In the midst of pandemic fatigue, intensifying violence and conflict in some parts of the world, including, attacks on civilians and humanitarians, is hampering the safe delivery of protection services for the COVID-19 (C19) response. C19 cases are reported in 26 of 32 countries where the Protection Cluster operates.
Despite a new resolution agreed by the UN Security Council on 1st July requesting a 90 day “humanitarian pause” to allow the delivery of humanitarian assistance and medical evacuations, conflict and violence continue. Many of the subsequent human rights violations are occurring with total impunity.
Attacks against civilians and humanitarian responders during July – August were many, unprovoked, and in blatant disregard for international humanitarian law.
There have been attacks on villages in Ituri province, DRC, leading to the deaths of 20 civilians; a market attack in Burkina Faso killed 20 civilians; systematic and brutal targeting of civilians in South Sudan, including the killing of 81 people in a single attack in Warrap State; a callous, unprovoked grenade attack on an IDP site in Cameroon, where at least 18 people were killed and 1,500 people forced to flee; the murder of 6 humanitarian workers, their driver and guide, in Niger, and an attack on a UN helicopter in Nigeria, killing two people.
Whilst some reports suggest an overall reduction in conflict, particularly in the use of explosive weapons, these incidents echo emerging data that indicate a 2.5% increase in violence against civilians since the pandemic began. When broken down, the data reports targeting of civilians by state forces is up by 30%, along with a marked rise in violent activity from non-state armed actors – a 70% increase in East and West Africa. As the socio-economic impacts of C19 begin to take hold, and protection by presence is radically challenged due to containment measures, Protection Clusters are also reporting high levels of gang and mob violence, which has seen an 11% increase across multiple countries since the start of the pandemic according to the same analysis.
As we approach the 75th anniversary of the UN, the destabilizing impact of C19 on the humanitarian, peace and development landscape is clear, yet the political action and/or will to address the deteriorating situation is less so. Donor fatigue and new crises, such as Lebanon, put additional strain on an already stretched system, while political wrangling and paralysis at some of the highest levels of Governments leave collective approaches for better outcomes unattainable.
We are entering a complex phase of the C19 response. Some of the biggest challenges lie ahead as the humanitarian community responds to the pandemic while lockdowns ease, increasing the risk of heightened transmission. It is vital that more is done to ensure the perpetuation of human rights violations does not continue with impunity, so that people can reach life-saving services safely to stop the spread of the disease.