On September 27, 2012, the UN Human Rights Council adopted an important resolution that will help bring protections for the freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association into the 21st century.
The resolution on “the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association” (A/HRC/RES/21/16) reiterates “the important role of new information and communications technologies in enabling and facilitating the enjoyment of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.” It also stresses the importance of States promoting and facilitating access to the Internet.
The resolution also “reminds States of their obligation to respect and fully protect the rights of all individuals to assemble peacefully and associate freely, online as well as offline.” It goes on to stress the importance of safeguarding these rights in the context of elections, and for groups most at risk. “It is critical that the online environment be recognized as an important arena for people to exercising their assembly and association rights,” said Maina Kiai, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association. “The Internet, for example, is not just a means for people to assembly and associate in the real world – it is a place of assembly and association itself.”
In his 2012 report to the Human Rights Council, Kiai noted the “increased use of the Internet, in particular social media, and other information and communication technology, as basic tools which enable individuals to organize peaceful assemblies.” He called on states “to recognize that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association can be exercised through new technologies, including through the Internet.” UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank LaRue, has also called on “States [to] ensure that Internet access is maintained at all times, including during times of political unrest.”
The resolution was tabled by the United States and adopted at the 21st Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. It also reiterates the importance of international cooperation in developing media and information and communications facilities and stresses the important role that the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association play in addressing society’s most important challenges, such as the environment, crime prevention, empowering women, social justice, consumer protection, and human rights.
Resolution A/HRC/RES/21/16 is available in all six UN official languages at the links below: