Guidelines on adhering to human and peoples’ rights under the African Charter in the context of states of emergency or disaster

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Times of emergencies or disaster present the most challenging circumstances as far as respect for and the protection and promotion of human rights are concerned. On the one hand, these are circumstances that demand the State within the framework of Article 1 and 27 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Charter) take the requisite emergency measures including, as necessary, those that temporarily limit or suspend rights. On the other hand, if care is not taken, the emergency measures that States adopt for safeguarding the society from the threat posed by the emergency or disaster may themselves lead to violations of human rights. As I have argued on a number of occasions during the heydays of the COVID-19 pandemic, the heavy concentration of power in the hands of the executive, the suspension or severe limitation of oversight and accountability processes and the heightened vulnerability of citizens during times of emergencies or disaster, particularly the most vulnerable among us, render human and peoples’ rights exposed to violations and abuses. Indeed, the experience from the various instances of violations of human rights arising from COVID-19 response measures adopted by States has illustrated that our societies need both protection of and respect for human rights more in times of emergency or disaster than in ordinary times.

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