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Fundamentalist intolerance is degrading assembly and association rights worldwide – UN expert

“A grave threat”

17 June 2016

GENEVA (17 June 2016) – Fundamentalism is fuelling growing intolerance worldwide, which poses a grave threat to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, United Nations expert Maina Kiai told the Human Rights Council today in presenting his latest report* on religious, free market, political, and nationalist or cultural fundamentalism.

“The concept of fundamentalism cannot be limited to religion,” cautioned the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. “It can and should be defined more expansively, to include any movements – not simply religious ones – that advocate strict and literal adherence to a set of basic beliefs or principles.”

“At its core, this report is about the struggle between tolerance and intolerance,” Mr. Kiai stressed.

“The people of the world speak some 7,000 languages, practice 270 major religions, live in 193 UN Member States and belong to thousands of cultures. But we share only one planet,” the human rights expert said. “We will not always agree. But tolerance towards our differences is the only way to make sure that they do not boil over into violence, oppression and conflict.”

For the Special Rapporteur, the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are the ‘bedrock’ of such tolerance, because they help ensure that “all of humanity, in its stunning diversity, has a voice.” Despite this, he noted, many States are moving in the wrong direction, promoting fundamentalist viewpoints –whether via government policy or by supporting non-State actors– and suppressing dissent.

“Free market fundamentalism –the belief in the infallibility of free market economic policies– is an urgent threat,” Mr. Kiai said, noting laws in Australia and Canada that potentially criminalize some anti-business protests.

“Economic activity is certainly important, but States tread a dangerous path when they prioritize the freedom of the market over the freedom of human beings. The economic rights of investors should never trump fundamental human rights in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” he stated.
Political fundamentalism poses a similar problem, the UN expert said, requiring dogmatic adherence to official party platforms or allegiance to particular leaders. He cited the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Bahrain, China, Cuba, Laos and others as examples.

“The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association unequivocally include the right to assemble and associate for political purposes,” the Special Rapporteur said. “In fact, one of their core purposes is to preserve people’s ability to peacefully express their grievances with political leaders. This may pose a threat to the Government’s hold on power, but this should not be confused with a threat to the State itself. The former is democracy at work; the latter is how autocracies work.”

The independent expert explained that religious fundamentalism also poses a severe threat to the enjoyment of peaceful assembly and association rights, but emphasized that no single religious group has a monopoly on this problem, citing instances of Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and Muslim fundamentalism around the world.

“The failure of States to ensure a tolerant environment,” Mr. Kiai noted, “can have catastrophic results.”

“People have an instinctive need to take part in the societies in which they live – to have some control over their destinies, to voice their discontent and to improve their lives. Assembly and association rights allow them to do this, and to do it in a peaceful manner,” Mr. Kiai said.

“Denying these rights does not make peoples’ feelings of anger, despair and dissatisfaction go away. It simply pushes these feelings underground, where they can fester and turn violent,” the human rights expert concluded. “Extremism thrives in such environments, because it is the only option left.”

The Special Rapporteur also presented reports* on his official visits to Chile (September 2015) and the Republic of Korea (January 2016).

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s reports:
Fundamentalism - A/HRC/32/36
Chile - A/HRC/32/36/Add.1
Republic of Korea - A/HRC/32/36/Add.2

Mr. Maina Kiai (Kenya) took up his functions as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in May 2011. He is appointed in his personal capacity as an independent expert by the UN Human Rights Council. Learn more, log on to:

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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