HomeNewsProtests are a human right: UN experts

Protests are a human right: UN experts

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The UN Human Rights Committee yesterday said protesters across the world had a right to protest even in the wake of COVID-19 as long as they adhere to requirements to protect themselves.

BY MOSES MATENGA

In a statement yesterday, the United Nations Human Rights Commission experts interpreted the right of peaceful assembly to mean that protesters could exercise their rights without fear.
“It is a fundamental human right for individuals to join a peaceful assembly to express themselves, to celebrate, or to air grievances,” Christof Heyns, a member of the committee, who acted as rapporteur for the drafting of the general comment, said.

“Together with other rights related to political freedom, it constitutes the very foundation of a democratic society, in which changes can be pursued through discussion and persuasion, rather than use of force.”

Heyns’ statement came at a time President Emmerson Mnangagwa has deployed soldiers to block a protest against his government meant for today.

“Everyone, including children, foreign nationals, women, migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees, can exercise the right of peaceful assembly, which may take many forms: in public and in private spaces, outdoors, indoors and online,” Heyns added.

The committee also stated that governments have obligations under the covenant to facilitate peaceful assemblies and to protect participants from potential abuse by other members of the public.

“Generalised references to public order or public safety, or an unspecified risk of potential violence are not solid grounds for governments to prohibit peaceful assemblies,” Heyns said.

“Any restriction on participation in peaceful assemblies should be based on a differentiated or individualised assessment of the conduct of participants. Blanket restrictions on participation in peaceful assemblies are not appropriate.”

According to the comment, assembly participants have the right to wear masks or hoods to cover their faces and governments should not collect personal data to harass or intimidate participants.

“Governments also cannot block Internet networks or close down any website because of their roles in organising or soliciting a peaceful assembly.”

On the role of State agents, the UN experts said: “Law enforcement officials involved in policing assemblies must respect and ensure the exercise of the fundamental rights of organisers and participants, while also protecting journalists, monitors and observers, medical personnel and other members of the public, as well as public and State property, from harm. The basic approach of the authorities should be to seek to facilitate peaceful assemblies where necessary.

“Law enforcement officials involved in policing assemblies must respect and ensure the exercise of the fundamental rights of organisers and participants, while also protecting journalists, monitors and observers, medical personnel and other members of the public, as well as public and private property, from harm. The basic approach of the authorities should be to seek to facilitate peaceful assemblies where necessary.”

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