Report finds that the pandemic increased “state repression around the world” and was used as “cover” to “consolidate authority”

A recent report by the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) found that the COVID-19 pandemic had been used as a “cover” in numerous countries to “stifle opposition and tighten their grip on power”.

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The Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED) found that “as a global emergency, the pandemic offered unique opportunities — and cover — for those in power to institute a wide range of new restrictions and pass sweeping legislation”.

“Some capitalized on the occasion to bolster their position and consolidate authority, contributing to democratic backsliding. Others selectively enforced legislation or restrictions as a means to stifle opposition and to limit any challenge to power. Overall, state repression increased around the world”, the report reads. 

The ACLED notes that “While many existing protest movements slowed in the face of lockdown restrictions and rising fears of infection, demonstration activity over government responses to the pandemic increased.”

The ACLED also found that protests and demonstrations actually increased in 2020 relative to the year prior.

“The combined result is that demonstrations actually increased in 2020 relative to the year prior, not just despite – but in part because of – the pandemic.”

While the pandemic ravaged internationally, “The onset of the pandemic paved the way for a number of distinct forms of targeted violence.”

The report continued: “The first has been state repression. Some states, especially in the early days of the pandemic, took a heavy-handed approach to enforcing coronavirus-related restrictions like lockdowns.”

“For example, in late March 2020, Uganda experienced its highest disorder levels in over a decade as a result of the government’s violent enforcement of lockdown restrictions. State violence against civilians accounted for nearly half of all recorded events during this period.”

The report also discusses how political leaders around the world used the pandemic as an “opportunity” to hold onto power.

“Some political leaders used the pandemic as an opportunity to stifle opposition and tighten their grip on power. These leaders capitalized on emergency powers granted during the crisis to suppress criticism and popular mobilization. The unique state of emergency provided them with cover to consolidate authority, contributing to democratic backsliding in multiple countries around the world since the start of the coronavirus outbreak.”

“For example, the pandemic has strengthened the position of states across West Africa. Governments have subtly exploited the crisis to repress opposition and to manipulate elections.“

Other actions by governments around the world during the pandemic included the targeting of media and stifling civil liberties, the report found.

“Globally, state targeting of the media increased last year under the guise of COVID-19 restrictions. Many states used the pandemic as a pretext to impose new limitations on civil liberties and to intensify repression.”

While the report did not include Canada, provinces imposed some of the harshest restrictions including the repression and criminalization of churchgoers and violent interventions against anti-lockdown protesters.

Other countries were also not included in the report like Australia and New Zealand, but which also experienced similar restrictions and crackdowns as Canada.

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