Human Rights Committee
13 March 2020
Starts second reading of draft General Comment on the right of peaceful assembly
The Human Rights Committee today decided to suspend its one hundred and twenty-eighth session, in light of the COVID-19 situation. The Committee also initiated the second 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 the first six paragraphs of the text.
Christof Heyns, Committee Expert and Rapporteur for the General Comment No. 37, in his opening remarks said that the consultations on the draft text had produced 122 submissions from a range of stakeholders, including States, academia and civil society organizations.
Presenting a summary of issues raised by the submissions, the Rapporteur said they outlined two possible approaches to referencing regional jurisprudence in the General Comment. Rather than applying the restrictive approach, the Committee should include regional perspectives, which were already considered in communications or concluding observations, said Mr. Heyns.
One stakeholder stressed that the General Comment should not create additional legal obligations for States parties, while another urged the Committee to ensure that the language in the text was aligned with the language used in other relevant treaties. Several stakeholders had asked the Committee to strengthen the approach to non-discrimination and ensure it was properly articulated in the text. The Rapporteur said that the submissions also indicated that further discussion was needed on concepts such as the notion of public space or online and offline assemblies.
Turning to paragraph 1 of the revised draft General Comment and the role of peaceful assembly in societies, the Rapporteur noted issues raised in the submissions, including those related to the notion of the rule of law and the role of peaceful assemblies in the realization of the right to self-determination. After a short discussion, the Committee adopted the paragraph as amended.
Paragraph 2 defined peaceful assembly as a valuable tool to ensure practical recognition of a wide range of other human rights. The Committee discussed at length proposals arising from the submissions, such as the legitimate use of public space and the rights of marginalized individuals and groups to exercise the freedom of peaceful assemblies and then adopted the text as revised.
The Committee adopted, as revised, paragraph 3 on the recognition of the right of peaceful assembly and paragraph 4 on the right of peaceful assembly protected. The Experts discussed at length whether to specify individuals, citizens and non-citizens alike, to whom the right of peaceful assembly applied and then adopted paragraph 5 with revisions.
In the discussion on paragraph 6 which noted that peaceful assemblies might take many forms, Committee Experts suggested the inclusion of school strikes and assemblies online or in a combination of spaces ; the text was adopted as revised.
The Experts also examined paragraph 7 that stated that sometimes, the scale or nature of peaceful assemblies could cause disruption, and asked the Rapporteur to propose new language.
The Committee had started the elaboration of the draft General Comment No. 37 on 20 March 2019 with a half-day of general discussion. It had concluded the first reading of the draft text on 7 November 2019 and had consulted with States and with civil society organizations on the revised draft text on 6 March and 9 March, respectively.
All the documents relating to the Committee's work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session's webpage. Summaries of the Committee's public meetings in English and French are available at the United Nations Office at Geneva News and Media page, while the webcast can be viewed at UN Web TV.
The Committee will decide when to resume the session at a later date.
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