[JURIST] UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai [official profile] on Wednesday welcomed [UN News Centre report] a bill introduced in the lower house of the Victorian Parliament [official website] designed to repeal stringent laws regulating protests. The laws, introduced last year and dubbed “move on” laws [Guardian report], expanded police power to enable them to move protesters who might be obstructing public areas, which, Kiai stated [press release], might cause people “to have a reasonable fear of violence.” The “move-on” laws expanded Victoria’s Summary Offense Act [text], originally passed in 1988. Kiai stressed that “[a]uthorities not only have the duty to protect public safety and order as well as the rights and freedoms of others, but also the obligation to facilitate the holding of peaceful assemblies.” Debate of the bill occurred Thursday, and it will need to go through both houses of Parliament. Kiai said that “[he] strongly encourage[s] the overturn of any legislation that curtails the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly,” and, “[he] will continue to follow the debate at the Parliament of the State of Victoria and look forward to an outcome that complies with international human rights law.”
This is not the first time that Australia’s laws and policies governing the treatment of protesters have raised human rights concerns. In September three UN human rights experts urged [JURIST report] the Australian state of Tasmania not to adopt legislation [Bill 15, PDF] against protests that disrupt businesses. The experts expressed concern that the new law would silence legitimate and lawful protests. Last March Australia co-sponsored UN Human Rights Council [official website] resolution on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests. The UN Human Rights Council is responsible for the promotion and protection of all human rights worldwide, including the freedom of opinion and expression. Also last March the UN called for stronger protection [JURIST report] of activists.