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UN rights expert: fundamentalism harming rights to assembly and association

[JURIST] UN expert Maina Kiai [UN profile], in presenting his report [text, DOC] on religious, free market, political, and nationalist or cultural fundamentalism, said Friday that fundamentalist intolerance is growing throughout the globe and is directly contributing to infringements of the rights to association and peaceful assembly. In advocating for a broader understanding of fundamentalism, one which includes any group that "advocate[s] strict and literal adherence to a set of basic beliefs or principles," and not just religious groups, Kiai stated that "free market fundamentalism" is an "urgent threat" [UN report]. He stated a "core purpose" of the rights of association and peaceful assembly "is to preserve people's ability to peacefully express their grievances with political leaders." He cited the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and China as two examples of states harming these rights through political fundamentalism. While acknowledging that this sort of freedom may challenge or even threaten a government regime, "it should not be confused with a threat to the State itself." Likewise, Kiai stated that economic fundamentalism can have drastic effects upon the ability to exercise the right to association or peaceful assembly. He hopes addressing these issues will quell the discontent festering within marginalized groups, often times leading to violent backlash.

In examining the merits of Kiai's report on fundamentalism's impact on the right to association and peaceful assembly, one need not look far. In May Human Rights Watch pleaded [JURIST report] for the Myanmar Parliament to make changes to a proposed law which would significantly hamper the right to peaceful assembly. The UN Office of the High Commissioner of Human Rights also recently called for the release of protesters detained by the Gambian government "for simply having exercised their rights to freedom of expression, opinion and assembly." The protesters in Gambia were "calling for free speech and an electoral forum."

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