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Human Rights in a time of COVID-19

Updated: Aug 3, 2020

To our dearest Justice Desk Heroes, community leaders, family, friends and world.

As we woke up on Friday, we heard of the first recorded deaths due to Covid-19 in South Africa. My thoughts and prayers go out to the families of those individuals in this time of unimaginable sorrow and loss.

Friday marked the beginning of South Africa’s 21-day lockdown, which experts are speculating, may even surpass the 21 days. This day also represented to us as South Africans, the opportunity to join hearts (1.5 metres apart) and fight Covid-19, together as a country and as a global village.

It is important that our elected leaders, from national leaders to ward councillors, know that while we are agreeing to this context specific limitation of our freedoms, for the benefit of us all - we are by no means giving up our Human Rights all together. Our Human Rights are more important now than ever, and we must therefore guard against the abuse of any power in this time of untold uncertainty and confusion for our people.

Since lockdown, we have noted alarming reports of human rights abuses by the security forces of the state, as well as by South Africans to their fellow South Africans.

To our leaders and security forces, thank you for doing everything you can to protect our people during this time of Covid-19. However, your efforts may NOT, at any time, result in the violation of the human rights of our people. During this time, please remember that many of our people may not yet be informed or equipped with the knowledge to self-isolate. Others are desperately struggling to feed their families, due to the fact that many employers have adopted a no work no pay policy, leaving countless families hungry and feeling hopeless. We strongly urge our security forces to not forget the plight of our people which, yes, includes Covid-19, but includes so much more, such as poverty, inequality, hunger, illness and insecurity. Most importantly, this lockdown does not give any person unlimited power to do as they please.

To our fellow South Africans, Covid-19 is real, and is a threat to all of us. By staying home, you are preventing the virus from spreading to you, your family, and wider community. For many, Covid-19 is a death-sentence, and that it why it is vital to work together to overcome the spread of it. This is not the time to panic, to hurt one another, to violate each other’s rights, and to place one’s self-interest over the interest of us all.

This is the time to come together as South Africans, to overcome this common enemy, and protect each other.

We call on all sectors of society to seize this moment, to heed the call of our leaders and respond to the needs of so many of our people. We ask that faith and community leaders continue to spread the message of social-distancing, to help fight the spread of Covid-19. We ask our community leaders to assist the many vulnerable women, children and the elderly with whatever little resources they may have.

I also want to express my sincere thank you to all those in essential services, our medical professionals, and to the many incredible organisations (both government and non-government) who have stood up and continue to fight Covid-19 at the frontlines, many at risk of their own lives. You are our heroes, we salute you and thank you.

Let us remember that umuntu ngumuntu ngabantu, our humanity lies in each other. I am because you are.

May God Bless Africa, May God Guide our Leaders and Grant us Peace.

Yours in Justice

Jessica Dewhurst

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