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Australia: UN rights expert welcomes Victoria State’s moves to repeal restrictive laws on protest

GENEVA (4 March 2015) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai today welcomed the introduction of a bill by the Victoria State’s government in Australia into the lower house of the Parliament to repeal restrictive laws regulating protests.

“In my previous thematic reports, I identified a series of best practices that provide valuable advice for compliance of State authorities with international law,” the expert stated.

“Authorities not only have the duty to protect public safety and order as well as the rights and freedoms of others, but also the obligation to facilitate the holding of peaceful assemblies”, Mr. Kiai stressed. “Public space must be made available for individuals and groups in order for them to exercise their fundamental freedoms.”

In that regard, the Special Rapporteur welcomed the government of Victoria’s intention to revoke the state’s 2014 controversial ‘move-on laws,’ which grant police extensive powers to move protesters who might be obstructing buildings or traffic or ‘causing people to have a reasonable fear of violence.’ The 2014 law, which expanded Victoria’s original Summary Offenses Act, allows authorities to impose harsh penalties on offenders, including arrest, fines, and exclusion orders banning individuals from entering specified public spaces space for up to a year.

“Police has a difficult but prominent role to play to maintain peace, to protect individuals’ safety and to enforce the law. Enforcing the law includes the implementation of human rights law, without which there would be no security, no justice,” he added.   

As the proposed bill aimed to repeal the 2014 ‘move-on laws’ is now due to go through the lower and upper house of the State’s Parliament with a debate to take place on 5 March 2015, the UN expert called on the authorities to take additional steps to respect and protect the right of peaceful assembly.

“I strongly encourage the overturn of any legislation that curtails the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly,” Mr. Kiai said. “I will continue to follow the debate at the Parliament of the State of Victoria and look forward to an outcome that complies with international human rights law.”

Mr. Maina Kiai (Kenya) was designated by the UN Human Rights Council as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in 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

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/AUIndex.aspx

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