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African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights

Press release on the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on economic, social and cultural rights in Africa

The Working Group on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (the Working Group) of the African Commission on Human & Peoples’ Rights (the Commission) notes that, in spite of the implementation of social welfare measures put in place by several States Parties as part of their national response to COVID-19 which includes free distribution of food items, free and enhanced water supply, financial assistance, temporary reduction on electricity bills, providing shelter for the homeless, other economic, social and cultural rights have been negatively impacted. The right to health has been profoundly challenged, but also the rights to work, education, food, water, and the derived right to social security are still equally affected.

Some already deficient health care systems may be pushed to their limits as the numbers of confirmed cases keep rising. Moreover, the focus on the COVID-19 response has resulted in less attention being given to maternal and infant mortality with the risk of cutting back the gains made in reducing maternal and infant mortality as well as other diseases. Additionally, the restrictions on movement have prevented people with chronic illnesses from accessing treatment.

Due to restrictive measures such as lockdowns, curfews, bans on public gatherings, economic activities have scaled down and many people have lost their jobs.  The business sector has also been severely affected and businesses have closed down. In several countries, schools and universities have shut down, pupils and students are likely to be deprived of an entire year of education, especially where technology is not accessible to facilitate remote learning. A lot of communities do not have access to water which is essential in maintaining good hygiene as a preventive COVID-19 measure.

It is obvious that the negative impact of COVID-19 on economic, social and cultural rights is worse among vulnerable and marginalized groups who make a modest living on a daily basis, barely enjoy the right to housing and do not have equitable access to health, education, water, sanitation, food and work under normal circumstances.

Due to weak and ineffective regulation of private actors, consumers experience additional threats as scarcity, price manipulation and sudden inflation of essential commodities such as sanitizers, masks, food items and other essential products have been reported. Ventilators, test kits, personal protective equipment and other medical consumables required to respond to the pandemic are scarce, expensive and unaffordable.

In this context, the Working Group reaffirms the Commission’s recommendations in its press release of 28th February 2020 on the Corona virus COVID-19 crisis and Statement of 24th March 2020 on a human rights-based effective response to COVID-19 and further calls on State Parties to:

  1. Take steps to ensure the full realization of economic, social and cultural rights in the African Charter on Human & Peoples’ Rights, in other regional and international human rights instruments and in accordance with the Commission’s Principles and Guidelines on the Implementation of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
  2. Strengthen health care systems including increased budgetary allocation, provision of ventilators, test kits, personal protective equipment, medical supplies and consumables required for the prevention and treatment of COVID-19, address maternal and infant health as well as other diseases.
  3. Empower individuals and communities with timely, comprehensive and accessible information about COVID-19 prevention and treatment.
  4. Commence bilateral and multilateral negotiations to ensure that any proven medical treatment and vaccine for COVID-19 is affordable and available and will benefit their populations.
  5. Ensure that all frontline medical personnel are protected from infection and receive adequate remuneration for their services in a timely manner. 
  6. Regularly review restrictions to ensure that economic activities can resume with the necessary precautions to prevent the spread of the pandemic.
  7. Protect the right of all employees at every level to work in a safe working environment that will protect them from infection and that the minimum wage and terms and conditions of work are respected.
  8. Provide stimulus packages, loans, grants and other incentives to the business sector including the informal sector whilst ensuring that such packages are not abused.
  9. Take steps to curb tax evasion and avoidance, profit shifting to tax havens and other illicit financial flows by multinational enterprises which deprives States of the much needed revenue required to address the impact of the pandemic.
  10. Provide assistance to individuals, families and communities including vulnerable groups and at-risk groups, through at least a minimum essential level of food distribution, social welfare and other social security measures, in order to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on their economic, social and cultural rights.
  11. Pay attention to the education sector and take necessary steps to provide quality education with the aid of online courses, free data for such courses and the use of other technology in order to ensure that pupils and students do not lose the academic year; and where there is no access to technology, manually distribute learning materials to pupils and students and ensure there is a catch-up programme post COVID-19.
  12. Strengthen consumer protection regulations and institutions and regulate private actors involved in social services delivery so that their involvement do not worsen the situation for individuals, families and communities.
  13. The Commission acknowledges that this unforeseen situation severely challenges countries’ resources. In this regard, the Commission calls on the collective efforts of individuals, communities, local organizations, businesses and citizens to support States in their national response to COVID-19, especially towards vulnerable and marginalized groups.


Done in Banjul, Republic of The Gambia, 4 June 2020