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Genuine elections cannot be achieved if freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are curtailed

NEW YORK (29 October 2013) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai warned about the increase in violations and abuses in several parts of the world against those who exercise or seek to exercise the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the context of elections, “which indelibly stain such elections”.

In his first report* to the UN General Assembly, Mr. Kiai documents incidents which range from summary executions, disappearances, torture and ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention of peaceful protestors, to harassment, stigmatization and criminalization of political leaders and supporters, particularly from the opposition, as well as members of civil society organizations engaged in the electoral process.

“Such incidents are shocking in their own right,” the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, “but they are even more outrageous given the context. Elections are a time when governments should give people more space – not less – to organize, voice their concerns and express their collective will.”

The human rights experts stressed that the legitimacy of any electoral process can be deeply undermined if people are not allowed space to express their collective will and confer legitimacy on Governments by assembling peacefully or associating freely.

“Any restriction imposed on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association must pass the strict test of necessity in a democratic society and of proportionality, as enshrined in international human rights law,” Mr. Kiai said.

“The threshold for imposing such restrictions must be higher in times of elections since electoral periods are a unique moment in the life of a nation to confirm, and even strengthen, democratic principles, such as non-discrimination, gender equality, pluralism of views and parity,” the expert added.

In his report, the Special Rapporteur urges UN Member States to improve efforts to facilitate and protect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the context of elections, and to be particularly vigilant in relation to the needs of groups which are at greater risk for attacks.

Mr. Kiai also calls upon the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council to address thoroughly the issue of human rights violations and abuses in the context of elections, and urges the diplomatic community and other relevant stakeholders to public denounce such violations and abuses.

A side-event taking stock on the first three years of the mandate will take place on Wednesday 30 October, from 1.15 to 2.30pm (US Eastern Standard Time) at Conference Room 6, 2nd floor, North Lawn Building, New York.

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. As Special Rapporteur, he is independent from any Government or organization and serves in his individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx or http://www.freeassembly.net/

(*) Read the full report: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/Issues/FAssociation/A_68_299_en.pdf

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