Covid 19: States must put human rights at the heart of their responses to the crisis


Francophone ESCR Platform

Press release - 30 April 2020

Covid 19: States must put human rights at the heart of their responses to the crisis

As COVID-19 pandemic affects us all and represents a global challenge of an unprecedented scope and impact, The Francophone ESCR Platform firmly believes that a human rights-based, inclusive and coordinated response is the only way to overcome this health crisis as well as its dire social and economic consequences.  

We wish to express our solidarity with those who are suffering from COVID-19 and those who are working night and day to save lives. We would also like to extend our deepest condolences to those who have lost loved ones.

The COVID-19 pandemic exposes the plight of economic and social rights in Sub-Saharan Africa and reveals the lack of commitment by States to fulfil these fundamental rights. We are concerned that some of the measures taken to contain the pandemic may exacerbate pre-existing inequalities in access to basic services, the enjoyment of economic and social rights and disproportionately affect vulnerable populations.   

In the face of this current crisis, we call upon all governments in Sub-Saharan Africa to adopt a human rights-based, gender-sensitive and inclusive response to the pandemic which is tailored to the needs of the most vulnerable people, including people living in slums and rural areas, homeless people, prisoners, asylum seekers, refugees, migrants, persons with disabilities, older people, people living with HIV/AIDS and other chronic diseases, as well as children. In particular, governments should ensure that those people enjoy their rights to information and all economic and social rights, which include providing access to reliable and up-to-date information on COVID-19, access to safe water, health care and other essential goods and services without discrimination.

In Mauritania and Gabon, information has been curtailed by the authorities. In the latter, publishing information without prior approval of authorities is now prohibited. Poorly equipped health systems and lack of access to health care, especially for people living in rural areas add to cases of discrimination in access to health care

While personal hygiene is the main measure to prevent contagion, in Sub-Saharan Africa, the access to drinking water, sanitation and handwashing facilities is amongst the lowest in the world.[1] In the DRC and Mauritania, while the government has announced the gratuity of water for 2 months, the measure is not effective as it fails to address the lack of water facilities in many households.

The right to education is only enjoyed by a few. As schools have closed in most countries, accompanying measures fail to address the digital and electrical divide. The internet connection is indeed not accessible to the greatest number who cannot follow online classes.  When electricity or radio are not available, pupils and students are left without any support. This affects in particular girls who end up helping the family to meet ends in the informal sector, without appropriate protection and physical distancing.

We also urge countries imposing restrictions on the freedom of movement to take active steps to mitigate the serious repercussions such restrictions have on all women and men in the informal economy.    

Indeed, observing physical distancing and staying at home are essential preventive measures women and men working in the informal economy cannot afford without targeted support from States. On average, informal employment accounts for around 86% of total employment in Africa.[2] The majority of people are self-employed or contribute to family work and where facing insecurity, low revenue and lack of social protection before the current health crisis. Food prices are on the rise notably in Gabon and the DRC, which impact the right to food and the ability of many people to stay at home as prescribed as their daily diet is dictated by what they daily earn.

While various funds to support the poorest including people working in the informal economy have been created, their access is not yet clear.  In Togo one of the conditions to be met in order to benefit from aid is the possession of the voter card, which effectively excludes part of the population. In Mauritania, the distribution of food concerns only the populations of the capital Nouakchott. The interior populations do not yet benefit from this support.

This is why we urge governments to realize to the right to social protection by integrating social protection in their short and long-term response to the crisis and invest in expanding social protection programmes, including vertical and horizontal expansion. 

Furthermore, we are deeply concerned that many of the measures deemed necessary to control the spread of the virus are increasing GBV-related risks and violence against women and girls. In this regard, we call upon all governments to ensure that GBV risk mitigation is integrated into COVID-19 response. In particular, governments should revamp and strengthen existing support services for GBV survivors and ensure information on support services is available, including in rural and hard-to-reach areas.  

We hope these difficult times will shed a new light on the importance of fundamental yet neglected economic, social and cultural rights and the need for States to realize them and for international cooperation partners to support them systematically.


Contact info:  Human Dignity, platform coordinator:

The Francophone ESCR Platform (PDAF) is the first network of Francophone NGOs committed to the protection and promotion of economic, social and cultural rights in Sub-Saharan Africa. Created in March 2017 by Human Dignity, this network objective is to build a regional movement for the promotion and defense of ESCR.

Platform members

  • Alerte Congolaise pour l'Environnement et les Droits Humains (ACEDH)
  • Association des Parents d'Élèves des Écoles Catholiques - DRC
  • Association mauritanienne des droits de l’Homme - Mauritania
  • Bender Djedid - Djibouti
  • Changement Social Bénin - Benin
  • Coalition pour l'Éducation Pour Tous – BAFASHEBIGE - Burundi
  • Collectif des Associations Contre l'Impunité au Togo (CACIT) - Togo
  • Conseil National des organisations de la société civile guinéenne (CNOSCG) – Republic of Guinea
  • Human Dignity – Platform founder and coordinator
  • Mouvement Populaire pour la Santé au Gabon - Gabon
  • Réseau Progrès Et Développement Humanitaire du Niger (REPRODEVH) - Niger
  • Réseau Ivoirien pour la Défense des Droits de l'Enfant et de la Femme (RIDDEF) – Côte d’Ivoire
  • Société Internationale pour les Droits de l'Homme/ Section Sénégal (SIDH) - Senegal
  • Syndicat national des agents de la formation et de l’éducation du Niger (SYNAFEN) - Niger
  • Union des Personnes Handicapées du Burundi – Burundi


[1] In 2015, only 24% of the population of Sub-Saharan Africa had access to safe drinking water. See United Nations World Water Development Report 2019, p. 142; available at:

[2] See World Employment Social Outlook, Trends 2019, ILO, page 28, available at: