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“Violence during protests is not protected by international human rights law,” warns UN expert

GENEVA (19 September 2012) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, today condemned the violence that has been taking place on the streets of numerous cities across the world in response to an anti-Islamic film, warning that protest demonstrations and rallies must be peaceful in order to be protected by international human rights law.

“The right of peaceful assembly must not serve as an excuse to commit violence,” Mr. Kiai stressed. “Expressing views or discontent is necessary, while safeguarding full respect for the right of peaceful assembly. In this context the killing of innocent people and the violent destruction of property are totally unacceptable.”

Echoing a statement* by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, the Special Rapporteur stated that it was “deeply shocking that people lost their lives in this violence,” and called on the relevant authorities to bring the perpetrators to justice. He also commended authorities which have already taken steps in this respect while condemning the violence.

“It is the duty of States to distinguish between peaceful and non-peaceful protesters. The latter must be prosecuted and brought before an independent court that guarantees the right to due process,” Mr. Kiai said.

The Special Rapporteur also warned States not to use these isolated incidents to impose blanket restrictions against those seeking to express their opinions in peaceful and non-violent ways. “Peaceful protests provide a vent to society and also allows governments to understand better the issues their citizens were facing” he emphasized.

Mr. Kiai pointed out that unlawful acts of violence sharply contrast with the courage of thousands of peaceful protesters who exercise every day their right of peaceful assembly and who are met, in far too many instances, with excessive use of force by law enforcement officials or by those who do not agree with them. “We must applaud such courage which in many regions of the world has brought about changes in States and societies based on human rights”.

“Violence only triggers further violence,” the human rights independent expert underscored. “Dialogue must prevail at all times to ensure the realization of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly for all.”

Mr. Maina Kiai (Kenya) took up his functions as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association on May 2011. Mr. Kiai has been Executive Director of the International Council on Human Rights Policy; Chair of the Kenya National Human Rights Commission; Africa Director of the International Human Rights Law Group; and Africa Director of Amnesty International. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx

(*) Pillay concerned by spreading violence in wake of “malicious and provocative” film: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=12522&LangID=E

Check the latest report to the UN Human Rights Council by the Special Rapporteur: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/A.HRC.20.27_En.pdf.PDF

For more information and media requests, please contact Guillaume Pfeifflé (+41 22 917 9384 / gpfeiffle@ohchr.org) or Pol Planas (+41 22 917 9657 / pplanas@ohchr.org) or write to freeassembly@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)

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