Director of the Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD) West Africa, Idayat Hassan, has observed that the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting projects facilitating access to transitional justice in the region.
She said this on Monday during a webinar organised by the Africa Transitional Justice Legacy Fund (ATJLF) to examine to challenges transitional justice interventions in West Africa are facing during the global health crisis.
“It is a very interesting time for us. It is a time when we have suddenly discovered that a health crisis can cripple politics, can cripple the economy, can cripple the whole society, especially for us West Africans who are very familiar in nature and believe in physical touches, engagements,” Hassan said.
“It is also an eye-opening period for all of us irrespective of our social class. We are all in the same space and we all face the same challenges. So it exposes the weakness in our institutions, which is very important, the health infrastructure, and in particular the non-existent social safety schemes here in the region.”
She said one effect of the pandemic not many are talking about is how it makes the less-privileged even more vulnerable and widens inequalities in access to education, healthcare, and well as political and economic outcomes.
“When you look at West Africa, in at least nine of our countries, we have core transitional justice issues to deal with, either you talk of Gambia, Mali, Nigeria, Togo, Cote d’Ivoire, Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone; there are transitional justice issues that are actually being grappled with,” she added.
“And in all of these countries, the vulnerable are again bearing the brunt of the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The lockdown measures adopted itself and most of the responses it got in places like Nigeria, Ghana, Guinea, led to more human rights violations, creating other issues that we even have to be dealing with subsequently. The issue of access to justice cannot be as more important as it has ever been today.”
The pandemic, she said, has led to the suspension of transnational justice initiatives in countries like the Gambia where the War Crimes Tribunal has stopped sitting and Liberia. The inability to hold physical meetings has also caused momentum to dip in many places.
Another implication of the COVID-19 pandemic, she continued, is a reduction in the availability of resources.
“Under-resourcing has further gone up because of the emphasis on COVID and the fact that there are restrictions on physical meetings. Grants are being suspended and resources are being moved away at a time when justice is really needed; it is something that we really have to address at this point in time,” she urged.
ATJLF director, Makmid Kamara, while introducing the webinar observed that the impact of the pandemic is specifically huge for countries just emerging from the Ebola crisis. He cited a joint study that interviewed over 1000 non-governmental organisations in 55 countries across Africa to show the impact on civil society.
“According to its findings, a whopping 98 per cent of NGOs reported that COVID-19 has impacted or disrupted their operations in one way or the other, 55 per cent said they have already experienced a loss of funding and 56 per cent who participated expected to lose funding in the next three to six months,” he said.
“Almost 50 per cent said they had already introduced measures due to the loss of funding and uncertainty about the future of funding.
“From this report, we also see that the impact is heavy especially on small civil society organisations because while some are relying on digital tools to maintain social distancing, many do not have the luxury to do so. We operate with very small organisations in remote communities who do not have the luxury of technology.”
Kamara further said, in West Africa, 64 per cent of CSOs reported that they have had to cancel their activities completely while 55 per cent had no resource reserve at all to manage the aftermath of the pandemic.
“This is exactly why the ATJLF is having this conversation so that we can examine the challenges that have been experienced by small organisations in West Africa especially those working towards advancing transitional justice in the region,” he explained.
Other panellists during the webinar included John Ikubaje, Senior Human Rights and Transitional Justice Officer at the African Union Department of Political Affairs (AUDPA); Eyesan Okorodudu, Head of Democracy and Good Governance Division at ECOWAS; and Ida Persson, Transitional Justice and Human Rights Specialist at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) Country Office in The Gambia.
Others were John Caulker, Executive Director of Fambul Tok International in Sierra Leone; Asmaou Diallo, representing Association des Victimes, Parents et Amis du 28 Septembre 2009 (AVIPA) in Guinea; and Caroline Bowah, representing Medica in Liberia.