Human Rights Committee
18 October 2019
The Human Rights Committee today 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.
Christof Heyns, Rapporteur for draft General Comment N°37, said that the aim of the first reading was to agree on a draft that would be a solid basis for consultations. Previously adopted paragraph 8, he said, contained new language relating to the obligations of States, namely “respect and ensure” as an overall term, “unwarranted interference” to describe negative obligations and “facilitate and protect” as a term for positive obligations.
Continuing the reading of part three of the draft General Comment relating to the obligations of States parties in respect of the right of peaceful assembly, the Committee adopted, with minor changes, paragraph 35 on primary responsibility of States in the realization of the right of peaceful assembly; paragraph 36 on enhanced protection of assemblies; paragraph 37 on activities conducted outside the scope of the gathering but integral to them, including digital activities; and paragraph 39 that brought attention to the fact that decisions on assemblies were often taken at the local level, i.e. municipality.
The Experts agreed to revisit the issue of online assemblies in this and other paragraphs of the draft, to ensure greater relevance.
The fourth part of the draft General Comment addressed the limitations of the right of peaceful assembly.
The Rapporteur presented new language in paragraph 40 to acknowledge that, while the right of peaceful assembly was not unlimited, all restrictions must be provided for in the law and enumerated. The Committee adopted this paragraph with two changes. It also adopted paragraph 42 which emphasized differentiated and individualized assessment of a person’s conduct, with a new formulation.
Paragraph 44 dealt with the issue of content and neutrality as central elements of the right of peaceful assembly. Having agreed to retain the term “content-neutral” and define the limitations to this term, the Committee adopted the revised text of this paragraph.
Also adopted were paragraph 45, which emphasized that limitations should not be used to pursue the political agendas of the Governments and to stifle the voice of political opposition; paragraph 46 highlighting that limitations might be based on the message conveyed by the participants only under restricted circumstances; paragraph 48 on three main general requirements for limitations on Covenant rights - legality, necessity and proportionality; and paragraph 50 on legitimate purposes for which the right may be limited.
The adoption of paragraph 51 concerning the “public safety” ground would continue at the next reading, when the Rapporteur would also propose – as requested - the new language for paragraph 38 on associated activities in the digital age; paragraph 41 on limitations imposed on an assembly; paragraph 43 that placed the onus to justify restrictions as legitimate exceptions on the authorities; paragraph 47 on the use of symbols, e.g. flags, said that those represented a legitimate form of expression even if such symbols were reminders of a painful past; and paragraph 49 on interrelated and substantive requirements of necessity and proportionality.
The drafting of the General Comment started on 20 March 2019 with a half day of general discussion. Further information about draft General Comment No. 37 can be obtainedhere and here.
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 continue the first reading of the draft General Comment at 10 a.m. on Friday, 25 October.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. on Monday, 21 October to examine the sixth periodic report of the Central African Republic (CCPR/C/CAF/3).
For use of the information media; not an official record