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“States must duly respond to public demands and guarantee freedom of peaceful assembly,” say UN and regional Experts in a joint declaration

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On the occasion of Human Rights Day, UN and regional experts1 issue a call to governments around the world to refrain from using violence as means to address public claims. As we enter 2021, experts also sound the alarm on a dangerous and growing tendency from authorities to respond to the legitimate calls by the population during peaceful demonstrations with repression and excessive use of force, which has caused many human rights violations in recent years.

“We express grave concern at the increasing repression of peaceful assemblies globally, with the unjustified and disproportionate interventions by law enforcement officials, mass and arbitrary detentions of protestors, as well as attacks against journalists and those who cover protests,” say the UN and regional experts. “We are also disturbed by the general impunity that reigns for the perpetrators of these violations”.

“It is unacceptable to confront demands of those who participate in public assemblies, including those who report on them, with violence. States must ensure that prompt, transparent and independent investigations are carried out against those officials who resort to force and that victims are provided with comprehensive and effective remedies”, the experts point out.

“We are also alarmed by many restrictive measures taken by governments under the pretext of containing the COVID-19 pandemic, which often end up undermining fundamental rights. As a result, freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, the participation in the conduct of public affairs and civic space are constricted by the abuse of public health measures, sometimes used to merely silence dissent”, warn the experts.

The year prior to the COVID-19 crisis was, in fact, marked by an unprecedented wave of protests all over the world, with demonstrators rising up over discrimination, inequality, limitations on democratic and inclusive governance, deterioration of the rule of law, threats posed by climate change, corruption and other violations of Human Rights.

In this context, “States’ duties are not only limited to respecting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association: States must also take meaningful action in response to public demands”, emphasize the UN and regional experts. “Beyond protection and promotion, the duty to respond to the calls of protestors should be an integral part of this fundamental right”.

This is the first time that regional bodies and the UN Special Rapporteur issue a Joint Declaration on the peaceful assembly and democratic governance, saying: “Through this Joint Declaration we come together in one voice to invite States and the international community to regard peaceful assemblies, including mass protests, neither as a threat to national security or public order nor as a disturbance of national economic development, but rather as an opportunity to develop more inclusive and democratic societies”.

In this same vein, “Human Rights Defenders and civil society activists should be seen as partners, not as enemies, and dissidents, of governments”.

The complete text of the Declaration, which sets out key principles and recommendations to States, is available here.

ENDS

1 Mr. Clément Voule, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association, Commissioner Joel Hernandez, President of the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) and Mr. Pedro Vaca its Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Hon. Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and focal point for reprisals in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)

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  • Bardia JEBELI (bjebeli@ohchr.org) at the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, team of the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
  • Corina Leguizamón (CLeguizamon@oas.org) at Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Flavia Daza (fdaza@oas.org) at the office of the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights
  • Estelle Nkounkou (Nkounkoue@africa-union.org) or (au-banjul@africa-union.org) at the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR)
  • Katya Andrusz (katya.andrusz@odihr.pl) at the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR)