Resolution on peaceful protests reaffirms the need to protect the right to protest and strengthen accountability

Resolution on peaceful protests adopted by the 50th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

A new resolution on human rights in the context of peaceful protests was adopted by the Human Rights Council today, recognising the role of protests and protesters in developing more just, equal and accountable societies and addressing threats and violations against them.

Violations against the right to peaceful protest – whether through detention of protesters, excessive use of police violence, or disrupting protests by State and non-state actors – are consistently amongst the most widely-documented violations to civic space by the CIVICUS Monitor.

All too often, individuals from marginalised communities face greater risk for peaceful protest, and we welcome that the resolution adopted by the Council acknowledges this particular vulnerability. We further welcome that the resolution addresses that harmful stereotypes about gender roles can inhibit women and girls’ participation in protests and calls on States to cease using rhetoric that stigmatises protesters. Such stigmatisation of protesters, particularly women protesters, by State and non-state actors is an escalating concern.

Given the critical role of journalists, medics, human rights defenders and monitors in protesters ,the resolution expresses concern about restrictions imposed and targeting of these groups, calling on States to ‘pay particular attention’ to their safety and protection. One particular emerging threat to these groups, and to protesters in general, is that of surveillance technologies frequently deployed without transparency and accountability – particularly against human rights defenders – and used to crack down on peaceful protests. We strongly encourage States to ensure that language urging a moratorium on surveillance technology that could be used to violate human rights during protests is included in future resolutions.

The resolution requests the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly (FoPA), with relevant partners including ffice of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), to ‘develop specific technical and practical tools based on international standards and best practices to assist law enforcement officials in promoting and protecting human rights in the context of peaceful protests.’

Impunity for excessive use of force by officials remains a longstanding concern worldwide. We call on Council and on states to build on this strong resolution and its report to strengthen accountability and ensure that people can participate in protests without risking their lives or freedom.

In 2019, the Human Rights Committee developed and published its General Comment 37 on the right to peaceful assembly, adding new normative standards to legal infrastructure. Chief among its decisions was that of the presumption of peacefulness. We further call on the Council to ensure that future resolutions incorporate its key rulings, including the presumption of protests to be peaceful.