Wealthy states colluded with corporate giants in 2021 to dupe people with empty slogans and false promises of a fair recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic while many people from Africa were denied life-saving vaccines, in what amounts to one of the greatest betrayals of our times, said Amnesty International, as it launched its annual assessment of human rights around the world.
Amnesty International Report 2021/22: The State of the World’s Human Rights finds that these states, alongside corporate titans, have in fact driven deeper global inequality, with most African countries left struggling to recover from Covid-19 due to high levels of inequality, poverty and unemployment exacerbated by unequal distribution of vaccines.
“Covid-19 should have been a decisive wake-up call to deal with inequality and poverty. Instead, we have seen deeper inequality and greater instability in Africa exacerbated by global powers, especially rich countries, who failed to ensure that big pharma distributed vaccines equally between states to ensure the same level of recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.
“As things stand now, most African countries will take long to recover from Covid-19 due to high levels of inequality and poverty. The after-effects of Covid-19 have been most damaging to the most marginalized communities, including those on the front lines of endemic poverty from Angola to Zambia, Ethiopia to Somalia and the Central Africa Republic to Sierra Leone.”
Corporate greed and self-interested nationalism undercuts vaccination in Africa
Multiple waves of the pandemic tore through Africa, having a devastating impact on human rights. Governments’ efforts, in countries such as Somalia, South Africa, Zambia, Senegal and Sierra Leone, to stem its tide were hindered by the global vaccine inequality created by pharmaceutical companies and wealthy nations. By the year’s end, less than 8% of the continent’s 1.2 billion people had been fully vaccinated.
Nearly 9 million cases and more than 220,000 deaths were recorded during the year. South Africa remained the epicenter of the pandemic, in terms of reported cases and deaths.
Meanwhile, wealthy states such as EU member states, the UK and the USA stockpiled more doses than needed, whilst turning a blind eye as Big Pharma put profits ahead of people, refusing to share their technology to enable wider distribution of vaccines. In 2021, Pfizer, BioNTech and Moderna projected eye-watering profits of up to US$54 billion yet supplied less than 2% of their vaccines to low-income countries. Vaccination distribution continues to be painfully slow across the continent, igniting fears of deepening poverty and a prolonged economic recovery.
“Rich and powerful countries used money and their political influence to procure hundreds of millions of doses, shutting poor countries out of the market,” said Samira Daoud, Amnesty International West and Central Africa Director.
“The result was inequitable distribution of these much-needed vaccines, meaning that most people in low-income countries would become the last to be inoculated, as if one’s financial status or nationality was the qualifying criteria to get vaccinated.”
Pandemic lays bare poor healthcare infrastructure, and inequality, while gender-based violence continued to increase across Africa
The devastating consequences of collusion between corporate giants and western governments was compounded by health systems and economic and social support crumbling under the weight of decades of neglect. The result was rising poverty, inequality and food insecurity. Nowhere was this felt more clearly and cruelly than in Africa, which is why Amnesty International launches its report today from South Africa.
With less than 8% of the continent’s population fully vaccinated by the end of 2021, it holds the lowest vaccination rate in the world, beleaguered by insufficient supplies provided to the COVAX facility, the Africa Vaccine Acquisition Trust and through bilateral donations.
Too often, supplies were insufficient, or their arrival times unpredictable, making it hard for governments to build trust among their populations and structure effective roll out campaigns. In countries like DRC, Malawi and South Sudan vaccine deliveries arrived with short expiry dates forcing authorities to destroy supplies or return the bulk for reallocation to other countries.
The Covid-19 pandemic also highlighted the region’s chronic lack of investment in health sectors over many decades. The already inadequate healthcare systems in most countries were severely strained, especially during the pandemic’s third wave. In Somalia, only one hospital in Mogadishu, the capital, handled all Covid-19-related cases across south central regions for much of the year. Allegations of corruption, including in relation to Covid-19 funds, further undermined health sectors in many countries, including Cameroon and South Africa.
The pandemic has also resulted in many people across Africa left behind in terms of education, including Uganda, which will result in cementing inequality going forward. In South Africa, approximately 750,000 children had dropped out of school by May, over three times the pre-pandemic number.
Gender discrimination and inequality remained entrenched in African countries. Major concerns documented in the region included spikes in gender-based violence, limited access to sexual and reproductive health services and information, the persistence of early and forced marriage, and the exclusion of pregnant girls from schools.
Conflict continues across Africa amidst weak regional and international response
The global failure to build a global response to the pandemic mirrored the global and African Union’s failure to address human rights violations in conflicts on the African continent.
Human rights abuses in the conflicts on the continent continued unabated in 2021 partly because of the inaction of the African Union Peace and Security Council. Its failure to act on atrocities was most evident in relation to the conflicts in Ethiopia and Mozambique. Despite harrowing accounts of human rights violations that continuously emerged from the conflicts in the two countries, the Peace and Security Council remained disturbingly silent.
New and unresolved conflicts erupted or persisted in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Central African Republic, Nigeria, Cameroon, Ethiopia, South Sudan and Mozambique, with warring parties violating international human rights and humanitarian law. In their wake, civilians were made collateral damage, millions were displaced, thousands killed, hundreds subjected to sexual violence, and already fragile healthcare and economic systems were brought to the brink.
In the conflict in northern Ethiopia, the Ethiopian government forces alongside the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF), and the Amhara police and militia continued to fight against the Tigrayan forces in a conflict that started in November 2020, affecting millions. During the conflict, members of the EDF, as well as Ethiopian security forces and militia, committed serious human rights violations, including sexual violence against women, unlawful killings, and forced displacement. Tigrayan forces also were responsible for serious violations, including unlawful killings, rape and other sexual violence constituting crimes against humanity and war crimes.
Humanitarian aid was denied to millions of people in Tigray, resulting in many facing life-threatening conditions. Detainees in West Tigray were subjected to torture, extrajudicial execution, starvation, and denial of medical care.
In Mozambique, civilians continued to be caught between three armed forces in the conflict in Cabo Delgado, in which more than 3,000 people have died since the conflict began in October 2017. Nearly 1 million people (primarily women, children and older people) were internally displaced as a result of the war.
In Central African Republic, unlawful attacks, including killings and other violations and abuses of international humanitarian and human rights law, some of which amount to war crimes, were committed by all parties to the conflict. According to the UN, members of the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) attacked and looted health centres in Mbomou prefecture in January.
In Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, hundreds of civilians were killed by various armed groups.
Governments hiding behind security and Covid-19 to stifle dissent
Global trends to stifle independent and critical voices gathered steam in 2021 across Sub-Saharan Africa as governments deployed a widening gamut of tools and tactics.
Measures to curb the spread of Covid-19 provided additional pretext for the repression of peaceful dissent across the region, with the first instinct of many governments to ban peaceful protests, citing health and safety concerns, including in Cameroon, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Lesotho and Zimbabwe.
Meanwhile, in countries like Eswatini and South Sudan, organizers were arrested, and the internet disrupted to derail planned protests. Security forces used excessive force to break up peaceful protests of hundreds or thousands of people who defied bans.
In over 12 countries, including Angola, Benin, Senegal, Chad, Eswatini, Guinea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone and Sudan, many people died when security forces fired live ammunition. In Eswatini, the violent dispersal of pro-democracy protests resulted in 80 deaths and more than 200 injuries over five months. In Sudan, at least 53 people died when security forces used live ammunition to disperse protests against the October military coup.
In Chad, at least 700 people protesting against the electoral process and later against the establishment of the transitional government were arrested. In DRC, three activists arrested in North Kivu for organizing a peaceful sit-in to protest mismanagement in a local healthcare administration remained in detention. In Eswatini, at least 1,000 pro-democracy protesters, including 38 children, were arbitrarily arrested.
“Instead of providing room for discussion and debate so sorely needed on how best to meet the challenges of 2021, many states redoubled efforts to muzzle critical voices.”
Human rights wins against all odds
Nevertheless, 2021 was not all doom and gloom. Some key human rights wins were recorded across Sub-Saharan Africa after persistent campaigning for freedoms.
Following months of relentless pro-democracy protests by the people of Eswatini, King Mswati conceded to calls for dialogue to negotiate the future of the country with pro-democracy protesters. This offers new hope for a country where political reforms were not up for negotiations with the monarch.
In Sudan, we saw people’s power in full display when civilians took to the streets in October to reject a military takeover of power by soldiers and reversals of human rights gains during the transitional period.
In Cote d’Ivoire and Guinea, dozens of members or sympathizers of opposition parties as well as members of civil society organizations who were arbitrary arrested for having simply exercised their freedoms of expression or peaceful assembly were released.
Reclaiming our freedoms
In 2022, if governments are intent on building back broken – then we are left with little option. We must fight their every attempt to muzzle our voices and we must stand up to their every betrayal. It is why, in the coming weeks, we are launching a global campaign of solidarity with people’s movements, a campaign demanding respect for the right to protest. We must build and harness global solidarity, even if our leaders won’t.