The right to protest is under unprecedented and growing threat in all regions of the world, Amnesty International said today, as the organization launched a new global campaign to confront the growing and intensified efforts of States to erode this fundamental human right.
From Russia to Sri Lanka, from France to Senegal and from Iran to Nicaragua, state authorities are implementing an increasing array of measures to suppress organized dissent. Protesters around the world face a potent mix of pushbacks, with a growing number of laws and other measures aimed at restricting the right to protest; the excessive use of force, the expansion of unlawful mass and targeted surveillance; Internet shutdowns and online censorship; and abuse and stigma. Meanwhile, marginalized and discriminated groups face even greater barriers.
Amnesty International’s ‘Protect the Protest’ campaign will oppose attacks on peaceful protests, stand with those targeted and support the causes of social movements working for human rights change.
“In recent years, we have seen some of the biggest protest mobilizations in decades. Black Lives Matter, MeToo and the climate change movements have inspired millions around the world to take to the streets and online to demand racial and climate justice, equity and livelihoods, as well as an end to gender-based violence and discrimination. Elsewhere, thousands of people have spoken out against police violence and killings, state repression and oppression,” said Agnès Callamard, Secretary General of Amnesty International.
“Almost without exception, this wave of mass protests has been met with obstructive, repressive and often violent responses from state authorities. Instead of facilitating the right to protest, governments are going further and further to nullify it. That is why, as the largest human rights organization in the world, we have chosen this moment to launch this campaign. It is time to stand up and remind those in power loud and clear of our inalienable right to protest, air grievances and demand change freely, collectively and publicly.”
Restrictive legislation, general prohibitions and emergency powers
A range of issues, including the environmental crisis, growing inequalities and threats to livelihoods, systemic racism and gender-based violence, have made collective action even more necessary. Governments have responded by introducing laws imposing illegitimate restrictions on the right to protest. For example, we have seen blanket bans on protests, as seen in Greece and Cyprus during the Covid-19 pandemic. United Kingdom, a new law contains provisions giving police sweeping powers, including the ability to ban “noisy demonstrations”, while in Senegalpolitical demonstrations in central Dakar have been banned since 2011, excluding demonstrations near government buildings.
Governments of all kinds are also increasingly using emergency powers as a pretext to suppress dissent. This was seen at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in countries like Thailand, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a “state of siege” imposed by the government has granted the military and police sweeping powers to restrict protests in Ituri and North Kivu provinces since May 2021.
Demonization of protesters
Governments around the world justify restrictions by arguing that protest poses a threat to public order and by stigmatizing protesters; calling them “troublemakers”, “rioters” or even “terrorists”. Casting protesters in this light, authorities justified zero-tolerance approaches: introducing and abusing vague and draconian security laws, deploying heavy-handed police, and taking preemptive deterrents.
This approach has been observed in Hong Kong, where the National Security Act and its broad definition of “national security” have been used arbitrarily, among other things, to restrict protests.
And, in India, the anti-terrorist Unlawful (Activity) Prevention Act (UAPA) and the crime of “sedition”, have been repeatedly used against peaceful protesters, journalists and human rights defenders.
Militarization of the police
While governments have long resorted to aggressive tactics during police protests, security forces have increased the force they use in recent years.
So-called less-lethal weapons, including batons, pepper spray, tear gas, stun grenades, water cannons and rubber bullets, are routinely misused by security forces. And, since the early 2000s, Amnesty International has documented a trend of militarization of state responses to protests, including the use of armed forces and military equipment. In countries where Chile and France security forces in full riot gear are often supported by armored vehicles, military-grade aircraft, surveillance drones, assault rifles and weapons, stun grenades and stun cannons.
During the mass uprising that followed the 2021 coup in Burma, the military used unlawful deadly force against peaceful protesters. More than 2,000 people have been killed, according to observers, and more than 13,000 arrested since the army took power.
Inequality and discrimination
People who face inequality and discrimination, whether based on race, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, disability, occupation, status social, economic or migratory, are also more affected by restrictions on their right to demonstrate and face harsher repression.
For example, women, LGBTI and gender non-conforming people face different types of gender-based violence, marginalization, social norms and legislation. In countries where Sudan, Colombia and Belaruswomen have been sexually assaulted for participating in protests, while in Turkeyfor example, pride marches have been banned for years.
“Our campaign comes at a critical time. The precious right to protest is being eroded at a terrifying rate, and we must do everything to push it back,” said Agnès Callamard.
“Countless protesters have been killed in recent years, and it is partly in their name that we must now raise our voices and defend our right to speak truth to power through protests in the streets and online. .
briefing, Protect the Protest! : why we must preserve our right to protestis available here.
International human rights law protects the right to protest through a number of distinct provisions enshrined in various international and regional treaties which, taken together, provide protests with comprehensive protection. Although the right to protest is not codified as a separate right in human rights treaties, when people engage in protest, whether individually or collectively, they are exercising a variety of rights. , which may include the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.
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