ARTICLE 19 welcomes the adoption of resolution L.21 on “the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protest” by the UN Human Rights Council (HRC). The resolution was adopted by vote, with amendments aimed at significantly weakening the protection of human rights being resoundingly rejected.
We call upon all States to protect and promote human rights in the context of peaceful protests, and in this regard to implement at the national level the practical recommendations outlined in the joint report of UN Special Rapporteurs on “the proper management of assemblies”, which the resolution positively references.
The resolution “on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protest” (A/HRC/31/L.21) is the third adopted by the HRC in an initiative led by a core group of Switzerland, Turkey and Costa Rica [i]. It enjoyed the co-sponsorship of 60 States [ii], and was adopted by vote with increased support compared to two years ago [iii].
The resolution followed up on the presentation of an important joint report on “the proper management of assemblies”, prepared by the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions. The report was called for in HRC resolution 25/38, a landmark 2014 commitment by States to protect human rights in the context of peaceful protests.
The resolution is timely: in recent years, violations of human rights in the context of protests have become a grave concern in all parts of the world. Among the concerns recognised in the resolution are violations of the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and privacy. For the first time, the peaceful protest initiative at the HRC recognises that a safe and enabling environment for the exercise of rights in protests requires States to prevent sexual violence, and that the use of so-called “less-lethal weapons” must be on the basis of proper training and in conformity with international human rights law.
The report of the special rapporteurs also responds to these concerns: it provides clear principles on the international legal framework that applies to protests ahead of, during and after protests, building on the foundations of resolution 25/38. Its concise recommendations address some of the most pressing human rights challenges in protests, including excessive use of force, burdensome “authorisation” procedures, surveillance, attacks on the free flow of information, and accountability for human rights violations.
The report itself recommends that States develop, enact and update a national action plan to implement their guidance, to ensure the proper management of assemblies and to protect human rights in the context of protests.
Crucially, the adopted resolution shows significant international support for efforts towards the domestic implementation of the special procedures’ report. Specifically, the resolution praises the special rapporteurs’ report as a useful tool for States fulfilling their international human rights law obligations and commitments, suggesting that the recommendations be operationalized in domestic laws, procedures and practices. It encourages the full and effective participation of all stakeholders, including civil society, in any follow-up to the report.
Not all States, however, were in favour of the resolution or the work of the special rapporteurs.
The Russian Federation, with the support of Pakistan, Iran, Cuba and China, sought to attack its core objectives through eight amendments. Though two amendments were withdrawn, six others were resoundingly rejected by vote in a series of crushing defeats for the Russian Federation and its supporters, many of whom are among the worst violators of human rights, including in protests.
If successful, the amendments would have gutted the resolution of its most important aspects, establishing dangerous language on the collective responsibility of protest organisers for the conduct of others, shifting the focus of the HRC away from States’ international human rights obligations, and stripping almost all references to the important work of the UN special rapporteurs.
Unsatisfied with the defeat on their amendments, China and the Russian Federation called a vote on the resolution as a whole, which they also lost. 31 States voted in favour of the resolution, with 5 States voting against, 10 abstaining, and 1 State absent.
In an open letter sent to all States during the Session, leading human rights organisations joined ARTICLE 19 to call for the rejection of the amendments. We welcome those States that consistently stood up for human rights by voting against the amendments and in favour of the resolution.
ARTICLE 19 calls on all States to fully implement this and all previous resolutions of the HRC on “protecting and promoting human rights in the context of peaceful protests” and the recommendations of the special rapporteurs’ report without delay.
[i] It is the “core group” of States that initiate, draft and table resolutions for adoption. This takes place on the final two days of the Council’s regular sessions (in March, June and September). Resolutions are ordinarily negotiated between States and other stakeholders in side meetings (known as “informals”) over several weeks at the HRC, leading up to the formal moment of adoption. In this process, a draft resolution may change substantially to accommodate the concerns of stakeholders, including civil society organisations engaged in advocacy at the HRC. States that wish to support the content and objectives of a resolution do so by formally becoming “co-sponsors” of the resolution. Resolutions are then adopted either by consensus or by a vote of the HRC’s 47 Member States (observer States, i.e. all UN States that are not HRC Members, can be in a core group or cosponsor a resolution, but cannot vote). However, States that do not support a resolution can table “amendments” to force any textual changes they want to see to it. An amendment will suggest either the deletion or addition of language; usually this is language the “core group” rejected during the course of negotiations. Member States vote on each amendment: amendments that succeed through the vote are incorporated to the resolution, otherwise they are rejected, and then the revised or unchanged resolution is considered for adoption as a whole.
[ii] The orally revised draft resolution was cosponsored by: Albania, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Botswana, Bulgaria, Canada, Costa Rica, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, El Salvador, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Greece, Honduras, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Montenegro, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Republic of Korea, Republic of Moldova, Romania, San Marino, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, State of Palestine, Sweden, Switzerland, The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Tunisia, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, United States of America, Uruguay.
[iii] Of the 47 Member States of the Human Rights Council: 31 States voted in favour of the resolution (Albania; Algeria; Belgium; Botswana; Cote d’Ivoire; Ecuador; El Salvador; Ethiopia; France; Georgia; Germany; Ghana; India; Indonesia; Kenya; Kyrgyzstan; Latvia; Maldives; Mexico; Mongolia; Morocco; Netherlands; Panama; Paraguay; Philippines; Portugal; Republic of Korea; Slovenia; Switzerland; The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland), 5 States voted against (Burundi; China; Cuba; Russian Federation; Venezuela), 10 abstained (Bangladesh; Bolivia; Namibia; Nigeria; Qatar; Saudi Arabia; South Africa; Togo; United Arab Emirates; Viet Nam), and 1 State was absent (Congo).