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UN Human Rights Council 44th Session adopts two key resolutions on peaceful protests and freedom of expression

ECNL welcomes the adoption at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) 44th Session of two landmark resolutions that further strengthen the standards for the protection of the right to peaceful protests and freedom of opinion.

ECNL proactively engaged with the States responsible for the drafting of the two resolutions and we are pleased to see that most of our suggested inputs are included in the final text of the two resolutions. These will enhance protection of all those participating in peaceful protests especially regarding the use of new technologies, prevention of undue surveillance and enabling online protests. Specifically:

HRC Resolution 44/20 on The promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests

  1. Notes that human rights protections for the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, of expression and of association also apply to analogous interactions taking place online and that the possibility of using communications technology securely and privately is important for the organisation and conduct of assemblies;
  2. Acknowledges that new technologies can be enablers for the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, of expression, of association and of participation in the conduct of public affairs and also create space for the holding of assemblies online, facilitating the participation of those often marginalized;
  3. Expresses deep concern about misinformation, disinformation and undue restrictions preventing or impairing access to or disseminate information at key political moments, with an impact on the ability to organize and conduct assemblies;
  4. Expresses concern also at the use of new and emerging digital tracking tools such as facial recognition and other devices for the unlawful or arbitrary surveillance, both in physical spaces and online, of individuals engaged in peaceful protests;
  5. Emphasizes that technical solutions to secure and to protect the confidentiality of digital communications, including measures for encryption, pseudonymization and anonymity online, can be important to ensure the enjoyment of human rights, in particular the rights to privacy, to freedom of expression, and to freedom of peaceful assembly and association;
  6. Stresses that, “in times when physical assemblies are restricted, it is all the more necessary that access to and use of the Internet be ensured, by refraining from undue restrictions such as Internet shutdowns or online censorship;
  7. Recognizes the importance of the role played, among others, by civil society, including non-governmental organizations, Internet users and human rights defenders in documenting human rights violations and abuses committed in the context of peaceful protests;

And therefore calls upon all States to:

  • promote a safe and enabling environment for individuals and groups to exercise their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, of expression and of association, both online and offline;
  • refrain from and cease measures, when in violation of international human rights law, that are aimed at shutting down the Internet and telecommunications, or at otherwise blocking Internet users from gaining access to or disseminating information online, or from gathering in online spaces;
  • refrain from the use of digital technology to silence, unlawfully or arbitrarily surveil, or harass individuals or groups solely for having organized, taken part in, or observed, monitored or recorded peaceful protests, or from ordering blanket Internet shutdowns and from blocking websites and platforms around protests or key political moments;
  • pay particular attention to the safety of human rights defenders, journalists and other media workers observing, monitoring and recording protests, taking into account their specific role, exposure and vulnerability.

HRC Resolution 44/12 on Freedom of Opinion and Expression

  1. Emphasizes that in the digital age, technical solutions to secure and protect the confidentiality of digital communications, including measures for encryption and anonymity, can be important to ensure the enjoyment of human rights, including the right to freedom of opinion and expression;
  2. Is concerned that many forms of digital divide remain between and within countries and regions, and recognizes the need to close them, including through international cooperation;
  3. Stresses that responses to the spread of disinformation and misinformation must be grounded in international human rights law, including the principles of lawfulness, legitimacy, necessity and proportionality;
  4. Stresses also the importance of ensuring transparency and accountability in algorithmic, human and technical decision-making, given the risks of undue restriction on access to information and freedom of opinion and expression;
  5. Strongly condemns the use of Internet shutdowns to intentionally and arbitrarily prevent or disrupt access to or dissemination of information online.

And therefore calls upon all States to:

  • Refrain from imposing restrictions such as the use of Internet shutdowns to intentionally and arbitrarily prevent or disrupt access to or the dissemination of information online;
  • Adopt and implement laws and policies facilitating and promoting access to and use of communications and digital technologies.

In addition, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights issued a thematic report on the Impact of new technologies on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of assemblies, including peaceful protests, with recommendations to States and private businesses to avoid unlawful limitations on the right of peaceful assembly and related rights, when new technologies are at play.

See our briefer on the Report here.

We at ECNL will continue to work on further improving and enhancing the standards and guidance for peaceful protests in order to assist protection of protestors and promotion of freedom of assembly. Especially, we will ensure these standards are widely disseminated to colleagues and activists on the ground which can help their efforts – so please share this, too!