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      Amplified Vulnerabilities and Reconfigured Relations: COVID-19, Torture Prevention and Human Rights in the Global South



            The COVID-19 pandemic has reconfigured personal, organisational and political landscapes in quite radical ways. This paper reflects on the differentiated impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and responses to it. We unpack some of the effects of the crisis on populations already subject to harassment, persecution and deprivation due to their marginal position in society or their resistance to state power. We illuminate how the current crisis is much more than a health crisis; the ways it exacerbates already existing deprivations; and how it might reveal hitherto unrecognised opportunities through which to make the world a more, rather than less, just and equitable place. Focus is on the way the crisis calls forth amplified forms of repression and consonantly amplified forms of vulnerability as well as reconfigured spaces for the operation of civil society organisations. We forward one key proposition, namely that while securitised responses to the crisis reveal an inherent conservatism, civil society responses reveal an agility and a capacity to innovate. While the inherent conservatism of securitised responses gives cause for serious concern, there is some hope to be found in the potential for innovation of civil society organisations. The revelation of humankind's shared vulnerability that is a feature of the crisis may serve as a springboard for the propagation of progressive change if we keep in mind the fundamentally human, and thus relational, nature of human rights and anti-torture work.


            Author and article information

            State Crime Journal
            Pluto Journals
            1 April 2021
            : 10
            : 1 ( doiID: 10.13169/statecrime.10.issue-1 )
            : 147-169
            [1 ] Danish Institute Against Torture
            © 2021 International State Crime Initiative

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            COVID-19,vulnerability,exacerbation,violence,civil society organisations


            1. Acknowledgements: we thank our international partners (named and un-named in the text) and our colleagues for inspiration and motivation and Hannah Russell for help accessing secondary sources of information. Thanks also to the anonymous reviewer, especially for directing us to the work of Martha Fineman and colleagues on vulnerability. We have not been able to engage with that strand of theorising here, though it looks promising for further illumination of the inherently compromised lives of those with whom DIGNITY work.

            2. See for example Turner and Jensen (2019); Weegels et al. (2020); Border Criminologies: www. law.ox.ac.uk; EASA's Anthropology of Confinement Network: www.easaonline.org; and the work of carceral geographers: www.carceralgeography.com.

            3. Important insights into colonial governance in Kenya are to be found in Anderson (2005) and Elkins (2005). We imply here that there are links to be made between contemporary repressive policing and the policing of empire in Kenya, that is, there are what Ann Laura Stoler calls “imperial durabilities” (2016). Time does not allow us to elaborate here.

            4. See also Al Jazeera (2020b) and Human Rights Watch (2020a).

            5. For a chilling report on the use of pre-trial detention as a repressive tactic, see Thabet (2020).

            6. Figures provided by Balay based on news reports.

            7. Also worth mentioning is how, with a global audience in mind, DIGNITY's health unit urgently produced a synthesis document, during the early phase of the outbreak, that drew together the various sets of guidelines being developed by a range of professional bodies about how best to protect prisoners (DIGNITY 2020).

            8. Of the total 21,858 inmates released, 15,102 were released through bail, plea-bargaining, parole or probation, and 6,756 through acquittal or served sentence.


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