Police faulted for using violence to enforce Covid-19 measures

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) has condemned the Malawi Police for beating up people in markets, depots and on the streets under the guise of enforcing Covid-19 measures.

In a statement yesterday, CHRR’s Executive Director Michael Kaiyatsa said the organization was informed that police officers were harassing drivers and beating up pedestrians not wearing face masks at market places, bus depots and on the streets.

Kaiyatsa said the organisation fully understands the gravity of the current situation and the need for urgent responses to curb the spread of the virus and prevent further deaths but using the Police to violently enforce COVID-19 preventive measures will not be effective and will do more harm than good.

“Experience from past and present epidemics like HIV and AIDS shows clearly that responses to health crises such as COVID-19 work best in the context of community understanding, trust, cooperation and, generally, respect for human rights.

“People will cooperate better if they understand why they have to wear face masks or why they have to observe social distancing.  Violence may deliver short-term compliance but it cannot be part of an effective strategy to contain the Coronavirus,” said Kaiyatsa.

He added that using the police as a substitute for effective public health communication and awareness not only makes this work more difficult but it undermines it completely.

Kaiyatsa added that apart from the clear ethical issues with abusing police power in the way, the risk is that if these extreme policing measures are applied without due caution and consideration, they will eventually be resisted.

He then advised authorities to get the public to comply and modify their behaviour, whether Police are watching or not.

“The public is not the enemy here – the virus is, and we need informed consent to get the kind of compliance that can turn the situation around.  Ideally, the police should be the last line of defence against a virus,” he said.

He also reminded authorities of the pledge to respect the rule of law and human rights principles in which governance structure is rooted.

“While it is true that some human rights may be limited during an emergency in order to protect public health and safety, such restrictions, according to section 44(1) of our constitution, must be prescribed by law, reasonable, recognized by international human rights standards and necessary in an open and democratic society,” he said.

He added that the Ministry of Homeland Security should send a clear, unambiguous message to police that human Rights violations will notify be tolerated that all allegations of excessive use of police force to people who are walk without wearing a mask will be promptly and impartially investigated and those responsible will be held to account.