity on how this matter can be addressed.
- Media reports of arbitrary arrests, excessive use of force, resulting in fatalities, and torture and ill-treatment have emerged during the implementation of the COVID-19 response measures by law enforcement agencies. The high number of arrests of people found in breach of the Presidential directives on COVID-19 puts further strain on the criminal justice system. This situation also raises the urgent need to establish whether COVID-19 prevention and risk reduction information is accessible and understood by all.
- The lockdown and movement restrictions have significantly impacted the Justice Law and Order sector and the functioning of the criminal justice system. This has imposed serious implications to access to justice and the right to fair trial, including for victims of gender-based violence.
- The restrictions in movement and stretched lock down period has also resulted into loss of employment especially in the private and informal sector, challenges in accessing essential basic needs like food, and a disruption in basic social and protection services. Since 20 March, school going children have been locked up in households with no clear mechanisms to guarantee continued learning for all. The currently available measures are non-universal and due to the limited reach result in discrimination against those who do not have access to internet or TVs, thus further disadvantaging the vulnerable and the poor.
- Households have been hit by an economic crisis associated with Covid-19 impacting men and women in the informal sector more. A failure to provide medium to longer term strategies and options for economic recovery may send thousands of households into incessant poverty while jeopardizing women’s labour force participation.
- Access to social protection remains a challenge. Most social assistance schemes in Uganda explicitly exclude informal workers where most of the youth and women are. The lock down due to COVID-19 worsened this situation and further exposed the urgent need to rethink national and decentralised social security and protection systems
- Non-participation of marginalized and vulnerable communities in strategic decisions related to COVID-19 interventions has caused unintended harm to those affected, and fails to bring them on board in solutions. It is essential that vulnerable communities especially youth and women are allowed platforms to inform critical decision in emergency situations like the Covid-19 situation.
- With the multiplicity of risks posed by other natural disasters such as flooding, landslides and locusts invasion, the existing fragilities have also been amplified and human rights of people perceived as other can be easily trampled on. Furthermore, communities where social cohesion is weak, the risk of conflicts and human rights abuses are usually higher, more profound, more violent, and more destructive. All these factors have strained the social fabric of the population in Uganda.