COVID19, Human Rights and Authoritarian Drifts in the Sahel (Timbuktu Institute) Spécial

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Within the framework of a partnership between the Timbuktu Institute - African Center for Peace Studies - and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a documentary research was carried out on six Sahelian countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Senegal and Chad) concerning human rights in the face of the Covid-19. This report examines the management and consequences of the health programs put in place by the governments of the Sahel countries in response to the global crisis, as well as the consequences of such provisions on the respect of human rights.

The Covid-19 pandemic hit the countries of the Sahel, already plagued by other political, security, food and economic crises, but with repercussions that differed from those predicted by experts on the African continent. In March 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that: "Africa must prepare for the worst. According to Antonio GUTERRES, Secretary General of the United Nations, COVID-19 is an economic crisis, a social crisis and a human crisis that is rapidly becoming a human rights crisis. It is on this theme that this study focuses, on the question of respect for fundamental, universal, so-called human rights.

Our research teams in the different countries have observed cross-cutting strategies in the fight against the epidemic that have sometimes violated human rights in order to slow down transmission and to contain the virus. The six Sahelian countries that are the subject of this analysis note have all imposed a state of health emergency, the closure of schools and places of worship, a curfew, the closure of land and air borders, the application of hygienic measures known as "barriers" ... In short, a multitude of measures with heavy consequences on economies and increased pressure on local societies.

The COVID-19 crisis also revealed many vulnerabilities of the Sahelian states in the response to containment. Indeed, the "infodemia" and the fake news have generalized a context of fear and stigmatization among the populations, due to a low involvement of the media in the communication of government programs. Moreover, even if, compared to Europe, the African continent was slightly spared in terms of mortality, health infrastructures and hospital equipment remain insufficient, as well as water supply and the distribution of "basic" social services for populations in rural areas.

To this end, several solutions are available to the Sahelian States, such as, for example, strengthening the capacities of law enforcement agencies on methods of balancing the need to respect barrier gestures on the one hand and respect for human rights on the other. Nevertheless, this report also stresses the importance of strengthening democracy, ensuring that the pandemic is not a pretext for States to restrict certain fundamental rights, which are vital for social stability, democracy and the rule of law.

Therefore, despite the unexpected resilience of the Sahelian countries, a few recommendations should be taken into account in order to mitigate the risks of a second wave, at a time when Europe is in its third wave and South Africa is developing a third variant of the virus. Thus, Sahelian governments should pay more attention to loosening up barrier measures, which are almost no longer respected by the population, and should consider organizing regional programs to prepare for a possible new wave.

This analytical note has once again revealed the paradox of emergency management, whether it be safety or health emergencies as in the case of the Covid19 pandemic. States are still faced with this dilemma between the duty to protect and the principle of respect for human rights despite the pressures. This permanent tension indicates that the democratic system in general is never a lasting achievement as long as the "safeguards" are not negotiated and accepted within the framework of shared constraints and guided by the principle of the rule of law.

The other difficulty in the management of this pandemic will have been the question of fake news and disinformation sometimes even threatening the stability and viability of States with regard to their impact on the conduct of public policies and the credibility of institutions, as well as scientific speech in contexts of existential anxiety such as pandemics.

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