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

Human Rights Committee

7 November 2019

The Human Rights Committee today concluded 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 discussed paragraph 101 concerning the responsibility of the State for any remotely controlled use of force during an assembly.  Experts agreed that, although the autonomous weapons systems able to deliver lethal or less-lethal force were not available yet, the text must deal with future developments and prohibit their use during an assembly.  The paragraph was adopted with minor changes.

Christof Heyns, Rapporteur for draft General Comment No.  37, opened part seven of the draft, which addresses assembly during states of emergency, including armed conflict, and introduced paragraph 102.  If States derogated from the Covenant in response to mass demonstrations, they must be able to justify not only that such a situation constituted a threat to the life of the nation, but also that all their measures derogating from the Covenant were strictly required by the exigencies of the situation.

An Expert questioned whether armed conflict always qualified as a state of emergency, citing international humanitarian law which offered different thresholds, and proposed that part seven be renamed “assembly during states of emergency and armed conflict”.  The Committee agreed to this change, adopted paragraph 102 as amended, and also adopted paragraph 103, which states that if not derogated from, the right of peaceful assembly continued during states of emergency and during situations of armed conflict.

Paragraph 104 reaffirms that in all decisions, the safety and protection of assembly participants and the broader public should be a primary consideration, and that assemblies that are civilian in nature remain governed by the rules governing law enforcement, even if acts of violence occur.  In the discussion, the Experts underlined the difficulties of applying the provisions of the Covenant in situations of armed conflict and stressed the need for the text to refer to international humanitarian law and its principles of necessity, proportionality and neutrality.

Turning to part eight on the relationship between article 21 and other provisions of the Covenant and other legal regimes, the Committee adopted paragraph 105 which stresses that ensuring and respecting the legitimate exercise of the right of peaceful assembly is central to the full realization of all human rights, and of a global order, which is responsive to the needs and aspirations of its people.

It also adopted paragraph 106, which emphasizes that the surveillance of those involved in assemblies and other data-gathering might violate their rights to privacy, and that the right to non-discrimination protects participants against discriminatory practices in the context of assemblies; and paragraph 107 that reiterates the responsibility of participants in peaceful assemblies not to infringe on the rights of others, including freedom of movement or socio-economic rights.

The Rapporteur then presented revisions to a number of paragraphs that the Committee had adopted earlier in the reading, including paragraph 92 on preventive detention, paragraph 94 on containment and the practice of “kettling”, paragraph 95 on dispersion of assemblies that caused disruption, and paragraph 95 on the State’s responsibility for the actions and omissions of its law enforcement agencies.  The Committee adopted the proposed changes.

At the end of the first reading, the Committee adopted the integral text of draft General Comment No.  37 on article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the right of peaceful assembly.  The second reading of the text will start during the Committee’s March 2020 session. 

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, 29 October, 30 October and 4 November

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 meeting summaries in English and French can be accessed at the United Nations Office at Geneva’s News and Media page.

The Committee will next meet in public at 5 p.m.  on Friday, 8 November to close its one hundred and twenty-seventh session.

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For use of the information media; not an official record

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