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UN expert calls on governments to renew their commitment for action to expand civic space during global crisis

10 July 2020

GENEVA (10 July 2020) – The UN's expert on freedom of assembly today called on governments to help the world prepare for new emergencies like COVID-19 by protecting the right to peaceful assembly and association.

"Let me be clear: Assembly and association rights empower communities to respond and adapt to changes brought by this crisis, and to be better prepared for similar emergencies in the future,"  Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of assembly and of association, told the UN Human Rights Council.

He presented his annual report celebrating 10 years since the creation of this mandate and was speaking against the backdrop of both the COVID pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.

"During the past decade, there have been many hard-fought achievements, but also numerous setbacks and increased threats to the enjoyment of assembly and association," he told the Council.

Voule said his work and that of his predecessors has contributed to a more robust international legal framework to protect these freedoms, but that governments still need to do more.

The world witnessed the growing strength of women's organisations and movements in their fight for gender equality. Through their activism and mobilisation, women secured long awaited gains in the protection of sexual and reproductive rights around the world.

In the last decade, the rise of a global digital rights movement helped identify the challenges digital technologies pose to the enjoyment of human rights.

The Black Lives Matter movement, Voule said, "has shown us how mobilisation stemming from injustice in one part of the world can trigger significant change globally. Protests have opened discussions about racism, history, violence and discrimination across borders and, in many places, triggered significant and overdue policy changes".

During the pandemic, he said, some governments exploited the health crisis to crack down on fundamental freedoms, passing sweeping emergency laws and measures to rule by decree that were not aimed at ensuring public health, but at cementing control and cracking down on opposition figures.

"I call on the international community to create the environment for fundamental freedoms to flourish, to expand civic space, and – especially – to respond effectively to the growing number of restrictions and violations."

Social movements using both the Internet and peaceful street marches have exposed abuse of power and rising inequality in many countries, and triggered many important democratic transitions. "Governments must also respond to their own citizens' calls for reform" he said.

"We cannot accept a future where the voices and concerns of those living at the margins, the most vulnerable and at risk are further silenced."

Voule also presented two country visit reports on Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe.


Clément Nyaletsossi VOULE (Togo) is Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. Clément Nyaletsossi VOULE has been Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association since April 2018. Mr. Voule has worked tirelessly as a human rights advocate and defender in his native country, Togo, and across Africa. He holds a degree in Fundamental Rights from Nantes University in France, and a Masters Diploma in International Law in Armed Conflict from the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies at the University of Geneva in Switzerland.

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 organisation and serve in their individual capacity.

For further information and media requests please contact Ms. Marta Franco ([email protected]) or write to [email protected]

For media enquiries regarding other UN independent experts, please contact Renato de Souza (+41 22 928 9855 / [email protected]) and John Newland ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN's independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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