An election worker at a polling centre in Kandahar, Afghanistan, in 2009 (photo: Canada in Afghanistan)
October 2013

The rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in the context of elections

Elections are a unique moment in the life of any nation, determining the direction of policies and priorities. No other event better exemplifies the right to public participation. And no other time requires more robust exercise and protection of the freedoms of assembly and association.

Worldwide, however, space for dissent is shrinking around election time – whether it is harassment of civil society groups in Zimbabwe, death threats against activists in Nicaragua, or smear campaigns against election monitors in Malaysia.

This report – the the Special Rapporteur’s first to the UN General Assembly – documents countless threats to the freedoms of assembly and expression in the context of elections. The report’s most critical finding is deceptively simple: elections do not take place in a vacuum, and their quality cannot be judged solely by what happens during the vote. We must also examine what happens before and after elections, and survey the long-term rights landscape, particularly the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association. People should be given more space – not less – to exercise their assembly and association rights.

The Special Rapporteur believes that threats to freedom of assembly and association during election periods should be among our deepest concerns, because elections confer legitimacy on governments – and a vibrant civil society is essential for legitimate elections.

The report was released publicly in mid-September 2013, and was presented to the UN General Assembly in October 2013.

The UN document number is A/68/299.