A group of UN human rights experts on Monday urged [press release] Western Australia’s Parliament to reject anti-protest legislation being debated Tuesday. Parliament members indicated that the goal of the bill was to prevent people from locking themselves onto objects that will prevent development sites. The UN Special Rapporteurs stated:
The Bill would criminalise a wide range of legitimate conduct by creating criminal offenses for the acts of physically preventing a lawful activity and possessing an object for the purpose of preventing a lawful activity…For example, peaceful civil disobedience and any non-violent direct action could be characterized as “physically preventing a lawful activity.
Experts believe that due to the heavy penalties for violations under the proposed legislation, the bill would actually have a discouraging effect on peaceful protests, and they believe the ones most at risk of the negative impact are environmentalists and land rights defenders. The experts argue that the bill and its effects will amount to violations against 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 March UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai, one of the experts involved in the current situation, welcomed [UN News Centre report] a bill in the lower house of the Victorian Parliament that sought to repeal strict laws regarding protests [JURIST report]. In September 2014 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 in March 2014 the UN called for stronger protection of activists [JURIST report].