Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

General comment No. 37 by the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly

Original submission can be found here
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This submission is in response to a call for comments on the Revised Draft General Comment No. 37 on Article 21 (Right of Peaceful Assembly) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. These comments were submitted by a group of Latin American human rights organizations including: Alianza Regional por la Libre Expresión e Información, Article 19 – Oficina para México y Centroamérica, Blogueiras Negras (Brasil), Casa da Cultura Digital Porto Alegre (Brasil), Centro de Estudios de Derecho, Justicia y Sociedad – DeJusticia (Colombia), Centro de Estudios Legales y Sociales – CELS (Argentina), Centro por la Justicia y el Derecho Internacional – CEJIL, Derechos Digitales (América Latina), Fundación Construir (Bolivia), Fundación Internet (Bolivia), Greenpeace USA (Estados Unidos), InternetLab – Pesquisa emDireito e Tecnología (Brasil), National Lawyers Guild (Estados Unidos), POJOAJU Asociación de ONGs del Paraguay, Red en Defensa de los Derechos Digitales – R3D (México), and SurSiendo – Comunicación y Cultura Digital (México).

Joint Contribution

General comment No. 37 by the United Nations Human Rights Committee on the Right to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly (Art. 21, ICCPR)

February 2020

Esteemed Committee Members:
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We address the Committee in representation of a group of Latin American human rights organizations in relation to the Committee’s open consultation with regard to the latest draft of General Comment No. 37 on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly (hereinafter, “the draft”) in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (hereinafter, “the Covenant”).
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This presentation resulted from the exchange that took place at the regional consultation for the Americas organized by Article 19 on the 4th and 5th of December 2019 at Mexico City with the participation of two members of the Committee. It aims to put at your disposal considerations on the draft and the specific content of the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, based on our organizations’ experiences on the ground, as well as developments in standards and recommended practices in recent years at the regional and international levels.
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The document focuses on the following issues: 1) general considerations and language in the report; 2) the notion of “violent protests;” 3) authorization and prior notice; 4) illegitimate restrictions on the right of peaceful assembly; 5) obligations of the States Party in relation to the right to freedom of peaceful protest; 6) accountability. The annex contains suggestions on alternative wording to the current text in a variety of paragraphs with a view toward incorporating these observations into the main body of this report.
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We are at your disposal to expand on or clarify anything you deem necessary.
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1. General Considerations
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1.1. Draft structure
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One of the structural problems with the draft is that key issues for the right of assembly are developed in a dispersed way throughout the document, in many cases with significant differences in wording in different paragraphs. The result of this is that we find different, and even contradictory, standards in the draft for several such issues.
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One example is the definition of “peaceful assembly” and the limits on state response in the event of verification of acts of violence in these contexts. There are clear contradictions and different wordings in paragraphs 10, 17, 19, 20, 21 and 49 that must be resolved in the new draft.
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1.2. Contradictions with the most recent standards on the right of assembly
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General Comment No. 37 is being discussed in a context in which the issue of the right of assembly has in recent years been the object of numerous consultations by regional systems of protection, international organizations and, particularly, by the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions and, at the Americas level, the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) and the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
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The numerous spaces for discussion, forms and drafts distributed have resulted in the production of valuable reports that are moving forward to precisely define State obligations in the context of assemblies. These documents constitute a valuable foundation for the interpretation of Art. 21 of the Covenant in that they take into account the reality of the exercise of this right on the ground, in particular the realities of States’responses to protest. These responses tend increasingly toward the repression, criminalization and hindering of the exercise of assembly throughout the world. Nevertheless, at various points the draft presents a lower, more flexible or general standard than that developed in recent reports.
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For instance, the draft moves backward in relation to the conclusion reached by different mechanisms in the sense that systems of prior authorization are incompatible with the right of assembly, and that according to how they are used, notification procedures may also be incompatible with this right (see Sect. 3 of this document). In its paragraph 84, the draft admits procedures of prior authorization by not establishing its incompatibility with Art. 21 of the Covenant. Insofar as systems of advance notification are concerned, it addresses them in general as positive and necessary, and a responsibility held by protesters that, if unmet, would warrant restrictive measures on the right of assembly. Paragraph 88 of the draft refers to the need to impose policing measures at assemblies“for which the authorities are not notified in advance and which may affect public order.”This is a dangerous standard that authorizes intrusive measures and associates the failure to provide notification with an effect on public order. This standard is contrary to the one by the European Court of Human Rights, which considered that the dissolution of a peaceful assembly for not having complied with the requirement to provide advance notification constitutes a disproportionate restriction on the freedom of peaceful assembly. 2
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Read the full contribution here


  1. Integran la Alianza Regional las organizaciones:Acción Ciudadana (Guatemala), Artigo 19 (Brasil), Asociación Nacional de la Prensa – ANP (Bolivia), Centro de Archivos y Acceso a la Información – Cainfo (Uruguay), Comité por la Libre Expresión – C-Libre (Honduras), Espacio Público (Venezuela), Fundación Democracia sin Fronteras – FDsF (Honduras), Fundación Salvadoreña para el Desarrollo Económico y Social– FUSADES (El Salvador), Fundación Ciudadanía y Desarrollo –FCD (Ecuador), Fundación Violeta Barrios de Chamorro –FVBCH (Nicaragua), Fundar, Centro de Análisis e Investigación (México), Instituto de Derecho y Economía Ambiental – IDEA (Paraguay), Instituto de Prensa y Libertad de Expresión – IPLEX (Costa Rica), Observatorio Cubano de Derechos Humanos (Cuba), Participación Ciudadana (República Dominicana), Transparencia por Colombia (Colombia),y Transparencia Venezuela (Venezuela).
  2. Bukta and others vs. Hungary, Application no. 25691/04 (2007).

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