Law & best practices

International law and best practices on peaceful assembly and association rights

The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association are enshrined in a number of international and regional human rights instruments, from the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (Article 20(1)) to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (Articles 21 and 22). Similar protections exist in a number of regional human rights instruments as well, including the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Articles 10 and 11), the American Convention on Human Rights (Article 11), and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Article 12).

A list of International and regional references can be found here. Or, check out the Special Rapporteur’s factsheet series, which summarizes key aspects of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in an easy-to-use question/answer format.

Best practices

As part of his first report to the Human Rights Council in 2012, Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai highlighted “best practices” for the promotion and protection of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

These best practices cover not only what is required by international human rights law, but also include principles that go beyond these legally binding obligations (A/HRC/16/51, para. 10). They make reference to legal and institutional frameworks and are based on existing or emerging practice via State institutions, intergovernmental organizations, international treaty bodies, international, regional or domestic courts (jurisprudence) or scholars.

In order to identify such best practices, the Special Rapporteur sent a questionnaire to Member States, national human rights institutions, regional human rights mechanisms, non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and other stakeholders. A total of 87 replies were received.

Considering the very large scope of the rights at stake, these best practices are not intended to be exhaustive. Rather, they represent an initial overview of legal and institutional frameworks that should be adopted and implemented to comply with the spirit and the letter of human rights in the context of the rights of freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

The entire report can be viewed here. For ease of reference, the best practices have been excerpted and categorized at the links below:

1. Best practices – common principles, including:
• legal framework
• environment in which the rights to freedom of assembly and of association are exercised

2. Best practices related to the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, including:
• the definition of “peaceful assembly”
• the right to hold and to participate in a peaceful assembly
• the right to be protected from undue interference
• monitoring of peaceful assemblies

3. Best practices related to the right of association, including:
• the definition of an “association”
• the right to form and join an association
• the right to operate freely and be protected from undue interference
• the right to access funding and resources (for more detailed information, also see this report)
• the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs
• termination, suspension and dissolution of associations

4. The right to an effective remedy and accountability for human rights violations and abuses.

Practical recommendations for the management of assemblies

In March 2014, the Human Rights Council requested that Special Rapporteur Kiai join with Christof Heyns, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, to produce a report compiling practical recommendations for the proper management of assemblies (see resolution 25/38).

In early 2015, Kiai and Heyns officially launched a special project to fulfill the Council’s request. Throughout the better part of 2015, the Special Rapporteurs and their teams travelled to various regions of the world to solicit input from UN Member States and various stakeholders (including the general public) on best practices for the proper management of assemblies.

The report was released on March 2, 2016 – incorporating the input of over 100 experts, 50 UN Member States, and numerous others who responded to the questionnaire – and presented to the Human Rights Council at its 31st session, on March 9, 2016. You can read at this link.

Detailed instructions on how to file a complaint with the Special Rapporteur are available at this link. Complaints can also be submitted securely online via the United Nations at the following link: https://spsubmission.ohchr.org/

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