Joint report on the proper management of assemblies
4 February 2016
Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions
To the Human Rights Council Thirty-first session. 29 February - 24 March 2016
The Human Rights Council has dedicated increasing attention to the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies. In March 2014, it adopted resolution 25/38, in which it requested the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions to prepare a compilation of practical recommendations for the proper management of assemblies. The following report is the result of the mandated work by the Human Rights Council.
Assemblies in various forms play a prominent role in the world today. They can make a positive contribution to the development of democratic systems and, alongside elections, play a fundamental role in public participation, holding governments accountable and expressing the will of the people as part of the democratic processes. They can be instrumental in amplifying the voices of people who are marginalized or who present an alternative narrative to established political and economic interests. Assemblies present ways to engage not only with the State, but also with others who wield power in society, including corporations, religious, educational and cultural institutions, and with public opinion in general.
While assemblies serve as an instrument through which other social, economic, political, civil and cultural rights can be expressed, there are increasing new challenges. Barriers to forming and operating associations, weak protection from reprisals for those exercising and defending human rights, excessive and disproportionate punishments for violations of the law, and unreasonable restrictions on the use of public spaces all negatively affect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly. To ensure better protection of the various rights of those engaged in assemblies, an enabling and safe environment for the general public, including for civil society and human rights defenders, should exist and where access to spaces for public participation should be not excessively or unreasonably restricted.
In this report, the Special Rapporteurs aim at providing guidance on how applicable international human rights standards may be operationalized in domestic law and practice to ensure greater protection of the rights involved. It has been stressed that the proper management of assemblies requires the protection and enjoyment of a broad range of rights by all the parties involved. States have an obligation not only to refrain from violating the rights of individuals involved in an assembly, but to ensure the rights of those who participate or are affected by them, and to facilitate an enabling environment. The management of assemblies thus encompasses facilitation and enablement, and is interpreted in this broad manner throughout recommendations.
The report presents 10 overarching principles on assemblies that express a common position, grievance, aspiration or identity and that diverge from mainstream positions or challenge established political, social, cultural or economic interests. These recommendations include:
- States shall respect and ensure all rights of persons participating in assemblies;
- Every person has the inalienable right to take part in peaceful assemblies;
- Any restrictions imposed on peaceful assemblies shall comply with international human rights standards;
- States shall facilitate the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly;
- Force shall not be used unless it is strictly unavoidable, and if applied it must be done in accordance with international human rights law;
- Every person shall enjoy the right to observe, monitor and record assemblies;
- The collection of personal information in relation to an assembly must not interfere impermissibly with privacy or other rights;
- Every person has the right to access information related to assemblies;
- Business enterprises have a responsibility to respect human rights in the context of assemblies;
- The State and its organs shall be held accountable for their actions in relation to assemblies.
The report concludes that assemblies can play a vital role in the protection and fulfilment of human rights and the democratic life of society. They should not be viewed as a threat, but rather as a means of dialogue in which the State should engage. The full value of the recommendations can only be realized if they are properly implemented at the national level. This will require deliberate steps on the part of States, international organizations, business enterprises, and civil society.
To provide more clarity, a checklist, as a companion publication to that report, was published as an easy-to-use tool to: (1) determine which practical recommendations contained in the report are already in place at the domestic level, and (2) help assess how well domestic and local authorities manage assemblies. It offers suggestions, tools and methods for gathering relevant evidence, and achieving change in State policy and practice.
In developing the report, the Special Rapporteurs consulted extensively with relevant stakeholders, as requested by the Council, via questionnaire and participatory consultation. The Special rapporteurs held four consultations with State representatives, and four regional consultations with civil society, national human rights institutions, regional human rights mechanisms and policing and other experts. A nine-member advisory panel was convened and has provided feedback to the special rapporteurs at various stages of the process. These consultations took place in Santiago (Americas and the Caribbean), Pretoria (Africa and Middle East), Istanbul, Turkey (Asia and the Pacific) and Geneva (Europe and Central Asia). More than 90 experts participated in the consultations.