The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights has raised concerns on how the COVID-19 pandemic can infringe on the right to regular, free, fair and transparent elections in African countries where elections are scheduled to hold during the pandemic.
The commission in a statement disclosed that it is cognizant of the numerous elections scheduled to take place in African countries in the course of 2020 and those that have already taken place.
In the statement which was signed by the Chairperson of the Commission, Honorable Commissioner Solomon Dersso, it was noted that the commission is mindful of the need for the institution of public health measures to contain the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in Africa, owing to its effect on free and fair elections
The statement reads that, “the Commission affirms that the right to regular, free, fair and credible election is the most sacred democratic norm that serves as a primary means for the exercise of the sovereign right of a people to self-government under Article 20 of the African Charter and the right of individuals to participation in public affairs under Article 13 of the African Charter.
“The conduct of elections within constitutionally established parameters and applicable human rights standards including those provided for in the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance, is a pre-requisite for the maintenance of a democratic, accountable and responsive system of government.”
For elections that are scheduled to hold during the pandemic, the commission recommended that electoral institutions must, “ensure that all relevant measures are put in place to ensure that voters, officials, observers and all other persons involved in the election process maintain physical distancing and hygiene protocols.
“This could include staggered voting times extended beyond the normal number of voting days and setting up more polling stations than usual, in order to limit the number of people that would congregate in one area; polling stations are thoroughly sanitized before, during and after the elections, that the wearing of masks at all times is mandatory and that sanitizers are available to voters before and after voting, and also to those counting the votes.
“Ensure the appointment of Health and Safety officers to monitor compliance at all polling stations; be cognizant of the higher vulnerability of older persons and persons with co-morbidities to contracting and suffering serious health consequences from COVID-19, and take extra precautions to ensure that such persons are able to vote in a manner which does not subject them to unnecessary risk.
On the other hand, Dersoo made it known that “where disputes arise about the outcome of the elections, ensure that these are dealt with within the established procedures and do not lead to violence or conflict; and take all measures to prevent, investigate and prosecute human rights violations which occur during the election period, and provide adequate redress to victims.