Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai undertook his second official visit to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland from April 18-21, 2016, as a follow-up to his official visit to the United Kingdom in 2013.
The visit was carried out pursuant to his mandate to assess the situation of freedoms of peaceful assembly and association in the country.
At a press conference at the end of his visit on April 21, 2016, the Special Rapporteur noted that the UK takes its role as one of the global leaders in human rights seriously, but cautioned against a series of domestic measures that have resulted in the “closing of space for civil society.”
“I am concerned about a series of separate measures by the Government – some implemented and others proposed – which, put together, suggest that the Government has a negative view of civil society,” he said in his concluding statement. “These moves have, in many instances, been subtle and gradual, but they are unmistakable and alarming.”
He highlighted in particular the Government’s focus on countering “non-violent extremism” without a narrow and explicit definition of the term. He specifically referred to the Prevent strategy which focuses on individuals and groups that appear contrary to the “British Values” of democracy, pluralism and tolerance, and who are seen as being predisposed to respond to terrorist ideologies.
“The lack of definitional clarity, combined with the encouragement of people to report suspicious activity, have created unease and uncertainty around what can legitimately be discussed in public,” he said. “It appears that Prevent is having the opposite of its intended effect: by dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population,” Kiai said.
Kiai also expressed concerns about the planned Counter-Extremism Bill, the inquiry over police surveillance of activists, the policing of protests, and an upcoming Trade Union Bill could infringe on workers’ rights to freely associate. The latter would would require that 50% of union members turn out to vote on industrial action, and that at least 40% of the entire membership – assuming the 50% minimum turnout met – votes in favor of the action. Kiai called the proposal “profoundly undemocratic.”
“Anyone who doubts this should ask themselves how they would feel if similar requirements were imposed for UK general elections,” he said. “Would it also be more democratic if the Government required a 50% turnout of voters, and 40% approval of the all eligible voters, in order for the results of the upcoming EU referendum to be valid? The logic behind this requirement is disingenuous.”
Maina Kiai’s report on the visit was released on May 29, 2017, and was presented to the 35th session of the Human Rights Council by his successor Annalisa Ciampi on June 6-7, 2017.