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Human Rights Committee continues the reading of the Draft General Comment on the Right of Peaceful Assembly

Human Rights Committee

25 October 2019

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

This morning, the Committee adopted 12 paragraphs from the draft’s fourth part relating to the limitations on the right of peaceful assembly.   

Christof Heyns, Rapporteur for the draft General Comment n°37, introduced changes to paragraph 51, which defined when “public safety” could be a legitimate ground for restrictions to assemblies; paragraph 52 on obligations of States to protect participants in assemblies from external threats; and paragraph 53 on the protection of rights and freedoms of others.   The Committee then adopted those paragraphs.

Paragraph 54 recognized the inherent disruptive nature of some assemblies and prescribed that States should not rely on a vague notion of “public order” to prohibit legitimate assemblies.   After a lengthy discussion, the Committee agreed, inter alia, to include a reference to the Siracusa Principles on the Limitation and Derogation Provisions in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and adopted the text as revised.

The Committee adopted paragraph 55 as revised – it accepted that the “protection of public health” ground may in rare instances permit limitations; paragraph 59 concerning the limitations on the duration of peaceful assemblies, as amended; paragraphs 60 and 61 on the restrictions on the precise time of day and on spaces at which assemblies could or could not be held, respectively; paragraph 62 on the right of participants to choose where to assemble, which stated that general prohibitions such as “the streets”, might not be imposed, as revised; paragraph 63 concerning the no-go zones for protestors and the obligation to specifically justify any restriction, as amended; and paragraph 64 regarding assemblies on private property, with some text in brackets as suggested.

In the discussion on paragraph 57 concerning the limitations for the purpose of “the protection of morals”, Experts debated the scope and implications of “narrow understandings of morality”.   Because of the ambiguous nature of “morals”, they argued for a fuller explanation of restrictions in the text.   The paragraph 57 was adopted as revised.

The Committee asked the Rapporteur to revise the text in paragraph 56 that set a very high threshold for the use of the “interests of national security” as a ground for limitations.   Therefore, the assembly could be limited only if necessary to protect the existence of the nation, its territorial integrity or political independence against force or threat of force.   It also requested a new text for paragraph 58 on the regulation of the time, place and manner of assemblies.

The Committee must set aside the time to discuss the definitions of public order, public safety and national security, an Expert said, for “these are the paragraphs that will make history.”

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, 18 October and 22 October.   The reading will continue on Tuesday, 29 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 Committee will resume its work at 10 a.m.  on Tuesday, 29 October to continue the first reading of the draft General Comment No.  37 on article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right of peaceful assembly.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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