Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) Report on Protest and Human Rights

In September 2019, the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights and its Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression published a report on Protest and Human Rights: Standards on the rights involved in social protest and the obligations to guide the response of the State that is now also available in English.

The report provides a comprehensive overview of the obligations of States to guarantee, protect, and facilitate public protests and demonstrations. It underscores that all protests should be presumed peaceful, that the exercise of the right should not be subject to prior authorisation and that demonstrators should, as a rule, be free to choose the mode, form, place, and message for their peaceful protest. Restrictions imposed on the exercise of the right must remain an exception and must be necessary and proportionate to protect a legitimate interest.

It is stressed that security forces should not act under the assumption that protest constitutes a threat to public order but that the policing of protests should be shaped by facilitation and dialogue.  The dispersal of assemblies through the use of force may only be considered legitimate in exceptional circumstances which constitute a serious risk to the life or physical integrity of persons. The report further emphasizes that lethal force has no place in crowd control and recommends that law enforcement officials involved in the front lines of policing assemblies should not carry firearms.

The report further highlights the common (mis)use of criminal law against organisers and protestors and urges States to refrain from criminalising those exercising their right to assemble on broad, vague or ambiguous legal grounds.

The Commission deplores that states of emergencies are in many cases used to supress the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, and to authorise the armed forces to intervene. The report underscores that protests, even when taking the form of civil unrest, do not in themselves justify the declaration of a state of emergency and resulting undue interference with the exercise of the rights, and that the armed forces should not be involved in crowd control.

PHRP hopes that States across the region will take note of, and implement the standards and recommendations developed by the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights in order to ensure that the rights to freedom of expression and assembly can be exercised in full respect of human rights.