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UN expert urges international community to protect freedom of assembly

UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai [official profile] on Thursday called on the international community to protect the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association [press release]. In a report [text, PDF] to the UN Human Rights Council [official website], he provided several recommendations for improving the situation of countries that infringe upon the rights in question. He found that a surprisingly high number of countries are violating the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly. The UN expert stressed the importance of the two rights that form the foundation of democracy and that Resolution 15/21 [text, PDF] of UN General Assembly guarantees these rights to everyone. In order to protect individuals in exercising their rights, Kiai argues that the best method is implementing legislation "which provides for criminal and disciplinary sanctions against those who interfere with or violently disperse public assemblies through excessive use of force" such as in Bulgaria, Burkina Faso, Colombia, Ivory Coast, Cuba, Estonia, Japan, Kyrgyzstan, Portugal, Republic of Moldova, Serbia and Spain. He also added that police officers should wear a clearly recognizable number on their uniform so that victims and authorities could identify those who used excessive force against protesters.

Even countries that have long been recognized as protecting human rights pass laws that infringe individual's right to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association. In March, Switzerland was criticized [JURIST report] for a proposal to change the existing law imposing heavy fines of 100,000 Swiss Francs ($110,000) for people who protest without prior governmental authorization. In December, a UN panel of independent human rights experts urged [JURIST report] Malaysia not to adopt a proposed bill, the Peaceful Assembly Act 2011 [bill, PDF], that forbids the country's citizens under the age of 21 and non-citizens from assembling, enacting conditional access for media to public gatherings and outlawing street protests altogether. A month earlier Independent International Commission of Inquiry on Syria reported [JURIST report] that Syria committed several human rights violations including the right to peaceful assembly. Also in November, Egypt was called on [JURIST report] by the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon [official profile] to ensure the right to freedom of peaceful assembly and association after the UN special rapporteurs on summary executions, freedom of expression, human rights defenders and freedom of peaceful assembly issued a joint statement [text] revealing the violence against peaceful protesters.

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