Implications of the COVID-19 Crisis on the Accountability Agenda

The outbreak of Sars-Cov-2 has deeply impacted every aspect of life.  The virus’ lethality and its wider toll on human wellbeing (particularly as a result of economic hardship) are the most apparent impacts. Dire human suffering is taking place and will continue to endure. There have been multiple significant changes to how we live, and, in the future, many other dimensions of human life will be altered.Most of us working on justice for atrocity crimes – whether most of us working on justice for atrocity crimes – whether nationally or internationally – have experienced a slowdown or halt of social and judicial processes linked to the struggle against impunity. A rare case on Syrian accountability made some headway in German courts, but most processes have been obstructed. In many parts of the world, the lockdown has translated into suspended hearings, but the passage of time can result in impediments that deal deadly blows to justice claims (e.g. as a result of the tolling of terms and statutes of limitations)As we look forward, it seems necessary to explore the impact of COVID-19 (both the viral epidemic as well as the ensuing public and private reactions) on the accountability agenda. This article contributes to that appraisal by presenting some preliminary observations on the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on the ongoing quest for accountability in relation to crimes of atrocity committed by states and other powerful organizations throughout the world. It is a preliminary result of an ongoing assessment that we are conducting at the Guernica Centre for International Justice in order to adapt and respond to the challenges of the promotion of justice in this volatile operational environment. We have identified that the accountability agenda needs to consider at least three scenarios: first, patterns of abuse of power and gross misconduct taking place in the context of various national COVID-19 responses; second, the use of the coronavirus crisis as a mechanism of denial of ongoing atrocities; and third, that the humanitarian response to COVID-19 could displace and hamper programmatic action on the struggle against impunity for gross human rights abuses and violations. read more

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