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Human Rights Committee: reading of draft general comment on right of peaceful assembly continues

Human Rights Committee

29 October 2019

The Human Rights Committee this morning 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, adopting 1 paragraphs, all from the fourth part relating to the limitations on the right of peaceful assembly.  

Christof Heyns, Rapporteur for the draft General Comment, presented new language in paragraph 53 related to restrictions on the ground of the protection of rights and freedoms; paragraph 54 related to restrictions on the ground of a vague notion of "public order"; and paragraph 59 concerning the limitations on the duration of peaceful assemblies.  The Committee had adopted those paragraphs at the reading on 25 October.

The Committee adopted paragraph 58 on the regulation of the time, place and manner of assemblies; paragraph 60 related to assemblies at night; paragraphs 61 to 64 concerning the places of assembly, the right of participants' to assemble "within sight and sound" of their target audience, and assembly on private property; and paragraph 65 on the restriction of the manner of assemblies, for example the use of drums or the erection of temporary structures.

It adopted, as revised, paragraph 66 on a limit on the number of participants in assemblies; paragraph 68, which stated that information gathering and the retention of data must strictly conform to the applicable international standards and must not be aimed at intimidating or harassing participants in assemblies; paragraph 70 concerning the ability of law enforcement personnel and State officials to participate in peaceful assemblies; and paragraph 71, which stated that the costs of policing or security costs of peaceful assemblies should generally be covered by public funds and not be shifted to the participants.

The Rapporteur said that paragraph 67 recognized the challenges to law enforcement that any kind of face coverings might present, but stressed that it should not be the subject of a general ban.  In the ensuing discussion, an Expert noted that covering faces in a demonstration was a sign of hostility; it voided a demonstration from its peaceful nature and could lead to violence.  Other Experts said that face masks could be a very purpose of an assembly, for example wearing gas masks in a demonstration against air pollution.  Face coverings could have expressive and protective reasons, especially in countries where a mere fact of protesting against the State put the people at risk.

The Committee asked Mr. Heyns to re-draft the text and offer it to the Committee for adoption at the next reading, together with revised paragraph 69, which urged independent scrutiny and oversight of the collection of personal information and data of those engaged in peaceful assemblies, for example by facial recognition and other technologies that could identify individual participants in mass assemblies or the monitoring of social media, and paragraph 72 on responsibility for damage caused by crowds during an assembly.

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, 22 October and on 25 October.  The reading will continue on Wednesday, 30 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 at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, 30 October, when it will 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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