Masking Domestic Violence During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By: Ann Ciancia

Journal of Global Rights and Organizations, Associate Articles Editor

GENEVA, Switzerland – April is Sexual Assault Awareness month, but during this month, there has been an increase in the number of domestic violence incidents across the world due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Entire nations have requested lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus and to flatten the curve. Many victims are forced to quarantine with their abuser and have no shelter to seek. Victims cannot escape the violence and are not given the option to maintain six feet apart from their abuser.

A victim of domestic violence in isolation. Photo Courtesy of Getty Images.

The Coronavirus has led to a downfall in social and economic environments around the globe. According to the U.N., this collapse has led to an increase in violence against women around the world. U.N. Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, wants all of the international community to understand the threat of violence that is imminent for victims and to put pressure on countries in order to protect their citizens. Guterres states that, “[f]or many women and girls, the threat looms largest where they should be safest – in their own homes. And so I make a new appeal today for peace at home – and in homes – around the world.”

A multitude of countries have reported an increase in domestic violence. France reported a one third increase in the rates of domestic violence in one week. Within the first week of South Africa’s lockdown, there were over 90,000 reported instances of violence against women. In Turkey, there was a surge of women being killed in their homes after a stay-at-home order was in place. According to the police, during the rise of Coronavirus in China domestic violence cases tripled. The number of victims of abuse continue to rise during quarantine.

“For people who are experiencing domestic violence, mandatory lockdowns to curb the spread of COVID-19 have trapped them in their homes with their abusers, isolated from the people and the resources that could help them.”

Within the United States, the National Domestic Violence Hotline has seen an increase in victims calling in for help and protection. Some abusers have threatened their partners to withhold them from financial and medical assistance. Abusers have a sense of power and control over their victims. During times of crisis, there is a lack of control overall. When this occurs, the abuser needs to rein in their control over the victim and take out their frustrations. Victims are likely to face extreme violence by their partner during this pandemic.

Although research has shown quarantining can help slow the spread of Coronavirus, many women and girls are faced with an abusive burden at home. In a locked down home, an abusive husband can be working from home, or he can be laid off and take his frustration out on his wife. It is important to self-quarantine and slow the spread of the virus, but some women may struggle to stay alive in their own home.

For further information, please see:

VOA News – UN Chief: Coronavirus Pressures Leading to Global Surge in Domestic Violence – 5 Apr. 2020

Time – As Cities Around the World Go on Lockdown, Victims of Domestic Violence Look for a Way Out – 18 Mar. 2020

Depreciating Human Rights Conditions in Zimbabwe

By: Eronmwon Joyce Irogue

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Since the reelection of Zimbabwe President Emmerson Mnangagwa in July 2018, human rights conditions in the country have deteriorated. In September 2019, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association fact-finding mission discovered a “serious deterioration of the political, economic and social environment.” Even after supposed legal reforms, Zimbabwe continues undeterred on its path of human rights violations.

On March 4, 2020, the United States extended its restriction on several senior Zimbabwean government officials for another year. The United States referenced the extant human rights oppression by the government against critics as one of its reasons and urged for a more tenable reform. This extension occurred one month after the European Union commented on the “deteriorating humanitarian crisis” in Zimbabwe.

Human rights violations have allegedly been committed by the Zimbabwean security forces. Specifically, they have used force against peaceful protesters. In August 2018, the security forces used deadly force against post-election protesters where 6 people died and thirty-five were injured. In mid-January 2019, the security forces used brutal force against protesters of the President. There, seventeen people died, seventeen women were raped, eighty-one people were injured, and over a thousand protesters were arrested. After the incident, the government shut down social media and the internet on January 15 and only restored social media and internet access on January 21 after a ruling by the Harare High Court. The Zimbabwean government relies on the authority on “subverting a constitutional government” contained in Section 22, Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act to punish individuals suspected of organizing protests.

Zimbabwe remains a party to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. The ability of the human rights conditions in Zimbabwe to continue to deteriorate despite the country’s status as a signatory indicates that these instruments may lack importance in the region. Increased awareness and compliance with these human rights covenants is required if there is to be growth and stability in Zimbabwe and likewise in other African countries. As is apparent from the reports, continuous human rights violations contribute to both economic and political setbacks.

For further information, please see:

Human Rights Watch – Rampaging Rights Violations Despite Lukewarm Reform – 20 Mar. 2020

Human Rights Watch – World Report 2020

Human Rights Watch – UN Expert “Shocked” By Abuses In Zimbabwe – 27 Sept. 2019

Coronavirus Protections Threaten Human Rights in Panama

By: Elizabeth Wright

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

PANAMA CITY, Panama – Like other countries around the world, Panama has implemented measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Over the past few weeks the country has passed several different measures that require citizens to remain in their homes, impose a mandatory 14-day quarantine for those entering the country, and limit purchasing goods. Additionally, on March 13, President Laurentino Cortizo announced that the country was under a state of emergency.

While declaring a state of emergency might seem standard given the current situation, concerns have been raised regarding the freedom of Panamanian citizens. Professor of Law Antonio Bernal has expressed concern with the lack of restriction and direction in Panama’s constitution regarding the scope of a state of emergency. The Inter-American Court of Human Rights has expressed similar concerns. The Court has stated that the constitutional provisions used to justify the state of emergency have the potential to violate fundamental human rights.

Countries within the Court’s jurisdiction voluntarily agree to its terms, so if the Panamanian government were to decide to issue laws which violate the basic human rights of Panama’s citizens, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights would likely intervene. The Court would first advise the government of appropriate changes and then, if the Court deemed that the country failed to make the appropriate changes, the Court would initiate a further measures against the country.

Bernal explains that while the current state of emergency seems protective, the government may begin to create laws without any oversight. For example, like in the United States, the Panamanian government decided to restrict all prison visitations. Bernal claims that this practice may be a human rights violation.

However, Juan Carlos Araus, President of Panama’s Bar argues that the state of emergency is the most appropriate way for the government to act in this situation because it expedites the law-making process. Araus concedes that the state of emergency does temporarily “suspend constitutional guarantees,” but that it is currently necessary due to the virus’ fast spread.

The upcoming weeks will be difficult for Panama and other countries around the world as they struggle to contain the spread of coronavirus. Each of these countries should be mindful of the fundamental rights of its people while making policies which are intended to protect their citizens’ health.

For further information, please see:

Reuters – Panama Imposes Full-Day Curfew, Guatemala Extends State of Emergency – 24 Mar. 2020

The Tico Times – Panama Restricts the Entry of Foreigners to the Country – 16 Mar. 2020

Westlaw – Corona Virus and State of Emergency – 14 Mar. 2020

Lexology – The Government of Panama Decrees State of National Emergency Due to the Coronavirus – 6 Mar. 2020

ECOWAS Court Suspends Judicial Activities in Response to COVID-19 Outbreak

By: Katherine Davis

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

ABUJA, Nigeria – On March 20, 2020, the Community Court of Justice (ECOWAS) suspended its 2020 travel-related activities and all judicial activities until further notice in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. The ECOWAS Court has taken precautionary action to ensure the safety of their staff and plan to reschedule travel-related activities as soon as the pandemic is over. Other judicial activities have yet to be rescheduled.

ECOWAS Court Judges in session. Photo Courtesy of Realness Magazine.

Judicial activities that will be affected by this suspension include day-to-day operations by the Court’s departments, case hearings and judgements, and other ECOWAS gatherings in Abuja.

In a statement released on March 20, the President of the Court, Justice Edward Amoako Asante “urged staff not to panic, but to ensure that they remain calm, healthy, and go about their duties whilst ‘maintaining personal hygiene and social distancing.’” Staff will begin to work remotely and maintain contact with their departmental supervisors to continue day-to-day operations as smoothly as possible.

Travel related activities that will be affected by this suspension include the second judicial dialogue of the ECOWAS Court with the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights and training of the ECOWAS Court’s office managers; both were to have taken place in Arusha, Tanzania. On March 23, the African Court also suspended the majority of their judicial activities, including their 56th Ordinary Session, which began on March 2.

President Asante noted that ECOWAS is following the health advisories issued by the West African Health Organization (WAHO) and the World Health Organization. The ECOWAS Institutions were advised “to strongly discourage non-essential large gatherings of people; defer, cancel or postpone meetings with over 50 participants” and to employ using remote technology if possible.

President Asante explained, “we don’t want to subject staff to avoidable risk considering the global threat posed by this pandemic and consistent with the international response.” ECOWAS will continue its regular activities as soon as the pandemic is over.

Prior to the suspension, ECOWAS was scheduled to hear ten additional cases. These cases concerned violations of human rights by the countries of Burkina Faso, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Nigeria, and Niger. President Asante has not released a statement regarding the rescheduling of these cases and future cases.

For further information, please see:

African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights – African Court Suspends its 56th Ordinary Session Because of Outbreak of Coronavirus – 23 Mar. 2020

Community Court of Justice, ECOWAS – Court Suspends Judicial Activities Over Corona Virus – 20 Mar. 2020

World Health Organization – Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Advice for the Public – 18 Mar. 2020

Realnews Magazine – Coronavirus: Court Suspends 2020 Travel Related Programmes – 16 Mar. 2020

Community Court of Justice, ECOWAS – Cause List of 20th January 2020 and Subsequent Days Where Necessary – 13 Dec. 2020

Case of First Impression: Inter-American Court and Sexual Violence in School

By: Abigail Neuviller

Impunity Watch Staff Writer

QUITO, Ecuador – On January 28, 2020 the Inter-American Court of Human Rights (IACtHR) heard Paola Guzman Albarracin v. Ecuador, its first case pertaining to sexual violence in a school setting. Paola was a sixteen-year-old girl who took her own life after she was repeatedly sexually abused by the Vice-Principal of her school.

Petita Albarracin, mother of Paola, talking about her daughter during an interview. Photo Courtesy of the Guardian.

From the ages of fourteen to sixteen, she was sexually abused and raped by the school administrator. The sexual abuse led to a pregnancy and when her abuser took her to the school doctor for an abortion, he said he would only perform the surgery if Paola had sex with him.

Soon thereafter, Paola took her own life by ingesting phosphorus. Before she died, she told her friends on the way to school, who then alerted school authorities, but they told her to pray for forgiveness instead of seeking timely medical care.

Paola’s mother, Petita Albarracin, has continued the legal battle for over eighteen years. When she first filed suit in Ecuador, the case was dismissed. She then brought the suit to the IACtHR, an autonomous body of the Organization of American States, which rules on whether a government violated human rights.  

The IACtHR will determine whether Ecuador was responsible for failing to prevent the sexual abuse, if Paola was adequately protected from sexual violence in a state school, and if the school failed to provide her with proper medical care.

Despite this case being the first of its kind before the IACtHR, sexual harassment experienced by school students is not uncommon. In Ecuador alone, 32% of girls report experiencing some form of sexual violence while at school.

According to the United Nation’s Children’s Agency (UNICEF), three out of ten students in Latin America between the ages of thirteen and fifteen have experienced sexual harassment in school.

This sexual violence is frequently perpetrated by school teachers and administrators who take advantage of their positions of trust and authority. With students particularly, this type of violence manifests in poor school performance, high dropout rates, and social isolation.

The IACtHR is expected to rule on the case within the year. This decision will have a sweeping effect since its binding on Ecuador, but also the other twenty-two countries in Central and South America under its jurisdiction.

For further information, please see:

Center for Reproductive Rights – Center Argues Milestone Case at Inter-American Court of Human Rights – 29 Jan. 2020

The Guardian – Landmark Case Held on Alleged Sexual Abuse of Ecuadorian Schoolgirl – 29 Jan. 2020

Reuters – Americas’ Human Rights Court Hears Deadly Sexual Violence Case from Ecuador – 28 Jan. 2020

Center for Reproductive Rights – Groundbreaking Case at Inter-American Court on Human Rights Could Transform Girl’s Rights Across Latin America and Beyond – 28 Jan. 2020

Resolución del Presidente de la Corte Interamericana de Derechos Humanos – 10 Dec. 2019

Organization of American States – IACHR Takes Case Involving Ecuador to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights – 13 Feb. 2019