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New project documents how governments are using COVID-19 to impose authoritarian policies

Jan. 26 launch event features peacebuilding experts and report release

Photo: / AFSC

PHILADELPHA (January 21, 2021) - In response to the pandemic, governments around the world have been enacting new policies to protect public health — including many that are necessary to slow the spread of the virus. But in a time when authoritarianism is also on the rise, some governments are exploiting the public health crisis to impose dangerous policies that could impact civil society long after the pandemic ends. The American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) – a Quaker organization that works in 17 countries across the world – is launching a new project called Under the Mask that tracks and analyses government abuse of power.

The website for the project will launch on Tuesday, January 26 at 11 a.m. ET / 4pm GMT. The online launch event will feature peacebuilding experts and activists striving to protect our rights and freedoms in these times. Speakers include: 

  • Fionnuala D. Ní Aoláin, the United Nations special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. She works closely with governments around the world and United Nations entities to advance human rights protections in some of the most difficult contexts.
  • Siphosami Malunga, the Executive Director of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, which works to reduce political instability and a human rights lawyer with extensive experience in justice and governance in Africa.
  • AFSC staff, including Joyce Ajlouny, General Secretary; Sahar Vardi, Israel Program Manager; and Kerri Kennedy, Associate General Secretary of International Programs. The panel will be moderated by Lucy Roberts.

“We are witnessing a global shift toward authoritarianism,” said Kerri Kennedy, Associate General Secretary for International Programs at AFSC. “The restrictions we have seen on civil liberties over the past decade are being accelerated by COVID-19. It is vitally important for us to identify, monitor, and resist the misuse and normalization of extreme measures that further restrict civic space and harm marginalized people.” 

The Under the Mask site will serve as a hub for restriction mapping; online virtual dialogues and trainings; and research, media, and tools for civil society and journalists to use. Users can find information by region or by the types of restrictions. The site also includes recommendations from AFSC about how to address these issues.  

There is also a limited podcast series highlighting activists in Kenya, Mexico, and Israel talking about their work challenging these restrictions. A report will be released in conjunction with the site launch documenting the first year of the pandemic through nine kinds of restrictions that could limit civil space for the long term and how civil society can respond. 

Register for the launch event here.

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The American Friends Service Committee is a Quaker organization that promotes lasting peace with justice, as a practical expression of faith in action. Drawing on continuing spiritual insights and working with people of many backgrounds, we nurture the seeds of change and respect for human life that transform social systems.