Special Rapporteurs Adopt Joint Declaration on Protecting Right to Peaceful Assembly in Times of Emergencies

Mr. Volker Turk
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Experts representing four inter-governmental bodies have called on Governments to refrain from the use of emergency measures to provide immunity to law enforcement agencies for human rights abuses through a Joint Declaration they issued on protecting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in times of emergencies.

The United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the rights of Freedom of Assembly and of Association; the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR); and the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders and focal point for reprisals in Africa and Chairman of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) in the joint declaration made recommendations to address critical issues around protecting the right to freedom of peaceful assembly in times of emergencies which include, ensuring accountability and reparations for human rights violations in the context of assemblies; ensuring dialogue and public participation; and obligations of international community in respect to assemblies.

Adopted, on September 15, 2022, the declaration recalls and reaffirms the various other joint declarations they made in the past two years on the same issues.

The declaration emphasizes the importance of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly as an essential component of democracy, allowing and empowering everyone in the society, including women, men, young people, children, and persons with disabilities, without discrimination, to participate in decision-making and policy-making processes and in shaping their own future.

It notes that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly is a fundamental key right enabling the full enjoyment of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights.

The declaration highlights the important role civil society, activists as well as social movements, have had in the past and continue to play today, including in various emergency situations, in protecting, advancing and strengthening human rights.

It underscores the important role of women-led movements in mobilizing for democracy, justice, equality, and in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and post-conflict reconciliation and rehabilitation. 
The declaration takes note of the frequent assemblies, such as protests around the world in response to the compounded crises and emergencies; and celebrates the bravery of individuals and groups who have protested against rising authoritarianism, military coups and military occupation and have called for an end of armed conflicts.
The bodies commend activists for utilizing different peaceful means, online and offline, to overcome severe and rights-violating restrictions imposed by States on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including by using civil disobedience, strikes, art (music, painting, murals and other) and other non-violent tactics to express their views and mobilize communities.
They condemned attempts by some governments to suppress peaceful assemblies during emergencies, including by imposing blanket bans or disproportionate restrictions on peaceful assemblies.

They expressed grave concern at the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 emergency measures on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly worldwide, and underlining the responsibility of governments to review and ensure that adopted emergency measures have not resulted in imposing undue restrictions on the right to freedom of assembly and the overall civic space.

They also condemned the frequent impunity for such crimes, and emphasizing that many of the above violations may amount to war crimes when committed in the context of armed conflict or/and crimes against humanity.

Furthermore, the declaration condemns the imposition of internet or communications shutdowns and from using technologies to commit rights violations in the context of assemblies.

The declaration recognises the specific and differentiated risks, barriers, attacks and impacts faced by women in exercising their right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including sexual and gender-based discrimination and violence, intimidation and harassment, online and offline, and the intensification of such factors in times of emergency.

It stresses the need for private companies, in compliance with human rights law and the UN Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights, to protect and facilitate the enjoyment of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly online, including by ensuring their platforms are not used to spread hate speech and incite violence against activists, organizers or participants in assemblies. It made recommendations focusing on three broad issues. Please visit here to download and read the full text of the joint declaration