Human Rights Council Starts Dialogue with Special Rapporteur on Peaceful Assembly and Association

OHCHR

The Human Rights Council this morning started an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, presented his report on access to justice as an integral element of the protection of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.  He also presented two addendums to this report: a set of Guidelines for lawyers in support of peaceful protests and an addendum related to the rise of Internet shutdowns during peaceful protest and important political moments such as elections.  The COVID-19 crisis continued to threaten the health of millions of people around the world and to exacerbate inequalities.  People were taking to the streets in many countries to voice their discontent.  Instead of listening to people’s grievances and engaging in dialogue, some governments were applying restrictions and lockdowns with excessive force.  Such a “securitised” approach to the pandemic could not be justified. 

Some speakers expressed concern that COVID-19 demonstrations in western developed countries were restricted and suppressed by force, including the use of water cannons, mounted police, pepper spray, and police dogs.  Other speakers noted that it was necessary to approach demonstrations differently during the pandemic, requesting the advice of the Special Rapporteur on measures that States could implement specifically in this context.  Some speakers noted that despite the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, it must never be used to limit the right to protest. 

Speaking were Czech Republic on behalf of a group of countries, Lithuania on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Russian Federation on behalf of a group of countries, Liechtenstein, United Nations Children’s Fund, United Nations Development Programme, Libya, France, Indonesia, Luxembourg, Israel, Switzerland, Cuba, Iraq, Armenia, China, India, Maldives, Morocco, Lebanon, Venezuela, United States, Egypt, Kenya, Germany, Nepal, Botswana, South Africa, Romania, Sudan, Ireland, Pakistan, Timor-Leste, United Kingdom, Ukraine, Mauritania, Niger, Philippines, International Development Law Organization, Poland, Tunisia, Malawi, South Sudan, Uruguay, Belarus, Colombia, Kazakhstan, Cameroon, Barbados, Vanuatu, and Cambodia.     

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded its interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.

Speakers welcomed the identification by the Special Rapporteur of binding obligations on non-State armed groups in the protection of human rights.  The rising number of arbitrary killings by law enforcement officers across the world, including cases of extraterritorial use of force, was alarming.  Speakers agreed that more affluent States had to ensure that all States had access to the vaccines and other materials necessary to fight COVID-19, at an affordable price, and welcomed that the annex of the report considered the link between the obligation of the State to protect the right to life and the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.  Some speakers said that international humanitarian law did not oblige States to abolish the death penalty and there was no international consensus that the death penalty was a human rights violations. 

Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, in his concluding remarks, said that in July 2020 the Council had decided to extend the mandate for three years and the next renewal would be in 2023, so this framework allowed for the consideration of the name change.  Answering the question on migration on the set up of a commission that would trace the missing migrants, the Rapporteur said he would support this initiative and other existing initiatives, such as the Alliance for Missing Persons launched by Switzerland, Norway, Argentina and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Speaking were Morocco, Burkina Faso, Venezuela, Egypt, Namibia, Belgium, United States of America, United Kingdom, Afghanistan, Philippines, Cameroon, Colombia, Saudi Arabia, Azerbaijan, Chad, Tunisia, Iran, Ukraine, Algeria, Russian Federation and Pakistan.

The following civil society organizations took the floor: World Organisation Against Torture, International Federation of ACAT (Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture), Redress Trust, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches, Families of Victims of Involuntary Disappearance (FIND), Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, International Commission of Jurists, Justiça Global, Asian Legal Resource Centre, and Jubilee Campaign.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-seventh regular session can be found here

The Council will next meet this afternoon at 3 p.m. to vote on whether or not to hold interactive dialogues with the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur on their oral presentations on Myanmar.  This will be followed by an interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the elimination of discrimination against persons affected by leprosy and their family members.  Time permitting, the interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association will resume afterwards.  If not, it will resume at 10 a.m. on Friday, 2 July.

Opening Remarks by the Vice-President of the Council

KEVA LORRAINE BAIN, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, reminded that on 25 June, the Bureau had agreed that a question related to the holding of the interactive dialogues with the High Commissioner and the Special Rapporteur on their oral presentations on Myanmar should be put to the Council for its decision this afternoon through the use of the e-recorded votes at 3 p.m.  

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions

The interactive dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions started on 30 June and a summary can be found here.

Discussion

Speakers supported the former Special Rapporteur’s proposal concerning the need to change the name of the mandate in order to bring it into line with the right to life, protected by article 6 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.  Speakers also welcomed the identification by the former Special Rapporteur of binding obligations on non-State armed groups in the protection of human rights.  The rising number of arbitrary killings by law enforcement officers across the world, including cases of extraterritorial use of force, was alarming.  Speakers agreed that more affluent States had to ensure that all States had access to the vaccines and other materials necessary to fight COVID-19, at an affordable price, and welcomed that the annex of the former Special Rapporteur’s report considered the link between the obligation of the State to protect the right to life and the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.  Other speakers said they were concerned by negative remarks on some countries cited in the report, as they were lacking objective assessments.  International humanitarian law did not oblige States to abolish the death penalty and there was no international consensus that the death penalty was a human rights violation. 

Interim Remarks

MORRIS TIDBALL-BINZ, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, thanked all States for presenting their views and welcoming him.  Questions were asked on the former Special Rapporteur’s recommendations for changing the name of the mandate.  He welcomed all comments by States on this issue.  In July 2020 the Council had decided to extend the mandate for three years and the next renewal would be in 2023, so this framework would allow for consideration of the name change.  Mr. Tidball-Binz said he had spoken with the President of the African Society of Forensic Medicine on how they could contribute to advising Nigerian forensic experts on the Minnesota Protocol.  Answering a question on migration on the set up of a commission that would trace missing migrants, he said he would support this initiative and other existing initiatives, such as the Alliance for Missing Persons launched by Switzerland, Norway, Argentina and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

Discussion

Speakers reiterated their rejection of the abhorrent practice of extrajudicial killings, calling on armed actors to immediately end it, and asking the Special Rapporteur about the ways that the international community could prevent it in the future.  Many speakers supported the Special Rapporteur’s goal of promoting the Minnesota Protocol.  Multiple speakers were concerned about instances of unlawful and summary killings in occupied and contested territories.  Speakers warned the Council that if urgent measures were not taken, a pandemic of police violence was going to erupt.  Speakers expressed concern that entrenched structural violence created a permissive environment for circumventing laws and arbitrarily ending life in countries where leaders pursued hard-lined anti-drug policies.  Other speakers affirmed that Black Lives Matter, decrying systemic racism in countries around the world leading to arbitrary killings of Afro-descendants, particularly poor women living in favelas, and expressing their grief and exhaustion over continuing the fight to protect Black lives.

Concluding Remarks

MORRIS TIDBALL-BINZ, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said he appreciated the suggestions and recommendations that were made.  Several delegations had spoken about the death penalty.  The mandate would continue to address the issue of the death penalty in line with the Secretary-General’s view of progressive abolishment of the death penalty.  Speaking on extrajudicial killings, he noted that failure to conduct a proper investigation in itself was a violation of the right of life.  Mr. Tidball-Binz said he would seek to implement the Minnesota Protocol where possible and identify best practices in investigating extrajudicial executions.  Identification of best practices stemming from the Ebola response 2015-2016 and from the COVID-19 response would help in setting up a framework for response to future pandemics.  The global tragedy of summary executions required urgent actions and joint work by non-governmental organizations and governments, and it required a practical approach.  Instruments such as Minnesota Protocol were crucial in this endeavour on the ground. 

Interactive Dialogue with the Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedoms of Peaceful Assembly and of Association

Reports

The Council has before it the reports of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association (A/HRC/47/24) on Access to justice as an integral element to the protection of rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association; (A/HRC7/24/Add.1) on Observations on communications transmitted to Governments and replies received; (A/HRC/47/24/Add.2) on Internet shutdowns; and (A/HRC/47/24/Add.3) on Guidelines for lawyers in support of peaceful assemblies.

Presentation of Reports

CLÉMENT NYALETSOSSI VOULE, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association, presented his report on access to justice as an integral element of the protection of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.  He also presented two addendums to this report: a set of Guidelines for lawyers in support of peaceful protests and an addendum related to the rise of Internet shutdowns during peaceful protest and important political moments such as elections.  The COVID-19 crisis continued to threaten the health of millions of people around the world and to exacerbate inequalities.  People were taking to the streets in many countries to voice their discontent over the loss of employment, racial injustice, and the climate emergency, among others.  Instead of listening to people’s grievances and engaging in dialogue, some governments were applying restrictions and lockdowns with excessive force.  Such a “securitised” approach to the pandemic could not be justified.  Access to justice was an integral element of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.  Ensuring access to an effective remedy involved legislative, judicial, administrative, budgetary, and educational measures and policies.  The report that he was presenting today on access to justice and the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association should be read with this background in mind.

Threats to accessing justice prior, during and after protests were listed, from barriers to access to appeal mechanisms, to immunity of law enforcement officials for crimes committed while on duty, and hindered access to lawyers after the arrest of protesters.  To address these concerns, the report provided key recommendations to States.  Speaking about the Guidelines for lawyers in support of peaceful assemblies, Mr. Nyaletsossi Voule noted the harassment of lawyers that supported peaceful protests as well as surveillance of lawyer-client communications.  He stressed that Internet shutdowns were spiralling out of control and had increased in sophistication, targeting social media and applications used by protesters.  He concluded by saying that in the period covered by the report, from April 2020 to April 2021 he had sent 192 communications to 69 States and 11 other actors and received 116 responses.  Of those communications, eight involved cases of reprisals against individuals because of their cooperation with the United Nations.  Mr. Nyaletsossi Voule thanked the Government of Tunisia for receiving him this past June.

Discussion

Speakers agreed that access to justice was essential to the protection of rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.  It was important to combat the misuse of national security laws and technologies, and ensure protection for lawyers.  Impunity, especially for killings of protesters and repression of peaceful protests, was unacceptable.  Some speakers expressed concern that COVID-19 demonstrations in western developed countries were restricted and suppressed by force, including the use of water cannons, mounted police, pepper spray, and police dogs.  Other speakers noted that it was necessary to approach demonstrations differently during the pandemic, requesting the advice of the Special Rapporteur on measures that States could implement specifically in this context.  Some speakers noted that despite the dangers of the COVID-19 pandemic, it must never be used to limit the right to protest.  Rejecting erroneous references to some countries in the report, speakers emphasised that Special Procedures must not be politicised.  A double standard was at play: some politicians praised violent protests in foreign countries when it suited them but condemned such protests at home. 

Interim Remarks

CLÉMENT NYALETSOSSI VOULE, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, took note of the objections to the report made by some countries, highlighting that in writing and presenting the report he was looking for dialogue with States, aiming fundamentally to help countries overcome challenges.  The mandate conducted many country visits, with the key recommendation being that States should improve their national legislation – implementation could only happen if a legal framework existed, it was not enough to enshrine these rights only in the constitution.  It was important for States to review the recommendations of the report – access to justice must be recognised as integral to the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Discussion

Speakers agreed that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association contributed to combatting impunity, facilitating accountability and helping prevent future violations and abuses.  As noted in the report, the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, an enabling environment for civil society, and access to justice were intertwined.  While the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights allowed for restrictions on freedom of assembly and of movement in order to protect public health, such restrictions had to be targeted, time-limited, and subject to regular review.  Delegations asked what were the most urgent steps that States must take to ensure that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association were protected?  Assistance, advice and legal representation were crucial for any fair legal system.  The report noted a trend in some regional jurisprudences to expand the concept of access to justice to be recognised as a fundamental right.  How would universal recognition impact the protection of rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association specifically? A question was raised on how impunity could be battled on an international level?

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/07/morning-human-rights-council-starts-dialogue-special-rapporteur

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