Four months after Uganda declared a lockdown to contain a resurgent Covid-19, there has been a surge in the violation of human rights in the country in what human rights advocates have aptly termed as a “shadow pandemic.”
There has been reported cases of torture and killing of people by trigger-happy security forces, especially the Local Defence Unit (LDU) personnel. Many women and children have been flagrantly abused. Worse still, expectant some mothers have died while attempting to access health centres.
It has been reported in the media that more than 11 lives have been lost in the hands of security agencies implementing Covid-19 guidelines during the lockdown declared to prevent spread of the deadly virus.
Killings have occurred in Wakiso, Jinja, Budaka, Kween, Mukono, Kasese, Kampala, Kiboga and Kyankwanzi districts. The trend of security torturing, maiming and killing of citizens should be a cause for concern. A few days ago, Mityana District chairman Joseph Luzige was roughed up by security personnel as he reportedly tried to save a woman who the LDUs were clobbering.
One Ssenyonga, a motorcyclist from Kilyowa village in Njeru Municipality in Buikwe District is fighting for his life dear life in Jinja hospital after he was brutalised by LDUs. Shadia Kauda, a resident of Kiwanga in Mukono District, was shot in the thigh by police who were allegedly chasing youth over disobeying Covid-19 restrictions.
Some of the people who have been killed include Margret Nanyunja, 80, who died after LDUs raided her home in Kyengera, Wakiso District on April 10. The LDUs alleg claimed the woman’s grandson had defied Covid-19 measures.
Wilber Kawono, a boda boda rider in Budaka District, was shot by policemen on April 18 for allegedlynot observing Covid-19 measures. Evelyn Namulondo, a resident of Budhumbuli in Jinja was shot in the stomach by security personnel when she was going to buy merchandise for her stall. She was on a motorcycle. Vincent Serungi, a resident of Wakiso Town Council was shot on March 31 for allegedly riding a motorcycle against Covid-19 orders. Alex Oryema and Kasim Ssebudde were shot at Misindye, in Mukono Municipality on March 27 as they rod to a construction site on a motorcycle.
Besides the rising number of killings, there has also been a spike in cases of violence against vulnerable people, especially women and children. The violence against children since the start of the Covid-19 crisis is fuelled by financial difficulties due to restriction of movement and curfew affecting livelihoods, especially of those working in the informal sector.
Confinement at home under heightened levels of stress, uncertainty and fear has the effect of producing an environment characterised by violence. Ironically, the homes in which we should stay to escape Covid-19 are increasingly becoming unsafe, especially for the vulnerable people. For instance, between March 30 and April 28, a total of 3,280 cases of GBV and 283 cases of violence against children were reported to police, according to the Ministry of Gender Labour and Social Development. The numbers could have surged to thousands of cases by the end of June this year.
Children at home face all forms of violence at the hands of family members. These include emotional abuse, child labour, transactional sex, child marriage, etc.
Yet survivors of gender-based violence and violence against children during the lockdown may count themselves lucky. A number of expectant mothers have lost their lives in labour while trying to access health facilities. In April, one Scovia Nakawooya’s unborn child died in her womb as she struggled to reach a hospital on foot. She died hours later - one of at least seven women in labour to become casualties of Uganda’s C ovid-19 lockdown.