New guidelines on the right to protest show state obligations to respect, protect and facilitate

New guidelines on the right to protest show state obligations to respect, protect and facilitate - Digital

A man who opposes the pro-democracy movement makes his point via a megaphone. Antagonism between pro-democracy activists (camped out on a stretch of Nathan Road in Mongkok district, Kowloon) and a group of some local residents and pro-Beijing supporters has grown as the protests continue. The 'Occupy Central' (or 'Occupy Central with Love and Peace') movement in Hong Kong has been organising events of civil disobedience, such as sit-ins on busy roads, to protest against the Chinese government's electoral policy for Hong Kong. The activist's main demand is that elections for the post of Chief Executive, due in 2017, be open to all candidates. However, the Beijing authorities have insisted that the candidates in the election will only be drawn from a pre-approved list.

Ahead of International Human Rights Day, ARTICLE 19 is launching its new Principles on the protection of human rights in protests from Kenya. The Principles set out the obligations of states to respect, protect and facilitate the right to protest. ARTICLE 19 calls on international, regional, and local bodies and private actors to implement these principles in order to fully respect the right to protest and end arbitrary restrictions.

From Standing Rock in the US to Bersih in Malaysia, protests and demonstrations enable people all over the world to hold their governments to account, and are a fundamental part of democracy.

However, attacks on the right to protest continue: arbitrary detention, excessive use of force by police and military, torture, and enforced disappearances are all used against protesters exercising their rights to advocate for their beliefs. Strict protest laws, which create criminal sanctions for protests, as well as unnecessary requirements for permission, also act to deter and restrict this right.

“The right to protest is more that the freedom to assemble – it’s essential that states respect all human rights involved in protest, from expression to privacy to association”, said Henry Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Eastern Africa. “If states truly want to abide by their human rights obligations, they must do more than simply sit back and let protests happen – they have to be actively engaged in facilitating them”.

The right to protest embodies core international human rights including the right to free expression, the right to free assembly, and the right to participate in public life.  Individuals must be free to exercise these rights without discrimination, and states have a duty not only to avoid attacks on these rights, but to take active steps in facilitating them. Not only must police avoid the excessive use of force, but they must also take a human rights approach to policing protests and ensure the human rights of all those involved in or affected by protests are respected.

But protest spaces are changing: the digital sphere presents a multitude of obstacles and opportunities for the right to protest, and states ability to restrict it. While providing a platform for individuals to express themselves and engage in protest, the Internet and modern communications have enabled increased use of surveillance by states against their people. The Principles show that the use of these techniques against protestors cannot be justified unless there is clear evidence of serious criminality, and all data held by states in the context of protests must be subject to strict regulations.

While the nature of and spaces used for protest may evolve, states’ obligations to protect human rights in protest remain unchanged, and should be implemented at all levels in order to safeguard this essential right.

“At a time of great political change in many parts of the world, states must take seriously their responsibility to enable all people to express their views, expose abuses and voice discontent through protest, in all its forms”, said Barbora Bukovska, Director of Law and Policy at ARTICLE 19.

Read our policy brief in full.

Notes for Editors:

  1.  ARTICLE 19 has made the The Right to Protest: Principles on the protection of human rights in protests available in several languages. You can download them here.
  2. For further information contact:

ARTICLE 19 Press team:

T: +44 (0) 20 3290 9308 E:

Henry Omusundi Maina, Director of ARTICLE 19 Kenya: