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First draft of the General Comment on the right to peaceful assembly is now available

The UN Human Rights Committee  has just published the initial draft of the General Comment (GC) on the right of peaceful assembly. The draft document was prepared by Christof Heyns, Rapporteur of the Committee and it draws on input received from civil society, academia and international organizations and discussed at the Committee’s first consultation in March. In terms of next steps, the Committee will have its first reading of the draft in Geneva between July 1 -26, 2019. The Rapporteur will then further elaborate the document, based on feedback received from civil society and other interested stakeholders.

ECNL welcomes that the initial draft of the GC incorporates some of the main points of our submission, namely:

  • Sustainable development: freedom of peaceful assembly is critical to the exercise of economic, social, and cultural rights;
  • Non-discrimination: the right to freedom of assembly is to be enjoyed equally by all, without discrimination;
  • Freedom of assembly in the digital age: States should refrain from disrupting internet connectivity, shutting down websites or blocking online users from gaining access to or disseminating information online;
  • Dissemination of information of an upcoming event: the act of publicizing (online or offline) an upcoming assembly before notifying the authorities should not be penalised in the absence of a “specific indication of what dangers would have been created by the early distribution of the information;
  • Costs of assemblies: the costs of facilitating assemblies, including security and safety measures, should be fully covered by the public authorities and there should be no charge for the organisers;
  • Methods of crowd control and containment: such measures – including the tactic known as “kettling” – must only be used exceptionally, as it fails to distinguish between participants and non-participants, or between peaceful and non-peaceful participants; and
  • Observation: the right to observe and record assemblies and how they are policed is not limited to professional journalists and media but must also be granted to other stakeholders in civil society, such as human rights activists, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and civil society organisations in general.

ECNL, together with its Civic Space Initiative partners, is pleased to continue supporting the drafting process, as we strongly believe that the GC will contribute to strengthening the safeguards for this fundamental right. To this end, we plan to hold a regional consultation on the GC for Europe in September 2019. The draft of the GC is expected to be finalized by the end of 2020.

To download the initial draft from OHCHR’s website, click here:

For a compilation of key principles in the Committee’s freedom of assembly jurisprudence, see the report below:  Michael Hamilton: Towards a General Comment on Article 21