Assemblies—whether political protests, cultural parades, online gatherings, or some other form of coming together for a common purpose—are a core component of thriving pluralistic societies. The freedom to peacefully assemble is a fundamental right protected by international, regional, national, and even local legal instruments. States should enable and protect the exercise of this fundamental right, including through supportive legal frameworks. ICNL and ECNL actively monitor restrictions on the freedom of assembly. We offer resources and technical expertise on laws and regulations to enable the full enjoyment of this right around the world.
Freedom of Assembly
“The freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are not cultural or specific to a particular place or time. They are born from our common human heritage. It is human nature – and human necessity – that people come together to collectively pursue their interests.”
- Former UN Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai
Protecting the right of peaceful assembly has never been more important, with widespread protests in recent years met by an array of repressive practices, including limitations imposed in response to COVID-19. It is timely and vital, then, that in July 2020, the UN Human Rights Committee issued General Comment No. 37, which provides comprehensive guidance on this right. ICNL and ECNL, along with CSI partners, contributed to its development by providing legal expertise, organizing consultations with civil society representatives, and coordinating their contributions.
ECNL has worked extensively to promote and protect the right to freedom of assembly in Europe and around the world both in the physical and online space. They have also helped create safeguards on the UN and EU level, and shape progressive national laws that protect and enable freedom of assembly. ECNL works with organizations to monitor laws and protests so that they can identify shortcomings in legal frameworks and practices, as well as report violations.
In 2017, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted groundbreaking guidelines to support and protect freedom of assembly on the African continent. ICNL and our regional partners are members of the support group that works with ACHPR’s special rapporteur on human rights defenders to increase awareness of the guidelines and monitor states’ compliance with them.
As part of our U.S. Program, ICNL works to protect and promote the right to freedom of assembly. Our protest law tracker records and analyzes proposed and enacted state and federal legislation that would limit this right. We also produce briefers that analyze legislation that would both undercut or better promote the freedom of assembly, track trends affecting the freedom of assembly, and engage in international forums to provide an expert voice about the U.S. experience.
This resource is designed to provide easily accessible legal arguments that lawyers, activists, and judges can use to protect and promote the freedoms of association and of peaceful assembly. Initially published in 2017 by Maina Kiai, former UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, it is organized by theme and focuses on the most common restrictions on FOAA around the world.
ECNL built this library of resources to support efforts to develop international standards for freedom of assembly and help organizations advocate effectively for more favorable legal environments. The library includes UN and regional materials related to the right of peaceful assembly.
Since 2016, ECNL has helped a network of local partners monitor laws, observe protests, report challenges, and engage in legal reform processes to protect and promote this fundamental right. In 2018, ECNL’s monitoring reports covered twelve countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. In 2020, it released a monitoring report on the Balkans.
Since November 2016, forty states have considered over 130 bills that would restrict the right to protest in the United States. The U.S. Protest Law Tracker tracks and provides descriptions of federal and state initiatives that seek to restrict the freedom of assembly.
UN Special Rapporteur Reports
This 2019 report from the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association focuses on opportunities and barriers to the exercise of these rights online.
This 2018 report from the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association explores the relationship between these key rights and implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
This 2014 report from the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association examines the threats and challenges facing at-risk and marginalized groups when they seek to exercise these key rights.
Guidelines & Best Practices
This tool offers detailed guidance for civil society organizations on using General Comment 37 to help advance freedom of peaceful assembly through advocacy, awareness-raising, and training efforts at the local, national, and regional levels.
These guidelines released in 2017 by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights provide practical suggestions for protecting the rights to freedom of association and assembly, based on international law and best practices.
This 2016 joint report from the United Nations special rapporteurs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions offer recommendations for managing assemblies to protect the rights of the people involved.
This 2019 report from the Special Rapporteur of the Freedom of Expression of the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights details standards on the rights involved in social protest as well as obligations to guide the response of the State.
This 2012 report from the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association outlines best practices for promoting and protecting freedom of assembly.
These 2010 guidelines from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe serve as a toolkit for legislators and practitioners seeking to enable and protect the exercise of this key right. Examples of good practice are drawn from European and OSCE member state national legislation as well as case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
These 2020 guidelines from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights provide guidance on the use of less-lethal weapons (LLWs) by law enforcement, including in the context of the policing of assemblies and public order management.
Legal Instruments & Case Law
General Comment No. 37 on the ICCPR, UN Human Rights Committee
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 20
Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, Article 5
Bukta and Others v. Hungary, Application No. 25691/04; judgment of 17 October 2007: The European Court of Human Rights held that dispersing an assembly solely for failure to provide prior notification is a violation of the right to peaceful assembly.
Belyazeka v Belarus, UN Human Rights Committee Communication No. 1772/2008: The United Nations Human Rights Committee found that because the state could not provide any evidence that a public commemoration was a threat, its dispersal was a violation of the participants’ right to assemble.
This 2018 in-depth study assesses formal and informal restrictions on the viability of civil society in Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia, including constraints on the right to freedom of assembly. The report is available in English and Arabic.
ECNL’s 2017 report maps out the environment for freedom of assembly in Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, and Serbia.
This 2014 article from ICNL focuses on the legality of permission requirements and discusses other practices that facilitate the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly.
This 2011 article in the International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law explores the connection between new technologies and the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
This ICNL Country Note provides an overview of the regulation of freedom of assembly in Burundi, including legal definitions, notification procedures, and regulatory approaches to spontaneous gatherings and counterdemonstrations.
This ICNL Country Note provides an overview of the regulation in of freedom of assembly in the Czech Republic, including legal definitions, notification procedures, and regulatory approaches to spontaneous gatherings and counterdemonstrations.