Move to repeal state law in Australia curbing peaceful assembly welcomed by UN expert

4 March 2015

A United Nations rights expert praised today the move made in Australia to repeal restrictive laws that regulate protests, and encouraged the reversal of any legislation that curtails the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly.

Maina Kiai, who was appointed Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in May 2011, said he welcomed the government of Victoria’s intention to revoke the state’s 2014 controversial ‘move-on laws,’ which grant police extensive powers to move protesters who might be obstructing buildings or traffic or ‘causing people to have a reasonable fear of violence.’

“Public space must be made available for individuals and groups in order for them to exercise their fundamental freedoms,” said Mr. Kiai. “Authorities not only have the duty to protect public safety and order as well as the rights and freedoms of others, but also the obligation to facilitate the holding of peaceful assemblies.”

The 2014 ‘move-on laws,’ which expanded Victoria’s original Summary Offenses Act, allows authorities to impose harsh penalties on offenders, including arrest, fines, and exclusion orders banning individuals from entering specified public spaces space for up to a year.

“Enforcing the law includes the implementation of human rights law, without which there would be no security, no justice,” said Mr. Kiai, who has previously served as Africa Director of Amnesty International among other prominent positions.

A debate on the bill to revoke the laws is due to take place in Victoria’s state Parliament on 5 March and the Special Rapporteur called on the authorities to ensure they laws respect and protect the right of peaceful assembly. He said he would follow the debate closely and looked forward to an outcome that complies with international human rights law.

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