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Human Rights Committee continues first reading of its draft General Comment on the right of peaceful assembly

Human Rights Committee

22 October 2019

The Human Rights Committee today continued the first reading of its draft General Comment No.  37 on article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right of peaceful assembly.

The Committee proceeded with the adoption of the fourth part of the draft General Comment, which addressed the limitations on the right of peaceful assembly. 

Christof Heyns, Rapporteur for the draft General Comment N°37, read out the new proposed text of paragraph 40 concerning the presumptions against restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly.  The Rapporteur noted that the new text merged the content of paragraph 43 and proposed the deletion of that paragraph to avoid duplication.  The Committee adopted paragraph 40 as proposed. 

After a short discussion, the Committee adopted, with minor changes, paragraph 41 on options on the imposition of restrictions on peaceful assembly.  It also adopted paragraph 46, which stressed that peaceful assemblies might not be used to advocate for war or to incite the public to commit acts of hostility, discrimination or violence; paragraph 47 on the use of symbols, such as flags, uniforms, signs and banners; and paragraph 49 on interrelated and substantive requirements of necessity and proportionality.

The Rapporteur noted that the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights outlined legitimate grounds for restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly, in a sequence starting from national security.  “National security”, followed by “public safety”, were most often abused grounds for restrictions.  States also restricted assemblies for reasons of “morality” and “the rights of others”.  “Morality”, in particular, was the most contested one.

Paragraph 51 concerned the “public safety” ground as a legitimate ground for restrictions.  During the discussion, an Expert suggested new wording to clearly state the principle that this ground could only be invoked when the assembly created a significant and immediate danger to the safety of persons.  Another Expert agreed with the Rapporteur that the General Comment should use the Covenant’s sequencing of the grounds for restriction, to avoid a surprise for a reader.  This part of the draft General Comment should, therefore, start with the current paragraph 56, the Expert said.  Paragraph 51 was adopted as amended.

The Rapporteur offered revisions to paragraph 52.  It defined obligations of States to protect participants in assemblies from external threats, including violent counter-violations.  After an extensive debate, including on replacing the wording “interference” with “appropriate restrictions”, the obligation of the State to provide concrete evidence of the risk, and the use of police force, the Committee adopted this paragraph as amended.

Paragraph 53 dealt with the protection of rights and freedoms of others, said the Rapporteur.  This was the basis on which the conduct of hate crimes as part of an assembly might be prohibited, he added.  The Committee asked the Rapporteur to present a new formulation of this paragraph at the next reading of draft General Comment. 

The drafting of the General Comment started on 20 March 2019 with a half day of general discussion.  The Committee discussed, in the first reading, the draft General Comment No.  37 on 11 July, 16 July and 18 October.  The reading will continue on Friday, 25 October.

All documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties can be found on the session’s webpage.

Public meetings of the Human Rights Committee are webcast live at http://webtv.un.org/ while the meeting summaries in English and French can be accessed at the United Nations Office at Geneva’s News and Media page.

The dialogue with the delegation of the Central African Republic and the review of its sixth periodic report (CCPR/C/CAF/3), scheduled for the afternoon of Monday, 21 October and the morning of 22 October, has been postponed to a later date. 

The Committee will resume its work at 3 p.m.  today 22 October to examine the initial report of Cabo Verde (CCPR/C/CPV/1).

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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