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Minimum standards in a shrinking space for peaceful assembly and association

GENEVA (21 June 2012) – United Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai called on all governments and the international community to further promote and protect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, “violated or at risk in a number of countries.”

“It is astonishing how often States have encroached upon the right of individuals to assemble peacefully by also violating their rights to life and to be free from torture, rights which allow no limitation,” Mr. Kiai said during the presentation of his annual report* to the UN Human Rights Council, in which he makes a number of recommendations to establish minimum standards to protect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

“I understand that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association may be welcomed with reserve by those States that fear dissent,” but he stressed that such rights are essential components of democracy. “States should protect the rights of all individuals, including persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, human rights defenders, trade unionists or even migrants, to assemble peacefully and associate freely.”

“Freedom to peacefully assemble and associate is to be considered the rule and limitations the exception,” the independent human rights expert underscored. “Any limitation must be necessary in a democratic society and respect the principles of pluralism, tolerance and broadmindedness.”

The Special Rapporteur noted that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association have been neglected for too long in international human rights law, but “the events that have occurred in numerous Arab countries, and elsewhere, since December 2010 have proved how these rights are important for people to express their aspirations and to influence policy decision makers.”

Mr. Kiai also stressed that another integral and vital part of the right to freedom of association is the ability of associations to access funding. “Without the ability to access funding, from sources local, regional or international, this right becomes void.”

The rights expert pointed out that some States have clamped down on use of the Internet, in particular social media, and other information and communication technology, to deter or prevent individuals from exercising their right to organize peaceful assemblies.

He stressed that no one should be criminalized for exercising the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, or be subjected to threats or acts of violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals.

Among his various recommendations to set minimum standards, Mr. Kiai urged States “to ensure that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are enjoyed by everyone: women; men; young people; indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, persons belonging to minority groups or groups at risk, including those victims of discrimination because of their sexual orientation and gender identity, non-nationals, as well as activists advocating economic, social, and cultural rights; as well as by any registered or unregistered entities.

The full report: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/A.HRC.20.27_En.pdf.PDF

ENDS

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

The Special Rapporteur also presented a country mission report – Georgia: http://www.ohchr.org/Documents/HRBodies/HRCouncil/RegularSession/Session20/A-HRC-20-27-Add2_en.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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