This statement was first posted by the Southern Africa Human Rights Defenders Network

In light of the COVID-19 global pandemic, which is an existential threat to humanity, and after a basic routine risk-based horizon scanning, – which indicates that under the otherwise necessary call for extra-ordinary measures to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, some governments are leveraging the temporary executive powers to potentially permanently squeeze the civic and democratic space in their respective countries. Emerging trends, especially in COVID-19, hit authoritarian leaning states indicated a high risk of human rights violations under the cover of fighting the COVID-19. Examples abound. Assassination attempts of HRDs and legitimate political opponents in Malawi, arbitrary arrest of the President of the Zimbabwe National Students Union, and the heart-breaking insurgencies in Cabo Delgado are some of the tell-tale signs. Our early warning system is blinking red. With South Africa and Zimbabwe the first countries in the region to officially announce a lockdown, – we call on the South African and Zimbabwean authorities to respect human dignity (ubuntu) and place human rights at the heart of all interventions. In addition, authorities must provide all essential services promised by President Matamela Cyril Ramaphosa, especially access to safe water to the most vulnerable, – and set a high bar for the rest of the region to emulate. This is important because, over the past few days, we have realized that the attacks on fundamental freedoms are increasing in more permissive environments due to the lockdown regulatory environment.

As we support efforts to contain COVID-19 and flatten the curve, – we have come up with a contingency plan to continue providing support to human rights defenders (HRDs) at most risk during the COVID-19 global crisis, including during the embryonic wave of “lockdowns”.

1.To Improve the capacities and resilience of HRDs to exercise their right to defend human rights

a. Training programs: only on-line digital security training to HRDs at most risk.

b. Country-level and Sector-specific Needs Assessments: only on-line assessments, – including desk research, key informant telephone or skype interviews and conference calls.

c. Campaigns: Support all online campaigns and strategic public interest litigation cases aimed at enabling citizens and HRDs to exercise their rights to defend human rights. We have observed worrying images of alleged members of the South Africa Defence Forces using force (wantonly beating up people) to enforce lockdown.

2.To Provide rapid, practical, holistic and inclusive prevention, protection and reintegration support to HRDs at most risk

a. Emergency grants: Our early warning system is blinking red. As a proactive measure, we are upscaling our emergency support to HRDs at most risk, – working hand in glove with our protection networks throughout the region. Emergency support will entail emergency legal aid, medical assistance, psychosocial support, and internal relocations, where possible.

b. Urgent appeals – We will continue to make urgent appeals to all solution holders and duty bearers to ensure HRDs at most risk are protected or at least there is enough media coverage to put pressure on authorities

3. To increase public recognition and evidence-based impact of HRDs’ work;

a.Media, Information and Publicity – We will continue to issue evidence-based press Statements in active solidarity with and to increase pressure on human rights violators through the COVID-19 crisis and post the pandemic.

b. Hotlines: Our hotlines +27 78 125 1062 and +27 73 620 2608 (calls, WhatsApp and Signal) are fully operational 24hrs during this period. And we will be constantly checking our emails [email protected]