On the occasion of this year’s Human Rights Day, the United Nations and regional experts on Human Rights have called on governments around the world to refrain from using violence as a means to address public claims.
The call was made in a joint declaration on Peaceful Assembly and Democratic Governance issued by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Assembly and Association, the InterAmerican Commission for Human Rights (IACHR) and its Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression, Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and focal point for reprisals in Africa of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and the OSCE Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR).
The regional experts also sounded the alarm on a dangerous and growing tendency from authorities to respond to the legitimate calls by the population during peaceful demonstrations with repression and excessive use of force, which has caused many human rights violations in recent years.
“We express grave concern at the increasing repression of peaceful assemblies globally, with the unjustified and disproportionate interventions by law enforcement officials, mass and arbitrary detentions of protestors, as well as attacks against journalists and those who cover protests,” say the UN and regional experts. “We are also disturbed by the general impunity that reigns for the perpetrators of these violations”.
“It is unacceptable to confront the demands of those who participate in public assemblies, including those who report on them, with violence. States must ensure that prompt, transparent and independent investigations are carried out against those officials who resort to force and that victims are provided with comprehensive and effective remedies”, the experts point out.
The experts said “We are also alarmed by many restrictive measures taken by governments under the pretext of containing the COVID-19 pandemic, which often ends up undermining fundamental rights. As a result, freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, the participation in the conduct of public affairs and civic space are constricted by the abuse of public health measures, sometimes used to merely silence dissent”.
The year prior to the COVID-19 crisis was, in fact, marked by an unprecedented wave of protests all over the world, with demonstrators rising up over discrimination, inequality, limitations on democratic and inclusive governance, deterioration of the rule of law, threats posed by climate change, corruption and other violations of Human Rights.
In this context, “States’ duties are not only limited to respecting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association: States must also take meaningful action in response to public demands”, emphasize the UN and regional experts. “Beyond protection and promotion, the duty to respond to the calls of protestors should be an integral part of this fundamental right”.
This is the first time that regional bodies and the UN Special Rapporteur issue a joint declaration on the peaceful assembly and democratic governance, saying: “Through this Joint Declaration we come together in one voice to invite States and the international community to regard peaceful assemblies, including mass protests, neither as a threat to national security or public order nor as a disturbance of national economic development, but rather as an opportunity to develop more inclusive and democratic societies”.
In this same vein, “Human Rights Defenders and civil society activists should be seen as partners, not as enemies, and dissidents, of governments”.