GENEVA – United Nations Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai today welcomed the introduction of a bill by the Victoria State’s government in Australia into the lower house of the Parliament to repeal restrictive laws regulating protests.
“In my previous thematic reports, I identified a series of best practices that provide valuable advice for compliance of State authorities with international law,” the expert stated.
“Authorities 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”, Mr. Kiai stressed. “Public space must be made available for individuals and groups in order for them to exercise their fundamental freedoms.”
In that regard, the Special Rapporteur welcomed the government of Victoria’s intention to revoke the state’s 2014 controversial ‘move-on laws,’ which grant police extensive powers to move protesters who might be obstructing buildings or traffic or ‘causing people to have a reasonable fear of violence.’ The 2014 law, which expanded Victoria’s original Summary Offenses Act, allows authorities to impose harsh penalties on offenders, including arrest, fines, and exclusion orders banning individuals from entering specified public spaces space for up to a year.
“Police have a difficult but prominent role to play to maintain peace, to protect individuals’ safety and to enforce the law. Enforcing the law includes the implementation of human rights law, without which there would be no security, no justice,” he added.
As the proposed bill aimed to repeal the 2014 ‘move-on laws’ is now due to go through the lower and upper house of the State’s Parliament with a debate to take place on 5 March 2015, the UN expert called on the authorities to take additional steps to respect and protect the right of peaceful assembly.
“I strongly encourage the overturn of any legislation that curtails the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly,” Mr. Kiai said. “I 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.”