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

Human Rights Committee

30 October 2019

The Human Rights Committee this afternoon 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 adopted 13 paragraphs, four from the fourth part relating to the limitations on the right of peaceful assembly, two from the fifth part on notifications, and seven from part six on duties and powers of law enforcement agencies.

Christof Heyns, Rapporteur for the draft General Comment N°37, introduced a revised paragraph 67 on face coverings by assembly participants, which the Committee adopted.

The Committee adopted paragraph 73 relating to criminal or administrative sanctions against participants in a peaceful assembly; paragraph 74 on the availability of redress and the application of fair trial provisions, including on deprivation of liberty, and the imposition of a fine in connection with participation in a prohibited demonstration, with minor changes; and paragraph 75, which stated that States might not require pledges by demonstrators not to participate in future demonstrations.

Turning to part five of the draft General Comment on notifications, the Committee adopted paragraph 76, which recognized that there might be legitimate reasons for requiring notification; that the requirement to notify could easily be used to stifle legitimate assemblies; and that, like other interferences concerning the right of assembly, notification requirements must be justified.  After a short discussion, it also adopted paragraph 77 on the notification of the authorities of an assembly and asked the Rapporteur to clarify, at the next reading, several points such as criminal and administrative offences. 

The Committee then addressed the sixth part of the draft General Comment on duties and powers of law enforcement agencies.

It adopted, with minor changes, paragraph 81 stating that the fundamental duty of any law enforcement agency involved in policing a peaceful assembly was to accommodate the exercise of the fundamental rights of the participants; paragraph 83 stated that, where the presence of law enforcement officials was necessary, the policing of an assembly should be planned and conducted with the intention of enabling the assembly to take place as planned; and paragraph 84 on the obligation of law enforcement agencies to elaborate generic contingency plans, in particular for the policing of assemblies for which the authorities were not notified in advance and through which public order may be affected. 

The Rapporteur introduced paragraph 85, which regulated the use of force by law enforcement officials, which must only be used when absolutely necessary and in compliance with the fundamental principles of legality, necessity, proportionality, precaution and non-discrimination.  The paragraph also stated that widespread or systematic use of force against peaceful protesters may constitute a crime against humanity. 

In the discussion, an Expert urged caution about the introduction of a very grave concept of a crime against humanity.  To qualify as a crime against humanity, the use of violence against protesters must be systematic and widespread, she reminded.  Several Experts said it was an important statement, which should have a place in the General Comment.  They suggested the inclusion of more sources in the footnote.  The Committee adopted the text as amended.

It also agreed, with minor changes, the text of paragraph 86, which stated that domestic legislation must detail conditions for the permissible use of force; paragraph 87 on the use of only minimum force where required for a legitimate law enforcement purpose; and paragraph 88, which stated that, wherever possible, only law enforcement officials trained in the policing of assemblies should be deployed for that purpose and that, as a general rule, the military should not be used to police assemblies.

The Experts asked the Rapporteur to revise paragraph 78, which defined the assemblies that should be excluded from notification requirement; paragraph 79 on the minimum period of advance notification for pre-planned assemblies; paragraph 80, which stated that authorization regimes should not be imposed and that notification regimes must not, in practice, become authorization systems; and paragraph 82 on communication and dialogue between the authorities and participants in 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, 25 October and on 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 in public at 3 p.m.  on Monday, 4 November 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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