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Council concludes Interactive dialogue with Experts Business Enterprises and on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Human Rights Council 
MORNING

31 May 2013

The Human Rights Council this morning concluded its interactive dialogue with the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises and with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Pavel Sulyandziga, Chair of the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises, in concluding remarks said that the Working Group believed that it was very important to work towards implementing the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  States should cooperate more effectively with each other to ensure better access to legal defence.  Mr. Sulyandziga clarified that the Guiding Principles applied to all countries and regions, which included the Occupied Palestinian Territories.     

Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, in concluding remarks said that he noticed that the States that criticized his report most harshly were the States that had not yet accepted his offer to visit them.  He offered to visit them in the spirit of constructive dialogue.  Freedom of assembly and association was a fundamental pillar of a democracy and a State was not a democracy if it could not tolerate, accept and facilitate these rights.  Legal accountability and funding transparency was key but this was not a call for control, simply accountability and transparency as applied to other actors.  Peaceful assembly should be seen in the context of rights laws, not as a security matter.

In the general discussion, it was noted that the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights reflected the realization that good governance required the necessary framework to prevent violations of human rights due to business operations.  The Guiding Principles needed to be applied to all post-2015 development.  There was growing interest by stakeholders in the area of business and human rights and there was a need to support them, including financially, in capacity-building.  What instruments was the Working Group considering for awareness-raising? 

On the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, concern was expressed about the number of Governments resorting to hostile practices against civil society in law and practice, including through restrictions on funding.   How could a safe environment be created and how could demonstrations be monitored without compromising the rights to freedom of assembly and association?  Speakers also enquired as to how States could further promote the rights to freedom of assembly with new technology.

The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprises started on Wednesday, 30 May, and can be seen in HRC/13/62.

Speaking in the discussion were European Union, Argentina, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, Switzerland, Algeria on behalf of the Arab Group, Costa Rica, Belgium, Indonesia, Venezuela, Poland, Iran, Czech Republic, Germany, Lebanon, Australia, Austria, Morocco, Estonia, Spain, Palestine, Slovenia, Latvia, Holy See, Botswana, Sweden, Algeria, Sudan, Netherlands, Cuba, Croatia,  Belarus, Brazil, Malaysia, Lithuania, Uzbekistan, Paraguay, Ghana, France, Sri Lanka, Azerbaijan, Slovakia, Uruguay, Maldives, India, and Ethiopia.

The following national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations took the floor:  International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protect of Human Rights, and Canadian Human Rights Commission, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Freedom House, International Service for Human Rights, Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, Al Haq, Franciscans International, CIVICUS World Alliance, Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada, International Human Rights Association of American Minorities, European Centre for Law and Justice, and Indian Council of South America.

The Human Rights Council during its midday meeting will hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the right to education and the Independent Expert on human rights and international solidarity.  It will then hold an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on cultural rights and the Working Group on the issue of discrimination against women. 

Interactive Debate with the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association and the Working Group on Human Rights and Transnational Corporations and other Business Enterprises

European Union informed the Council that it was about to publish sector-specific guidance on implementation of the Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.  The European Commission was implementing a peer review on the activities of Member States on corporate social responsibility.  The European Union fully concurred that the ability to seek, receive and use resources, including financial resources, was an integral part of freedom of association.  It was concerned by the number of Governments resorting to hostile practices against civil society in law and practice. 

Argentina said that it had noted with interest the suggestion in the Forum related to the presentation of reports as a means of accessible transparency to encourage businesses quoted on the stock exchange to apply the Guiding Principles and support their partners and shareholders to exercise due diligence in this regard.  What instruments was the Working Group considering as one of the possible ways of carrying out awareness raising ? 

Pakistan, speaking on behalf of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, asked the Special Rapporteur whether he could suggest any mechanism or filters by which Governments could ascertain the source of funds in order to ensure national security or public safety, particularly in the case of unregistered associations.  The Working Group on human rights and transnational corporations was thanked for its report, which contained many useful recommendations from which States, transnational corporations and other stakeholders could benefit from.

Switzerland said that it shared the Special Rapporteur‘s concern about the criminalization of non-governmental organizations in various parts of the world and about the prohibition of peaceful demonstrations in many regions.  Legislation alone could not guarantee a safe environment for demonstrators.  Switzerland wondered how a safe environment could be created and how demonstrations could be monitored without compromising the right to freedom of assembly and association.

Algeria, speaking on behalf of the Arab Group, said that the Guiding Principles reflected the realization that good governance required the necessary framework to prevent violations of human rights due to business operations.  Accountability occupied a central place in the human rights system and deserved a central place in the Guiding Principles.  Further guidance was needed on effective means of redress utilizing lessons learnt.  Companies operating in Israeli settlements had a negative impact on the rights of Palestinians and should be checked.

Costa Rica said that the Guiding Principles needed to be applied to all post-2015 development.  World governance had a fundamental role to play in the application of the Guiding Principles by States.  Costa Rica expressed concern about the lack of legal aid for victims, and difficulties relating to the burden of proof principle in the implementation of justice in employment disputes.  The capacity of associations to obtain funding was essential for the full enjoyment of the right to free assembly and association.  

Belgium said that recent industrial accidents at transnational companies begged the question of how the Guiding Principles could be of any practical help, and requested the Working Group to elaborate on this and the role of third-party actors.  Turning to freedom of assembly, Belgium asked the Special Rapporteur to clarify his advocacy for the State financing of non-registered groups, or, for example those that had been banned.

Indonesia shared the Working Group’s view that work be intensified in normalizing human rights in the business context, and requested more detail on concrete steps.  Turning to the right to hold peaceful assembly, Indonesia recalled that anti-Government protests had become part of daily life in Indonesia and this was considered important for democracy.  But how would the Special Rapporteur respond to the right of individuals to protest when they brandished weapons as part of their action?

Venezuela said there was a need for transnational corporations to deal with a record of human rights abuses; prevention and reparation was key.  It was convinced of the need for extra-territorial monitoring mechanisms.  As regard the Special Rapporteur’s report, Venezuela underlined its commitment to international laws guaranteeing the freedom of assembly.  However, in a recent case, Venezuela reserved the right to prosecute under organized crime laws a North American citizen it said was using foreign money to fund groups bent on terrorism and destabilization in Venezuela.

Poland said that freedom of peaceful assembly and association was one of the most important elements of a democracy.  It was deeply concerned about the number of legal constraints on civil society actors, including the restriction of funding.  Poland joined the Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and association in his appeal to all countries to maintain, in law and practice, an environment that allowed the right to enjoyment of freedom of peaceful assembly and association.   

Iran said that freedom of assembly and association should not be narrowed down to a one dimensional value.  If it was to be utilized to promote universal human rights course, the relevant sociological bedrocks should also be understood.  The uneven promotion of a particular value while disregarding other values and global solidarity not only hampered the integrity of the international human rights of others but also damaged international accord, peace and stability.  

Czech Republic agreed that the ability to seek, secure and use resources was essential to the existence of any association and that nothing in human rights law allowed countries to conclude that foreign funding was to be subject to stricter rules than any other sources.  While excessive legal or administrative obstacles remained the principal hurdle for civil society to flourish, it was also important for the Special Rapporteur to speak about less direct ways of intimidation, such as public stigmatisation, denigration and hostile rhetoric. 

Germany said that civil society played an important role in a democracy, and expressed concern at reported cases in which suspicions about the source of funding of associations had led to legal action against them.  Germany stressed that the right to freedom of assembly and association must remain intact in all its aspects in order to preserve democracy.  Could the Special Rapporteur mention positive examples of cases in which the right to freedom of assembly had been successfully reinstated?

Lebanon said that it was at the forefront of countries in the region which upheld and enacted the rights to freedom of opinion and freedom of assembly.  Lebanon expressed concern about generalizations in the Special Rapporteur’s report concerning some of the provisions of the law in certain countries mentioned by name, and recommended that States which posed restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly amend their legislation accordingly in order to reinforce that right as a pillar of democracy.

Australia said that it was a strong supporter of the freedoms of assembly and association, which played a fundamental role in the effective functioning of democracy.  Upholding those rights provided a channel for dialogue, pluralism and tolerance, where dissenting views or beliefs were respected.  Australia asked the Special Rapporteur what were the fundamental elements required to guarantee freedom of assembly and association, and what steps States should take to guarantee those freedoms.

Austria said it was concerned that in recent years civil society actors had faced increased State controls, often using restricted funding which was also not helped by the economic crisis.  It shared the Special Rapporteur’s view that counter-terrorism measures should not be used as a pretext to constrain dissenting views.  Turning to the Working Group, Austria welcomed the proposed integration of human rights into the post-2015 development agenda, but would like to hear more about the Working Group’s cooperation with the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.

Morocco recognized the importance of civil society organizations and the State’s responsibility to uphold a framework for them to assemble and demonstrate freely, within public safety limits.  Morocco adhered to international human rights standards in this respect.  With respect to the report of the Working Group, Morocco welcomed the idea of a multi-partner fund for capacity building in the sphere of integrating human rights in the business context as part of the post-2015 development agenda.

Estonia endorsed the Special Rapporteur’s focus and said that Estonia fully complied with best practices with regard to freedom of assembly.  It requested the Special Rapporteur to elaborate on the grassroots nature of the Arab Spring and the Occupy Movement, and the role of technology in organizing both phenomena.  Did he have any thoughts about how to attract more interest in online services for registering meetings?

Spain said that it had both unilaterally and multilaterally committed itself to take measures to encourage and ensure respect for human rights by its businesses wherever they operated.  It had also been very committed to the application of the Guiding Principles from the outset.  Spain also highlighted that it had initiated the process of developing a national plan for the implementation of the Guiding Principles, which was in line with the position of the European Union.  Joint work between business and civil society was crucial.

Palestine recalled the Council’s resolution at its previous session asking the Working Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations to engage other mandate holders and Special Procedures to implement the recommendations of the International Fact Finding Mission in conformity with its mandate.  Given the expansion of Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestine and based on the mandate of the Working Group, it insisted on the implementation of the recommendations and extended an invitation to the Working Group to visit Palestine to take stock of business activities.

Slovenia said that civil society organizations played an important role in the promotion and protection of human rights and that one should not ignore the negative impact of financial crises on their existence.  The right of civil society organizations to seek funding as part of freedom of association needed to be safeguarded.  What could be done to ensure the unimpeded work of civil society organizations and in particular of human rights defenders?

Latvia said that it was concerned about the recent occurrences of increasing restrictions towards reception of foreign funds by civil society organizations, which constituted a serious drawback in the promotion and protection of human rights.  Latvia asked the Special Rapporteur how the growing mistrust between States and civil society organizations regarding the acquisition and usage of funds could be reduced before it seriously affected their performance capabilities. 

Holy See said that the recent accident in the outskirts of Dhaka was a reminder that it was necessary for all corporations to undertake corrective action.  The images of that disaster also reminded the world of the interdependence which globalization had brought about in transnational economic activity.  The endorsement of the Guiding Principles by the Council was an important milestone, and States had a responsibility to take effective measures to ensure the implementation of those principles.

Botswana said that undue restrictions on funding for civil society, whether from domestic or foreign sources, would incapacitate non-governmental organizations, democracy, and the enjoyment of human rights.  That said, recipients of funds had certain responsibilities and were expected to meet human rights norms and standards.  Botswana recognized the importance of the Guiding Principles but also believed that States had a duty to ensure national security, public safety, health, and public order.  

Sweden, focussing on freedom of assembly, said that in its resolution 22/6, the Human Rights Council had sent an important message.  The restriction of funding for civil society groups and human rights defenders was a trend seen in more and more States.  Sweden shared the concerns of the Special Rapporteur with respect to legislative moves in Egypt with respect to civil society groups.  How could States further promote the right to freedom of assembly with new technology?  Could an “enabling environment” for civil society be integrated into the post-2015 development agenda?

Algeria said it had been active in promoting the protection of human rights among companies operating in Algeria, and supported the Working Group’s aims.  Algeria also supported the work of the Special Rapporteur and said that new laws had been adopted bolstering the right to assembly.  There were no restrictions to the funding of civil society groups in Algeria apart from that which posed a threat to national security.

Sudan reiterated the importance of the right to freedom of assembly and association and said its constitution supported this in line with international norms.  However Sudan said that paragraph 62 in the Special Rapporteur’s report about an incidence in Sudan was inaccurate.  It challenged the right of unregistered groups to receive foreign funding, particularly in cases where such groups were active in violence, thus this right was superseded by the much more vital matter of the right to life.

Netherlands said that it welcomed the focus of the report on the financing of civil society, which was both important and timely, and expressed concern about measures restricting civil society associations from obtaining funding.  The internet had an ever increasing role in civil society’s voice being heard and was essential for the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.  The Netherlands underscored that a rights-based approach was needed to allow an enabling environment for the enjoyment of these rights. 

Cuba said that it was regrettable the Mr. Kiai lacked objectivity and impartiality.  He criticized numerous developing countries for the repression of peaceful meetings, while ignoring the same in developed countries where there was brutal repression.  Cuba was concerned by cases of human rights violations as the result of transnational corporations and the privatization of businesses that had previously always been the business of States.

Croatia said it believed that it was in the best interest of good governance and the people for Governments to work closely with civil society organizations.  It was of the utmost importance that the regulations regarding the ability to receive and use resources for civil society organization funding were drafted in compliance with international human rights law.  What steps should Governments take in order to enable a positive environment for the enjoyment of the right to freedom of association in relation to funding of associations?

Belarus said that it was seriously concerned about the forceful break-up of peaceful protests in European Union countries.  For example, the French police had repeatedly taken special measures to suppress peaceful demonstrations against same-sex marriage legislation.  Overall, Belarus remained dissatisfied with the work of the Special Rapporteur, who needed to pay closer attention to the principle of State sovereignty, and asked him what his reaction was to the break-up of peaceful protests in the European Union.  

Brazil said that it was attentive to the relationship between entrepreneurial activity and human rights, and pointed out that its national priorities involved the promotion of race and gender equality in the workplace, eradication of forced labour in production chains, inclusion of people with disabilities, and the promotion and protection of the rights of the child, adolescents and youth.  Companies operating in Brazil were required to have clear policies to guarantee the abovementioned. 

Malaysia said that it was firmly committed to upholding the rule of law and protecting the fundamental rights and liberties of its people, which were enshrined in its Federal Constitution.  However, there had been instances where street protests had descended into ugly incidents of violence and anarchy, which impinged upon the rights and liberties of others.  Malaysia therefore did not concur with the Special Rapporteur that organizers of peaceful assembly should never be held liable for the unlawful or violent behaviour of others.   

Lithuania said protecting the right of assembly was crucial to the working of democracy and it shared the Special Rapporteur’s view on the right of access to funding of civil society groups.  Lithuania asked the Special Rapporteur to elaborate further on the implementation of the State’s obligation to facilitate access for civil society actors to funding and also the role of civil society itself in this process.

Uzbekistan said the Special Rapporteur’s report contained unfounded allegations about Uzbekistan and the rights of its citizens to gather for meetings; Uzbekistan’s constitution guaranteed the right to assembly and restrictions only applied on security grounds.  Uzbekistan’s Parliament provided funding for civil society groups.

Paraguay was convinced that the protection of civil society groups was important and echoed the Special Rapporteur’s view on funding.  It was often the poorest and most vulnerable citizens who needed to protest most in any democracy.  Turning to the Working Group, Paraguay requested more detail on how its ideas could be integrated into the post-2015 development agenda.

Ghana believed that key trends and challenges and priorities identified by the Working Group would serve to provide all stakeholders with valuable information to further advance the implementation of the Guiding Principles.  The growing interest of stakeholders in the area of business and human rights underscored the importance of the issue and there was a need to assist them in building their capacity for the implementation of the Guiding Principles, which required the availability of adequate financial resources.

France said that it welcomed the recommendations made to improve the dissemination and application of the Guiding Principles.  In France, an inter-ministerial mission had been established that would formulate proposals for the better inclusion of social corporate responsibility in businesses.  Funding restrictions on civil society organizations hindered the enjoyment of the rights to peaceful assembly and association.  How could new information technology favour the holding of peaceful meetings?

Sri Lanka noted that in reality, regulation, transparency and accountability of funding to non-governmental organizations and non-profit organizations was a prerequisite in the interest of national security and counter-terrorism, as recognised by States.  Sri Lanka highlighted the obligation placed on States to adhere to the regulatory framework that all countries were expected to put in place in compliance with the 40 recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force. 

Azerbaijan said that it regretted that the observations of the Special Rapporteur on communications addressed throughout the year was not available during the interactive dialogue or distributed in the room when the dialogue started.  The reference to Azerbaijan in the Special Rapporteur’s report was irrelevant and surprising.  The Special Rapporteur was due to visit Azerbaijan in due course and should not be making generalizations before visiting the country concerned. 

Slovakia said that it fully shared the Special Rapporteur’s assessment that funding restrictions impeding the ability of associations to pursue their statutory activities were unacceptable.  Restrictions against receiving funding of foreign origin not only threatened the very existence of associations but also undermined their credibility and legitimacy.  Slovakia wondered whether the Special Rapporteur envisaged closer cooperation with other relevant mandate-holders.

Uruguay said that a rigorous and well funded civil society was important for the effective functioning of democracy and could help to obtain a holistic view of matters affecting the population.  Several international instruments protected the right of civil society to solicit and use resources for its activities.  Any restrictions on that right harmed the activities of non-governmental organizations and did not contribute to diversity of opinions and the strengthening of a democratic society. 

Maldives welcomed the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur as well as his focus on the threat to the right to free of association by the restriction of funding to civil society groups.  It agreed that funding streams must not be threatened but donors should respect the autonomy of civil society actors to act as they see fit in the local context.  As a country in transition to democracy, Maldives believed that codifying freedom of assembly in law and ratifying international instruments such as the International Labour Organization’s core conventions were paramount.

India agreed with the thrust of the Working Group’s argument with respect to human rights protections and the conduct of transnational corporations but asked the Chairperson to elaborate on what further steps could be taken when developing States without a strong regulatory framework feared losing investment by multinational companies.  With regard to the Special Rapporteur, India strongly objected to his report which it said portrayed civil society groups as if they could do no wrong and ignored the complex reality under which States balanced security concerns while guaranteeing rights.

Ethiopia attached great importance to the right to free assembly and said this was enshrined in the constitution of Ethiopia.  The law allowed for the increasing registration of civil society groups.  Ethiopia however objected to the Special Rapporteur’s neglect of the right of the State to sovereignty in its own domestic affairs with respect to the funding of civil society.

International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protect of Human Rights welcomed the emphasis of a human rights- based approach to freedom of peaceful assembly and association.  It also noted that freedom of peaceful assembly was not absolute.  The recognition of the importance of devolution was welcomed.  It agreed that the United Kingdom enjoyed a vibrant civil society sector. 

Canadian Human Rights Commission said that national human rights institutions continued to advance a wide range of activities and build capacity in the area of business and human rights.  The Working Group on Business and Human Rights of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights was considering how to most effectively support national human rights institutions in capacity building, such as through business and human rights training. 

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development said that in many Asian States there was an increasing tendency of Governments placing undue restrictions on access to funding and other resources for civil society organizations.  It stressed to Asian States that domestic law and practices had to be geared towards facilitating the independent and effective work of civil society organizations rather than imposing onerous barriers.  

Freedom House said that civil society organizations were the most effective government watchdogs, advocating for just policies and providing critical knowledge to the populace which might be otherwise inaccessible.  It was therefore worrying that more than 50 laws restricting civil society had been proposed or enacted around the world in the past five years.  

International Service for Human Rights said that the recent building collapse and loss of over 1,000 lives in Bangladesh demonstrated the consequences of the failure of businesses to consult with human rights defenders and account for how they addressed their adverse human rights impacts.  States should increase protection and support for civil society organizations.

Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies said that in Egypt civil society organizations were now perceived as an enemy to be subdued rather than a partner.  A new law currently being drafted disregarded completely the role of civil society, rendered public campaigns illegal, gave excessive oversight powers to the authorities, and imposed strict controls on foreign associations and constraints. 

Al Haq said that private entities had profited from settlement activity by Israel in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and, while this was subject to a great deal of legislation, Al Haq called on the Working Group to punish companies involved in such violations of international law.

Franciscans International said that the Working Group had received many submissions denouncing the mining sector for its human rights violations; the Brazilian Government was enacting a mining law reform which further endangered human rights in the country.  Franciscans International called for further transparency.

CIVICUS – World Alliance for Citizen Participation said that while the Special Rapporteur’s report was well-noted, the reality in Ethiopia, the Russian Federation and Egypt showed that there was widespread use of false pretexts to clamp down on civil society in breach of international human rights norms, and more should be done.

Lawyers’ Rights Watch Canada said that the complicity of corporations and other businesses in targeting human rights defenders with abuse remained entrenched in States where judicial harassment and arbitrary detention of human rights workers was escalating.  Problems of corporate complicity in abuses were not confined to States with poor rule of law indicators. 

International Human Rights Association of American Minorities said that the Government of India had attempted to emphasise the normalcy of life in Indian-held Kahsmir, but it was a heavily militarized and occupied territory.  The interest of the general public in Kashmir should be freed from laws deliberately implemented with the purpose to deter their exercise of Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. 

European Centre for Law and Justice said that it was incumbent on the Human Rights Council to remember that the basic right to freedom of peaceful assembly applied without distinction of any kind and necessarily included freedom of religious assembly, and recommended that the Human Rights Council condemn every unlawful restriction on peaceful religious assembly.  

Indian Council of South America said that the United States accused civil society organizations of tax discrepancies to silence them.  Such incidents had been reported in relation to indigenous peoples’ organizations operating in Alaska and Hawaii, among other places.  Only “puppet institutions” which played by the Government’s rules received funding.   

Concluding Remarks

PAVEL SULYANDZIGA, Chairperson of the Working Group on the issue of transnational corporations and other business enterprises, in concluding remarks, said that the Working Group believed that it was very important to work towards implementing the Guiding Principles.  Regarding resources to ensure adequate access to legal aid, a meeting of experts had taken place which had provided important elements relating to that matter.  States should cooperate more effectively with each other to ensure better access to legal defence.  Regarding the recent tragedy in Bangladesh, consultations had taken place with the International Labour Organization about that incident.  Concerning the financial sector, the Working Group was currently looking at that issue, which was likely to remain on its agenda in the future.  With regard to problems relating to violence and other violations of human rights, the Working Group had already expressed concern about the safety of human rights defenders and representatives of indigenous peoples.  Mr. Sulyandziga clarified that the Guiding Principles applied to all countries and regions, which included the Occupied Palestinian Territories.     

MAINA KIAI, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, said in concluding remarks that he noticed that the States that criticized his report most harshly were the States that had not yet accepted his offer to visit them.  He offered to visit them in the spirit of constructive dialogue.  Freedom of assembly and association was a fundamental pillar of a democracy and a State was not a democracy if it could not tolerate, accept and facilitate these rights.  Civil society faced restrictions greater than on public or even private bodies and this was in danger of only becoming worse.  The question of sectoral equity was paramount.  There were examples of best practice out there, and Mr. Kiai commended the Government of Georgia in this regard as an example.  Legal accountability and funding transparency was key but this was not a call for control, simply accountability and transparency as applied to other actors.  Peaceful assembly should be seen in the context of rights laws, not as a security matter.

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