USA, July 20 (IPS) – French writer and philosopher Voltaire (1694-1778), once famously observed: “I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend the rights of friends to death, the right to speak them”.
But that political axiom hardly applies to many governments in Asia, Africa, Europe, and Latin America — including Greece, the United Kingdom, Thailand, Hong Kong, India, Myanmar, Chile. France, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Cyprus, where the right to protest, along with freedom of expression, is increasingly threatened.
The government has controlled freedom of speech and the right to protest – which has also taken place in Sudan, Belarus, Turkey and Colombia.
London-based human rights group Amnesty International (AI), says protesters around the globe are facing a powerful mix of protests, with more and more laws and other measures to limit the right to protest; abuse of force, illegal mass expansion and targeted surveillance; turn off the internet and online censorship; and abuse and discrimination.
The AI said the right to protest was “under an unprecedented and growing threat across all regions of the world”, because The organization has launched a new global campaign to confront the expanding and intensifying efforts of states to undermine basic human rights.
According to AI, “from Russia to Sri Lanka, France to Senegal, and Iran to Nicaragua, state authorities are taking a series of measures to crack down on organized dissent.”
Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s Secretary-General, said in recent years “we have seen some of the biggest protest campaigns in decades”.
She points out that Black Lives Matter, MeToo, and the climate change movements have inspired millions of people around the world to take to the streets and online to demand racial and climate justice, equity and birth design, while ending gender-based violence and discrimination.
Elsewhere, she said, thousands of people have stood up to police violence and killing, and state repression and oppression.
When asked for feedback, Mandeep S. Tiwana, Program Manager at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, told IPS that historically great political transformations have been brought about through protest.
“Continued mass mobilizations have resulted in significant rights victories including expansion of women’s suffrage, decolonization in the Global South, passage of essential civil rights laws, removal of abolish military dictatorships, defeat racism, legalize same-sex marriage, recognize the climate emergency and much more,” he said.
“Exercising the right to peaceful protest is a strong check on high-level corruption, abuses of dictatorship and power. However, because of this, it is still heavily abused by anti-democratic forces and heavily suppressed,” declared Tiwana.
Over the past year, according to the latest CIVICUS Monitor, civil society worldwide has faced many legal and extralegal restrictions as documented in the Monitor.
CIVICUS Monitor currently ranks 39 countries and territories as Open41 reviews are Narrow down42 is rated as Obstructed50 is rated as Repressed and 25 is rated as Closed.
Andreas Bummel, Executive Director, Democracy Without Borders, told IPS that the ability to express dissent and discontent through peaceful protest is a fundamental human right and a key component of the economy. democracy.
“This restriction and denial of democratic rights is clearly wrong. This new campaign is very important and comes at the right time,” he said.
Speaking on the outcome of the recently concluded 50th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, the US State Department said the US co-sponsors a resolution on “promoting and protecting human rights in the context of human rights”. peaceful demonstration”.
This resolution calls on member states to “facilitate peaceful protests by providing protesters with access to public spaces within sight and sound of the intended target audience.” and promote an environment that is safe and enabling individuals to exercise their rights to freedom of assembly, peaceful expression, and association– both online and offline. “
AI says that “Defend the rally“The campaign aims to challenge attacks on peaceful protests, stand with those targeted, and support the causes of social movements that promote human rights change.
“Almost without exception, this wave of mass protest has been met with obstruction, repression and often violent reaction by state authorities. Instead of facilitating the right to protest, governments will have to do much longer to quell it.”
“This is why, as the largest human rights organization in the world, we have chosen this moment to launch this campaign. It’s time to stand up and loudly remind those in power of our inalienable right to protest, express grievances, and demand change freely, collectively and publicly”, AI said in a statement released July 19.
A range of issues including the environmental crisis, growing inequality and threats to livelihoods, systemic racism and gender-based violence have made collective action a needed more than ever. Governments have responded by introducing legislation that imposes illegal restrictions on the right to protest.
For example, the AI says, “we have seen blanket bans on protests, as seen in Greece and Cyprus during the Covid-19 pandemic. In the UK, a new law includes provisions that give police officers wide-ranging powers, including the ability to ban ‘noisy demonstrations’, while SenegalPolitical rallies in central Dakar have been banned since 2011, excluding demonstrations near government buildings”.
Governments of all kinds are also increasingly using emergency powers as an excuse to rein in dissent. This was witnessed at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic in countries including Thailand, while in the Democratic Republic of Congo, a ‘state of siege’ imposed by the government has provided military and police officers with extensive powers to limit protests in Ituri and North Kivu provinces since May 2021.
“Governments around the world are justifying the restrictions by arguing that protests are a threat to public order and by stigmatizing protesters, labeling them as ‘prosecutors’. rioters”, “rioters” or even “terrorists”. By leading protesters in this direction, the authorities have justified zero-tolerance approaches: introducing and misusing vague and draconian security laws, implementing draconian policies and take pre-emptive measures. “
This approach has been witnessed in Hong Kong, where National Security Law and its expanded definition of “national security” has been used arbitrarily, among other things, to limit protests.
And, in India, fighting terrorism Unlawful Prevention (Operations) Act (UAPA) and the crime of “sedition,” has been used repeatedly against peaceful protesters, journalists and human rights defenders.
While governments have long relied on aggressive tactics to combat police protests, security forces have increased their use of force in recent years.
The AI says so-called less-lethal weapons, including batons, pepper spray, tear gas, stun grenades, water cannons and rubber bullets are often misused by security forces .
And, since the early 2000s, AI has noted a tendency to militarize state responses to protests, including the use of armed forces and military equipment.
In countries including Chile and France Security forces in full riot gear are typically supported by armored vehicles, military-grade aircraft, surveillance drones, guns and assault weapons, stun grenades and sonic cannons bar.
During the popular uprising after the 2021 coup in Myanmar, the military used unlawful lethal force against peaceful protesters. According to the screen, more than 2,000 people have been killed and more than 13,000 arrested since the military took power.
“People who face inequality and discrimination, whether based on race, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, age, disability, occupation, social status, etc. , economic or migration are also more affected by restrictions on the right to protest and face harsher repression”, According to AI.
For example, women, LGBTI and gender nonconforming people are facing various types of violence based on gender, marginalization, social norms and the law.
“Our campaign comes at a pivotal time. The precious right to protest is being eroded at an alarming rate and we must do all we can to push back,” said Callamard.
“Countless protesters have been killed in recent years, and on behalf of them, in part, we must speak up for ourselves and defend our right to speak the truth through street and online protests. .”
Note: Summary, Defend the Protest!: Why We Must Protect Our Right to Protest, available here.
Report of the United Nations Office IPS
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