The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are violated or at risk in a number of countries, an independent United Nations expert said today, calling on governments to establish minimum standards to protect these rights.
“It is astonishing how often States have encroached upon the right of individuals to assemble peacefully by also violating their rights to life and to be free from torture, rights which allow no limitation,” the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, said in a news release.
Presenting his annual report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Mr. Kiai stressed that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are essential components of democracy.
“States should protect the rights of all individuals, including persons espousing minority or dissenting views or beliefs, human rights defenders, trade unionists or even migrants, to assemble peacefully and associate freely,” he said.
Mr. Kiai stated that the events that have occurred in numerous Arab countries since December 2010 have proved how these rights are important for people to express their aspirations and to influence policy decision-makers. Freedom to peacefully assemble and associate is to be considered the rule and limitations the exception, he added.
A vital part of the right to freedom of association, the expert noted, is the ability of associations to access funding.
“Without the ability to access funding, from sources local, regional or international, this right becomes void,” Mr. Kiai stated.
He pointed out that some States have clamped down on use of the Internet, particularly social media, and other information and communication technology, to deter or prevent individuals from exercising their right to organize peaceful assemblies.
Among his recommendations, the Special Rapporteur calls on states to ensure that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are enjoyed by everyone, including women, youth, indigenous peoples, persons with disabilities, minorities or groups at risk.
No one should be criminalized for exercising the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, or be subjected to threats or acts of violence, harassment, persecution, intimidation or reprisals, he added.
Mr. Kiai, a human rights advocate from Kenya, works in an independent and unpaid capacity for the Human Rights Council, which appoints independent experts, or special rapporteurs, to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme.