UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai convened an expert consultation in Geneva on December 9 to help shape the parameters of his next thematic report, which will be presented to the Human Rights Council in June 2014.
The thematic report will focus on how laws and practices may discriminate against and exclude certain groups when exercising or seeking to exercise their rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.
The Geneva consultation was organized to focus on problems faced by specific groups that the Special Rapporteur and his team had identified as frequently at risk, including youth, women, LGBT individuals, indigenous peoples, minorities, refugees, migrants and other non-nationals/stateless persons, and persons with disabilities. This is, of course, a non-exhaustive list. As one of the participants in our consultation pointed out, all of us can face heightened risks in certain circumstances (as Kiai’s latest thematic report on elections makes clear).
As the consultation participants shared their stories and expertise, however, it became clear that most groups face similar types of threats – at least broadly speaking – despite coming from different countries and advocating for different issues. These threats can be categorized, and given the large and diverse number of groups most at-risk, it might be more useful to approach the topic from the perspective of “threat types.”
The four overarching types of constraints that we have tentatively identified include:
- Association and assembly laws that contain explicitly discriminatory provisions: This could include laws which prohibit assemblies or associations by certain groups (e.g., assemblies promoting gender rights or laws which explicitly prohibit migrants from registering associations)
- Association and assembly laws that are generally stated, but have disproportionately negative impact on certain groups: This could include, for example, general-application “public morality” laws which are used selectively against those promoting LGBT rights or national security laws that are used to crack down against disfavored associations and assemblies.
- Other laws that have a disproportionate impact on assembly and association rights: Examples in this category include laws which deny legal capacity to persons with disabilities, who then may not be able to open a bank account necessary for the formation of a registered association. It could also include laws that impose curfews for youth.
- Practices: These constraints go beyond legal provisions themselves. They could include everything from how authorities police counterdemonstrations to the accessibility of government buildings where associations are registered (are they accessible to the disabled? Are they accessible to those in rural areas who may not have the time and money to travel long distances?). It may also include such practices as targeting children at demonstrations and then accusing mothers of putting their children at risk.
Is this approach useful, and if so, what other categories might we be missing? We invite you to leave your comments below, or to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
We are also interested in hearing more about groups most at risk of attacks or reprisals when exercising their assembly and association rights. And we are particularly interested in recommendations on how to reduce these risks and protect members of the groups and human rights defenders. If you would like to submit information, please provide as much detail as possible and be sure to specify which country and laws you are referring to.
If you are interested in submitting information, you may also wish to review our original concept paper for the December 9 consultation, which is available here.
Lastly, we would like to thank all of those who participated in the December 9 consultation. Your expertise, stories and insights were extremely valuable in helping us prepare this report. An album of photos from the consultation is available by clicking on the photo at the top of this page.