Protecting Peaceful Assembly Onland and Online

In recent years, the right to peaceful assembly has been under threat
worldwide. Many governments have unduly restricted assemblies, cracked
down on online gatherings, used excessive force against protesters, and
deployed new surveillance technologies against activists. COVID-19 has
exacerbated this issue, with significant restrictions on gatherings imposed in the name of public health.

To help address these troubling trends, in July 2020, the UN Human Rights Committee issued General Comment No. 37: the UN’s first comprehensive guidance on the right to peaceful assembly, as enshrined in Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It sets out clear standards relating to assemblies off and online.

ICNL, alongside ECNL, provided key assistance by acting as both a source of expertise and a link to civil society. This included supporting research, convening experts, and organizing consultations to ensure that all voices were included in the drafting process. Additionally, we provided analyses urging the Comment to protect online and private assemblies, solidify the universal definition of assembly, and decisively denounce internet shutdowns. The final Comment sets out progressive guidance, as urged in ICNL’s submission, and the Committee acknowledged ICNL’s influence on many of these issues.

We are working globally with ECNL and other partners to share guidance with civil society organizations on how the Comment can be used to protect peaceful assembly. One example is Iraq, where there has been an increase in lethal attacks on peaceful assembly by government actors. In response, ICNL and local partners are using the General Comment to train organizations to monitor assembly rights with the goal of defending the lives and freedoms of all Iraqis.

Furthermore, we published a guide to the Comment, available in four languages. It presents user-friendly information about the Comment and recommendations for action, drawing on initiatives that our partners have implemented globally to protect peaceful assembly in their home countries.

This story is from our 2019-2020 Annual Report. Each story in the report shows how our partners across the world help protect and, where possible, expand civic space.