Human Rights Council: States must protect rights during protests

Human Rights Council: States must protect rights during protests - Civic Space

ARTICLE 19 welcomes the adoption by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) of a significant resolution calling on States to promote and protect human rights in the context of peaceful protests.

“This resolution is a timely response to widespread violations of fundamental human rights we have witnessed during protests in recent weeks,” said Thomas Hughes, Executive Director of ARTICLE 19. “Peaceful protests are a legitimate and essential part of life in any democracy. States must create a safe and enabling environment for people to express their views collectively and in public.”

The resolution “on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests” (HRC 25/L.20) was tabled by Switzerland together with Costa Rica and Turkey. It was supported by more than 50 co-sponsoring States, and adopted by a vote on 28 March 2014.

The resolution expresses concern at the increasing criminalisation of protests around the world, and also about the number of attacks on human rights defenders and journalists during protests. ARTICLE 19 has documented many such cases, and welcomes the commitment of HRC States to address this issue.

Crucially, the resolution adopted by the HRC calls upon States, inter alia, to:

  • Ensure, as a matter of priority, that their domestic legislation and procedures are consistent with their international obligations and commitments in relation to the use of force;
  • Avoid the use of force during peaceful protests, and to ensure that, where force is absolutely necessary, no one is subject to excessive or indiscriminate force, and that any death or significant injury is investigated;
  • Pay particular attention to the safety of journalists and media workers covering peaceful protests, taking into account their specific role, exposure and vulnerability;
  • Recognise the important role played by Internet users and human rights defenders in documenting human rights violations or abuses committed in the context of peaceful protest.

The resolution requests UN special rapporteurs together with the Office of the High Commissioner, civil society and States to prepare recommendations for the proper management of assemblies based on best practices and lessons learned by March 2016.

The HRC rejected proposed amendments to the resolution, tabled by South Africa on behalf of a ‘likeminded group’ of States. ARTICLE 19 and other leading international human rights organisations expressed serious concerns that the amendments would dilute protections for human rights during protests.

These concerns were echoed by South African civil society. The South Africa Forum on International Solidarity (SAFIS) called the proposed amendments a “complete disregard of the country’s Constitutional foundation and guaranteed rights promoting and protecting the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration.” Powerfully, they invoked the memory of the 1960 Sharpeville Massacre, where the apartheid government killed 69 peaceful protesters, to stress the importance of the resolution to South Africans.

ARTICLE 19 calls on all States to take immediate steps to ensure that the resolution is implemented at the domestic level.