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

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.

Key Initiatives

General Comment 37

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.

Freedom of Association & Assembly in Africa

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.

Freedom of Assembly in Europe

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.

Freedom of Assembly in the United States

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.

Key Resources

FOAA Online: Resource for Litigation and Advocacy

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.

Library of UN & Regional Freedom of Assembly Materials

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.

Monitoring Freedom of 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.

U.S. Protest Law Tracker

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

Freedom of Assembly in the Digital Age

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.

The Sustainable Development Goals & Freedom of Assembly

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.

Freedom of Assembly & At-risk Groups

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

General Comment 37: A SHORT GUIDE FOR ACTIVISTS

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.

Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa

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.

Guidelines on the Management of Assemblies

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.

Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Standards on the Right to Protest

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.

Freedom of Assembly Best Practices

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.

OSCE Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful 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.

UN Human Rights Guidance on Less Lethal Weapons

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

FOAA Online: Resource for Litigation and Advocacy

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 (FOAA). It is organized by theme and focuses on the most common restrictions on FOAA around the world. The resource refers to international treaties, standards and principles emanating from international treaty bodies, the jurisprudence of regional courts, and existing or emerging practice from around the world. This resource does not seek to provide a comprehensive overview of existing caselaw with respect to FoAA, but rather to present a representative range of cases.

Other Resources

Civic Freedoms in the Middle East & North Africa

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.

Monitoring the Right to Assembly in Nine Countries

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.

Freedom of Assembly: Procedures of Permission & Notification

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.

Association & Assembly in the Digital Age

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.

Freedom of Assembly in Burundi

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.

All Freedom of Assembly Related Resources

Comments on Amendments to Uzbek Criminal Code

Comments on Amendments to Uzbek Criminal Code
ICNL's comments on "amendments to the Criminal Code of the Republic of Uzbekistan and to ... Read More

The Arvin Framework

The Arvin Framework
Developed jointly by ICNL and the World Bank in 2003, the ARVIN Framework is an ... Read More

The Rule of Law, Custom, and Civil Society in the South Pacific An Overview

The Rule of Law, Custom, and Civil Society in the South Pacific An Overview
Western legal thought, at least as popularized in general literature, assumes the universality of certain ... Read More

UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials

UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials
Adopted by the Eighth United Nations Congress on the Prevention of Crime and the Treatment ... Read More
Explore our full resource collection, which includes reports, legal analysis, and curated collections of materials covering an array of issues impacting civic space around the world.