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African Commission on
Human and Peoples' Rights

Press Release on the Impact of the COVID-19 Virus on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa

The Working Group on the Rights of Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa (Working Group), a Special Mechanism of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission), is closely following the situation of the COVID-19 epidemic in Africa.

The Working Group is concerned about the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic on the continent given the ever-increasing number of cases in many countries. According to the recent weekly Briefing on Coronavirus Disease Outbreak by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), nearly 25,000 cases have been reported in 52 African countries, with over 1000 deaths.

The Working Group is further concerned about the precarious conditions in which the majority of indigenous populations, especially indigenous women, live, including extreme poverty, lack of clean drinking water, lack of decent housing and toilets, posing a real hygiene and health problem and thus constituting a real risk for the spread of COVID-19.

The Working Group is also concerned about the inaccessibility by the indigenous populations/communities to health services due to lack of resources and the remote location of health centres, as well as the inappropriateness of national health policies to the indigenous way of life.

The Working Group notes that the responses of some States to COVID-19 have a disproportionate impact on Indigenous Peoples, including the closure of markets in Indigenous areas, which curtails their livelihoods, as well as restrictions on mobility that hamper their pastoral activities.

The Working Group reminds States Parties of their obligations under the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, in particular the right to health under Article 16. The Working Group calls upon States Parties with indigenous populations/communities in their territories to take all appropriate measures for the protection of indigenous communities from contamination by COVID-19 through proper prevention due to their vulnerability. 

The Working Group urges States Parties to make every effort to ensure that indigenous peoples have access to information on measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including translation into local indigenous languages and the use of accessible means of communication. The Working Group further urges States Parties to take the necessary steps to ensure the health and well-being of vulnerable groups, including indigenous populations/communities, by facilitating their access to safe drinking water, soap and sanitizers, accessible and appropriate health facilities and other basic social services.   

The Working Group urges the States Parties concerned to take into consideration the way of life of indigenous peoples in all decisions taken for the prevention and control of COVID-19 with a view to addressing their specific needs for a strategic response to this epidemic among indigenous populations/communities. The Working Group calls upon States Parties to involve representatives of indigenous populations/communities with a view to obtaining their free, prior and informed consent in decision-making and actions concerning them in respect of COVID-19.

The Working Group further urges States Parties to ensure that COVID-19 responses are designed and implemented in a way, which respect fundamental human rights and which do not lead to persecution and violence towards vulnerable groups, including indigenous populations.

Finally, the Working Group reaffirms the principles and recommendations made by the Commission in its Press Release of 28 February 2020 on the coronavirus (COVID-19) crisis and in its Statement of 24 March 2020 on a human rights-based effective response to the novel COVID-19 virus in Africa.


Honourable Commissioner Soyata Maiga

Chairperson of the Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities in Africa