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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Press Release of the Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa on Reports of Excessive use of Force by the Police during the COVID-19 Pandemic

The African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (the Commission), through the Special Rapporteur on Prisons, Conditions of Detention and Policing in Africa (Special Rapporteur), Commissioner Maria Teresa Manuela, expresses concern at reports of the excessive use of force and abuses by Law Enforcement and Public Security Forces in some African States, during the State of Emergency declared due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Special Rapporteur is particularly concerned about publicly reported incidents of extrajudicial killings, torture, abuse of authority, arbitrary arrest and detention of civilians by the police and other law enforcement officials in some African States, in the context of the implementation of national regulations to contain the spread of COVID-19, under the heading “Stay at Home”.

The Special Rapporteur would like to remind States that, despite the declared State of Emergency, there are international human rights principles that guide the use of force and firearms, with emphasis on the principles of legality, necessity, proportionality and accountability.

States must ensure that the response of Law Enforcement and Public Security Forces to States of Emergency during the COVID-19 pandemic, is consistent with these principles and do not endanger human life.

In the same vein, States are also reminded that the right to life, protection against torture, cruel and degrading treatment are absolute and irrevocable rights, even in a State of Emergency. The Guidelines and Measures for the Prohibition and Prevention of Torture and Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in Africa (Robben Island Guidelines), adopted by the Commission in 2002, to complement the provisions of article 5 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights, further provide for the absolute prohibition against torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and declare that: all "options such as “necessity”, “national emergency”, “public order”... shall not be invoked as a justification of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

The Special Rapporteur therefore condemns any excessive use of force and subsequent violations of the human rights of individuals and urges all States, to take appropriate measures to put an end to such acts of abuse of authority by the Police and other Security Forces against civilians.

Recalling the Commission’s Declarations of 28 February and 24 March 2020, on Effective Responses to the COVID-19 virus in Africa, the Special Rapporteur reiterates the obligation of States to ensure that the measures adopted meet the minimum standards for the protection of human rights and are accompanied by policy measures adapted to the context in order to mitigate negative effects, particularly in the most vulnerable sector of society.

In addition, the Special Rapporteur calls on everyone to respect and scrupulously follow the lockdown regulations issued by Governments of all African States, in order to avoid unnecessary confrontations with the Police and other Law Enforcement Officials.

The Special Rapporteur calls on Governments to ensure that Law Enforcement Officials are given strict guidelines for operations in emergency situations and that, allegations of violations are investigated and the perpetrators brought to justice.

The Special Rapporteur also calls on all governments, the Commission’s partners and Civil Society Organisations, to help minimise the consequences of the State of Emergency declared in several African countries, by raising awareness and monitoring its compliance, in order to prevent the uncontrollable spread of COVID-19 on the African continent.


Banjul, 17 April 2020