New Age Islam
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Islam and Politics ( 20 Sept 2011, NewAgeIslam.Com)

Arab Spring Proves Islam is fully Compatible with Democracy: Maldives President Mohamed Nasheed tells UNHRC

Maldives President, Mohamed Nasheed

In his recent keynote speech to the UN Human Rights Council’s Eighteenth session in Geneva President of the Maldives Mohamed Nasheed said that while invited to speak as a President, he stood before the Council as a protester and as someone who had spent much of his adult life speaking out against leaders who placed their own interests over those of their people. He continued: “Recent events across North Africa and the Middle East represented a defining geopolitical moment, comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall. It was a time of awakening, a moment when Muslims across the world were standing up as one to demand equality, human rights, democracy and the rule of law. These developments provided a fitting rebuttal to those inside and outside of Islam, who claimed that Islam was not compatible with democracy. The determination of protesters in Tunis, Cairo, Benghazi and Homs had provided a lens through which it was possible to perceive that all people, no matter whether where they were born or which religion they followed, wanted the same thing: dignity and freedom. 2011 would be seen as a tipping point for peaceful protesters, as the moment when the balance of power swung irreversibly from the state to the streets. In the past, when news and information were more malleable, governments had the option of suppressing protests in the hope of breaking them before news spread. Swift, decisive and often violence action at the outset could in this sense nip the problem in the bud. After 2011 this option was no longer tenable. Information now flowed rapidly and in all directions. It was impossible for governments to contain or manage it. Today the only viable option for States was to listen to the grievances of protesters and to try to address them. This meant that governments must see peaceful protests not as a threat but as an opportunity, an opportunity to start a dialogue with the people and to being a process of reform.

“In a globalised world, the more a government tried to control, the less control it actually had. The only way to rule sustainably was to rule with the trust and the consent of the governed. It was very sad that the governments of Libya and Syria had chosen to deny this reality and had responded to the upwelling of popular protests not with dialogue and reform, but with intimidation and violence. The Maldives, as a fellow Muslim State, had watched with increasing distress as State security forces had been used against unarmed men, women and children. Tens of thousands had been killed and human rights violations committed in both countries may amount to crimes against humanity. As soon as a government chose to rule by the gun rather than by consent, it lost its legitimacy and its right to govern. Peaceful protests could not and must not be seen in isolation; rather they were an important part of a wider process of reform and transition.

“Eight years ago the people of the Maldives began a protest movement that changed the course of its history. At one level these were protests against an autocratic system of government which had monopolized power for 30 years; but these were also protests for something, for a better, fairer system of government, for equality and for justice. In 2008 the previous government was peacefully removed from power in free and fair elections under a new Constitution. Responding to the protesters’ demands to build a better society was still a work in progress. The Maldives, like Tunisia, Egypt and others, was in a process of transition and it was the long-term outcome that would determine whether social aspirations were met. Although each country’s transition was different, it was possible to identify certain common challenges, including establishing and strengthening independent institutions, ensuring that democracy and human rights were guaranteed regardless of who was in power, transitional justice and reconstruction. A clear line should be drawn between reconciliation and revenge. To move forward, the search for truth and justice should be place within an overall framework of national reconciliation. A third challenge was to rebuild the economic fabric of the country. People could not enjoy democratic freedoms if their basic needs were unfulfilled. If governments did not adopt this enlightened approach and chose aggression over discussion and entrenchment over reform then, in today’s globalized world, it was increasingly clear that they would fail.”

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Full Report:

HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL HOLDS PANEL DISCUSSION ON PROMOTION AND PROTECTION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN THE CONTEXT OF PEACEFUL PROTEST

President of Maldives: Recent Events across North Africa and the Middle East Represent a Defining Geopolitical Moment, Similar to the Fall of the Berlin Wall

13 September 2011

The President of the Maldives, Mohamed Nasheed, this afternoon told the Human Rights Council that recent events across North Africa and the Middle East represented a defining geopolitical moment, comparable to the fall of the Berlin Wall, as the Council held a panel discussion on the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests.

The President of the Maldives said that while invited to speak as a President, he stood before the Council as a protester and as someone who had spent much of his adult life speaking out against leaders who placed their own interests over those of their people. The determination of protesters in Tunis, Cairo, Benghazi and Homs had provided a lens through which it was possible to perceive that all people wanted the same thing: dignity and freedom. The only way to rule sustainably was to rule with the trust and the consent of the governed. Although each country’s transition was different, it was possible to identify certain common challenges, including establishing and strengthening independent institutions, ensuring that democracy and human rights were guaranteed regardless of who was in power, transitional justice and reconstruction.

United Nations Deputy High Commissioner Kyung-wha Kang, introducing the panel, said that peaceful protests in far too many instances were met with brutal repression, through summary extrajudicial or arbitrary executions, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. States had the responsibility to promote and protect human rights and prevent human rights violations. Authorities should not view peaceful protests as a threat but rather engage in an open, inclusive and meaningful national dialogue to address protestors’ legitimate demands.

Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly of and association, said that the right of everyone to express their grievances or aspirations for change, including political change through peaceful protests and other non-violent ways, was at the heart of any democratic society. States had the obligation to refrain from committing violations including through the use of excessive force; to protect individuals exercising their rights from abuses committed by state actors; and to take positive measures to prevent violations. Internet and social media had become increasingly important tools of mobilization and connection and Member States should therefore facilitate Internet access to all individuals with as little restriction as possible.

Santiago Canton, Executive Secretary, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said that the right to participate in peaceful protests was an essential tool for the promotion and protection of human rights. The protection of the right of assembly and the right to peaceful protest entailed not only the obligation of the State to not interfere arbitrarily in its exercise but also to adopt positive measures directed at protecting this right. Administrative controls should be established by States to ensure only exceptional use of force in public demonstrations.

Michael Hamilton, Secretary to the Panel of Experts on the Freedom of Assembly of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said that the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights had published the first edition of the Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and had spurred political reform initiatives in several transition countries and established democracies. Mr. Hamilton invited the Council to consider supporting a study of accountability mechanisms in cases where the use of force constituted a crime against humanity or results in death or serious injury.

Khaw Lake Tee, Vice-Chairperson of the Malaysian National Human Rights Commission, said that the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections had held a public rally on 9 July 2011 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to call for the conduct of clean and fair elections in the country. He would speak on the events prior to, during and after the rally on 9 July, and the role of national human rights institutions in the context of public rallies, and would make some recommendations.

Bahey el-din Hassan, General Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said that for several decades those involved in protest movements for economic and political reform in many countries were subjected to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detentions, and torture. Since December 2010, live ammunition and in some cases, snipers and foreign mercenaries and thugs or irregular militias had been used in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen. The international community should begin to put in place a holistic framework on how to provide human rights protection and promotion in responding to protests.

During the panel discussion speakers noted that peaceful demonstrations should result in Governments addressing the social and economic inequalities that led to the uprising and asked the panel of experts to provide more information on best practices to promote a national dialogue between demonstrators and States. The aspirations for democratic participation were universal and therefore guaranteeing the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests should be at the core of the promotion of human rights by all Governments. Critical issues highlighted by various speakers included the need to address impunity, the vulnerability of certain participants in peaceful demonstrations such as women and the young, and the training of law enforcement officials and security forces in handling peaceful protests consistent with the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

Speakers also indicated that the violent repression of peaceful protests was a clear violation of human rights and those responsible for such violations should be held accountable. Capacity building was emphasized, especially the role it could play in training security and law enforcement officials in human rights laws and standards to minimize the use of force. A speaker stressed that there should be no support for blanket restrictions on speech or the use of the Internet or social media, while noting the important vehicle for free expression that social media played in society.

Switzerland, Egypt on behalf of the Arab Group, China, the European Union, the Russian Federation, Brazil, Senegal on behalf of the African Group, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Australia on behalf of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Turkey, Nigeria, Palestine, United States, Norway, Cuba, Thailand and United Kingdom made statements. Representatives of FORUM Asia and the International Federation of Human Rights League also took the floor, as did the Press Emblem Campaign.

The Council will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 14 September 2011, when it will hold a clustered interactive dialogue with the Special Representative on contemporary slavery and the Special Representative on human rights and toxic waste.

Introduction of the Panel Discussion

KYUNG-WHA KANG, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that this panel was taking place against the backdrop of an historical turn of events during the last 10 months which saw brave women and men peacefully taking to the streets in several countries in the Middle East and North Africa and in other regions, guided by a profound desire for increased respect for their fundamental human rights. However, peaceful protests in far too many instances were met with brutal repression, through summary extrajudicial or arbitrary executions, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and torture and other cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment. Such human rights violations were denounced by the High Commissioner in reports and statements on the situations in a number of countries, including in Bahrain, Belarus, Côte d’Ivoire, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Egypt, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, Malawi, the Syrian Arab Republic, Tunisia and Yemen. When peaceful protests occurred, Ms. Kang stressed that States had the responsibility to promote and protect human rights and prevent human rights violations and that authorities should not view peaceful protests as a threat but rather engage in an open, inclusive and meaningful national dialogue to address protestors’ legitimate demands.

In recent months, the Human Rights Council had addressed the issue of the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests on repeated occasions through its examination of country-specific situations, including in respect of Belarus, Côte d’Ivoire, the Libyan Arab Jamahiriya and the Syrian Arab Republic. As an earlier testimony to the importance attached to this issue the Council adopted resolution 15/21 in which it “called upon States to respect and fully protect the rights of all individuals to assemble peacefully and associate freely, including in the context of election, and including persons espousing minority or dissenting views of beliefs, human rights defenders, trade unionists and others, including migrants, seeking to exercise or to promote these rights, and to take all necessary measures to ensure that any restrictions on the free exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association were in accordance with their obligations under international human rights law.” The Council further established the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

Ms. Kang said that other United Nations human rights mechanisms, regional treaties and organizations, national human rights institutions and non-governmental organizations also played a role in the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, as well as in preventing and addressing any related human rights violations. The presence of these stakeholders in the debate today would provide the Council’s debate with a rich array of experience, observations and recommendations on ways and means to improve the protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests at all levels.

Statements by the Panellists

Maina Kiai Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, said he felt the establishment of his mandate was particularly timely in the light of events in Middle East North Africa and other regions. Since taking up his function on 1 May 2011, the Special Rapporteur said he had already received 40 communications regarding 20 States pertaining to human rights violations in the context of peaceful protests. In August he joined with other mandate holders in a press release relating to the scale and gravity of the violent crackdown in the Syrian Arab Republic. The right of everyone to express their grievances or aspirations for change, including political change through peaceful protests and other non violent ways, was at the heart of any democratic society. Importantly the right to peaceful protest was an alternative to violence and armed force as a means of expression and should be protected robustly.

Protesting in a peaceful manner entailed enjoyment of the right to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression and of association amongst others. These rights were guaranteed under international treaties and regional human rights instruments.

States had three obligations: to refrain from committing violations including through use of excessive force; to protect individuals exercising their rights from abuses committed by state actors; and to take positive measures to prevent violations and where violations occurred to thoroughly investigate and provide effective remedies to victims. The Human Right Committee had made clear that these state obligations continued to apply in times of armed conflict. They were similarly applicable in situations of internal disturbances and tension that did not meet the threshold of armed conflict.

The right to freedom of assembly could be limited on restricted grounds, for example those applied in conformity with the law. These must be proportionate to the aim pursued. In a state of emergency these rights may be derogated from but the non-derogable rights such as the right to life continued to persist. The use of force was governed by international law. It was illegal to shoot protesters in the back, use snipers as a control method, or disperse people simply walking to work, and beating protesters when already immobilized by tear gas or fear was prohibited. Mr. Kiai drew attention to the last report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion of and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression concerning the role the Internet played in mobilizing the population to call for justice, equality accountability and better respect for human rights. Peaceful protests continued to be brutally repressed in many countries. This was deliberate.

Mr. Kiai recommended the design of a document similar to the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s Guidelines in Freedom of Peaceful Assembly in addressing peaceful protests including spontaneous ones. Member States should ensure that policing of protests was done in a manner that respected human rights. Capacity building and technical support should be made available to Member States that needed it. Law enforcement officials should be held personally and fully accountable for human rights violations related to the exercise of right to assembly. Internet and social media had become increasingly important tools of mobilization and connection; Member States should therefore facilitate Internet access to all individuals with as little restriction as possible. States should foster an open society in their countries including allowing expression of dissent and providing through free and fair elections a way in which peoples could change their governments if they wished. The Special Rapporteur said his first report in June 2012 would include best practices and requested response to the questionnaire he would issue in a few weeks.

SANTIAGO A. CANTON, Executive Secretary, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, said that the right to participate in peaceful protests, as an expression of the right of assembly, was an essential tool for the promotion and protection of human rights, for the participation in public interest affairs and for the expression of disagreement with the actions or plans of public authorities. The protection of the right of assembly and more specifically, the right to peaceful protest entailed not only the obligation of the State to not interfere arbitrarily in its exercise but also to adopt positive measures directed at protecting this right, for example, by protecting the participants in a peaceful protest from being subject to physical violence from other persons. The Inter-American Commission had identified that a lack of compliance with such an obligation to respect the guarantee of the right of assembly and freedom of expression by the States of the region resulted in acts of generalized violence which seriously affected the right to life, physical integrity, freedom and personal security of the persons participating in public protests. The exercise of the right of assembly required that protesters be able to assemble in private property when authorized by the proprietor, in public places in compliance with the relevant rules and in working places in consideration of union matters.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights had stated that regulating the right to assembly could not create the basis for prohibiting a meeting or demonstration. Regulations which established, for example, advance notice, existed for the purpose of informing authorities so that they could take measures to facilitate the exercise of the right without significantly disturbing the normal activities of the rest of the community. Public protest could only be limited in order to prevent serious imminent risks for the safety of the persons involved or third persons and only after attempting to prevent the supposed risk by changing the original condition of the protest, for example, by changing the time and date in which it would take place. The State had an obligation to supply its police officers with the equipment and communication devices, vehicles, means of personal defense and non-lethal deterrence suitable for intervening in the event of problems. The Inter-American Commission had highlighted that it if became necessary to intervene in a protest because violence had arisen, it should be the exclusive competence of the police forces, duly trained, to control the situation and never of the armed forces. The Commission had repeatedly pointed out that in a democratic system it was essential to make a clear and precise distinction between internal security as a function for the police and national defense as a function for the armed forces.

In its report on the situation of human rights defenders, the Inter-American Commission listed a series of administrative controls that should be established by States to ensure only exceptional use of force in public demonstrations, including: mechanisms to prohibit the use of lethal force as recourse in public demonstrations, an ammunition registration and control system; a communications records system to monitor operational orders; visible means of personal identification for police agents; opportunities for communication and dialogue prior to demonstrations; an administrative sanctions regime for law enforcement personnel; and the adoption of measures to ensure that police or judicial officers directly involved in operations were not responsible for investigating irregularities or abuses committed during those operations. Mr. Canton noted his concern at the increasing use of criminal laws against those who participated in public protests and who were accused of perturbing the public order or even of perpetrating other crimes when in reality they were vindicating their rights in a peaceful manner.

MICHAEL HAMILTON, Secretary of the Panel of Experts on the Freedom of Assembly of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said that the Copenhagen Document, signed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe participating States in 1990, reaffirmed that everyone would have the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration. The Organization’s Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights was the primary institution responsible for the human dimension and the mandate of the Expert Panel on Freedom of Assembly derived from these commitments. The impetus to establish the panel arose from a debate at the 2003 Human Dimensions Meeting which noted deteriorating conditions for the enjoyment of freedom of assembly in several participating States. One of the primary roles of the Panel had been to assist participating States in ensuring that their legislation and practices were consistent with their commitments and other international standards. It was often the legislative framework that provided for the regulation of freedom of assembly that led to inadequate protection of the right. In March 2007 the Office of Democratic Institutions and Human Rights published the first edition of the Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly in consultations with the Council of Europe’s Commission for Democracy through Law. The Guidelines set out seven guiding principles including: the presumption in favour of holding assemblies whereby the right should insofar as possible be enjoyed without regulation; the State’s duty to protect peaceful assembly; legality and minimum restrictions; non-discrimination; good administration, accessibility of the regulating authority and transparency; and liability and accountability for the authorities.

The Guidelines had spurred political reform initiatives in several transition countries and established democracies. They provided a reference point for domestic authorities; an interpretative aid for courts; an advocacy platform; and a basis for a range or review, monitoring and training activities. They had also provided useful assistance to legislators and had also been cited by both lawyers and judges in legal cases, thus contributing to expanding jurisprudence in this area. In relation to the need to have specific laws to regulate freedom of assembly, the greatest utility had been the detail, clarity and predictability it could bring to the regulatory process. The purpose of specific legislation must be to facilitate the enjoyment of the right to assemble and States must avoid the creation of an excessive regulatory system. Mr. Hamilton also stressed the need to build capacity with non-governmental organizations and human rights defenders working on the ground to systematically monitor assemblies and their policing.

Finally, Mr. Hamilton invited the Council to further consider: taking steps to establish a network of international and regional partners to discuss challenges, share best practices and promote the protection of freedom of peaceful assembly; coordinating the maintenance of a database of freedom of assembly issues; supporting and facilitating regional training sessions for non-governmental organizations and civil society actors and human rights defenders; and supporting a study of accountability mechanisms in cases where the use of force constituted a crime against humanity or resulted in death or serious injury.

Khaw Lake tee, Vice Chairperson of the Malaysian National Human Rights Commission, said that the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections had held a public rally on 9 July 2011 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia to call for the conduct of clean and fair elections in the country. It was the second public rally to be organized by the Coalition, the first being held on 10 November 2007. He would speak on the events prior to, during and after the rally on 9 July, and the role of national human rights institutions in the context of public rallies, and would make some recommendations.

The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections had announced its intention to hold the public rally and the Government had made various statements to the effect that the rally would not be permitted in order to maintain peace and security and avert traffic disruptions. The Malaysian Human Rights Commission had issued a press statement urging the authorities to permit the rally and they also sent a formal letter to the Inspector General of Police urging that the permission to hold the rally be granted to the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections. The Prime Minister said the Government would provide a stadium to hold a rally. The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections had requested the mediation of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission. However, the Inspector General of Police felt that the involvement of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission was premature. The Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections had noted that they would accept the offer of a stadium to hold their rally but the permit to hold the rally at Merdeka Stadium was rejected. Subsequent to this the Coalition for Clean and Fair Elections had indicated they would proceed with their rally as planned. The Malaysian Human Rights Commission had urged further discussions. The rally took place in several parts of the city and 1,667 persons were arrested. The Malaysian Human Rights Commission had monitored the rally, including attending detention centers, conducting witness interviews and waiting until late at night to witness the release of detainees.

The Malaysian Human Rights Commission had received a number of memoranda alleging the use of excessive force by the police during the rally. Allegations of firing tear gas into a hospital were also made. The Malaysian Human Rights Commission had announced the terms of reference for a public enquiry on July 2011. To date the Commission had held three public inquiries into the allegations of use of excessive force by the authorities during public rallies. Some general recommendations relating to inquires made were to notify the police of the proposed assembly.

Police and civil society should cooperate to work out details with regard to suitable times and frameworks. Suitable frameworks could include the purpose of the assembly the time duration and date of the assembly the route of any procession expected numbers of participants, contact details of organizers and names of marshals. Meetings between police and organizers to minimize the impact on traffic inconvenience to the general public and potential damage to property and injury to persons. Any person to be affected should be allowed to make and application to court for intervention. The organizers should appoint marshals for crowd control and prohibit any person who would incite hatred or violence.

BAHEY EL-DIN HASSAN, General Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said that his presentation was made in consultation with and in the name of a number of independent civil society organizations and human rights defenders from throughout North Africa and the Middle East, and was dedicated to the millions of citizens within the Arab region and beyond, who had sacrificed and continued to sacrifice their lives and their safety in peaceful protests and acts of civil disobedience in order to demand a dignified life. The large-scale peaceful protest movements and uprisings that had so far ousted deeply entrenched dictators in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya had not begun in December 2010. For several decades, the Arab world had witnessed a gradual proliferation of protest movements for economic and political reform in many countries, including in Morocco, Algeria, Jordan, Yemen, Sudan, Syria, Iraq, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. For decades, those who had organized or participated in peaceful protests within the Arab region had been subjected to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detentions, and torture. In turn, Governments and private actors around the world had often dismissed their cries for freedom and either ignored, allowed or in some instances, actively cooperated in their brutal repression. Mr. Hassan noted that the current peaceful protests that had swept through the Arab region had done more to defeat Al-Qaeda and their philosophy of political violence, than the assassination of Osama Bin Laden or the vast amount of money and resources spent on counter-terrorism activities between various Governments.

Since December 2010, almost all Arab Governments had resorted to violence including the use of live ammunition and in some cases, snipers were sent to rooftops of schools, universities and places of workshop to pick off innocent civilians and foreign mercenaries and thugs or irregular militias were used in Libya, Egypt, Syria and Yemen in order to violently attack protestors side by side with Government security forces. The grave violations of human rights were largely the result of a deeply entrenched culture of impunity for such crimes, imbedded in the legal structures and policies of Middle Eastern countries and fostered by an international community and powerful Governments around the world. The double standards and ambiguity that had characterized the response of almost all Governments, including member States of the Arab League, the Organization of Islamic Conference, the European Union and the United States, in responding to this brutal repression would likely result in further atrocities and the possible creation of internal conflict in some countries. Growing evidence that crimes against humanity and appeared to have been committed by Government security forces in Bahrain and Yemen in response to popular protests had been largely ignored. Even in the cases of Libya and Syria, where an all out war was waged on the protesting population, a large difference existed in the response of the international community, with some members of the Security Council still unwilling to refer the situation in Syria to the International Criminal Court.

The international community should begin to put in place a holistic framework to guide Governments and international actors on how to provide human rights protection and promotion in responding to protests. Mr. Hassan advocated for the creation, by the Human Rights Council, to be adopted by the General Assembly of a ‘Declaration on the guidelines and principles for the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests.’ The Human Rights Council had addressed the human rights situation in both Libya and Syria, but polarization was an unfortunate factor that explained the Council’s inability to adequately deal with the situations in Bahrain and Yemen.

Discussion

Speakers noted that peaceful demonstrations should result in Governments addressing the social and economic inequalities that led to the uprising and asked the panel of experts to provide more information on best practices to promote a national dialogue between demonstrators and States. There was some concern for the duty Governments had to maintain public order and security in accordance with domestic laws and questions were asked about the complicated role of social media, noting both the positive and negative impacts social media could play in large scale demonstrations and gatherings. A Member State noted that the debate on human rights in the context of peaceful protests should not be restricted solely to the current developments in North Africa or the Middle East because the issue of peaceful protests was an important cross-cutting theme with links to freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, the promotion of good governance, democracy and rule of law. Many speakers said that aspirations for democratic participation were universal and therefore guaranteeing the promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests should be at the core of the promotion of human rights by all Governments. Critical issues highlighted by various speakers included the need to address impunity, the vulnerability of certain participants in peaceful demonstrations such as women and the young, and the training of law enforcement officials and security forces in handling peaceful protests consistent with the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. A Member State asked the panellists how the international community could render technical assistance to developing countries through the provision of advanced technology devices such as water canon and other methods in order to ensure peaceful handling of demonstrations. A speaker noted the positive obligations of States to facilitate peaceful protests and how maintaining proper structures to ensure that legitimate protest could make itself heard would benefit both the State and individuals.

Speaking in the discussion were Switzerland, Egypt on behalf of the Arab Group, the People’s Republic of China, the European Union, the Russian Federation, Brazil, Senegal on behalf of the African Group, Costa Rica, Indonesia, Australia on behalf of Canada, Australia and New Zealand, Turkey, Nigeria and Palestine.

Civil society speakers said that there was a need for human rights mechanisms to further elaborate human rights standards and principles on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly which could provide concrete guidelines to States when reviewing relevant laws and practices. There were expressions of concern for the plight of women involved in peaceful protests in the Arab world and elsewhere who could suffer unjust violations of their rights, including sexual abuse and arbitrary virginity tests conducted in detention, as a consequence of their participation.

Non-governmental organizations speaking in the panel on the promotion of human rights in the context of peaceful protests were FORUM Asia and the International federation of Human Rights League.

Concluding Remarks

Maina Kiai Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and of Association, responding to a question from Switzerland regarding lessons learnt, said that on issues like breast cancer or non-controversial issues, protesters were allowed to gather. It was only when the State authorities did not like the issue that the matter became a problem. They needed an equality of causes with no differentiation of questions that the authorities liked or did not like. People must be given the space to organize and carry out their protests peacefully. It was the fundamental duty of the State to make sure that a protest did not become violent. If there were violent elements, those elements should be arrested and dealt with in accordance with criminal law.

SANTIAGO CANTON, Executive Secretary, Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, responding to a question on the activities of the Council on this issue, said that the Inter-American Commission had contributed to establishing clear guidelines and tools for governments to comply with their commitments and obligations, both positive and negative, in the context of protests. These included legislation, policing strategies and tools, among others. Similarly, the Inter-American Commission had contributed to strengthening governments’ capacity to provide due protection to protesters. These guidelines were very important for the work of civil society, particularly when engaging with governments and providing accountability.

MICHAEL HAMILTON, Secretary to the Panel of Experts on the Freedom of Assembly of the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, said that the discussion underscored the importance of international and regional cooperation to promote international standards, examples and good practices. In relation to the distinction between peaceful and non-peaceful assembly, the role of the law enforcement forces was to distinguish between those engaging in violence and those protesting peacefully. Where peaceful assembly took place they should be allowed even when they questioned the authorities. Mr. Hamilton reiterated the suggestion to carry out a study on accountability mechanisms and impact of cases where the use of force may amount to crimes against humanity, death or serious injuries of protesters. Dialogue between protesters and governments was also important. When drafting guidance concerning the negotiation of the practical exercise of freedom of assembly it was useful to dutifully recognize the existence of common power imbalances between those groups seeking to fulfill their right to protest, in cases vulnerable groups, and the authorities.

Khaw Lake tee, Vice Chairperson of the Malaysian Human Rights Commission, noted the obligation of governments to maintain public security and order but was concerned with inconsistent practices. Often there was a lack of transparency in issuing of permits where these were required for peaceful assembly to be held. There was a need for the authority to use reasonable non-violent and proportional measures to deal with this. There should be guidelines on States undertaking these actions. There was a role for national human rights institutions to mediate and deal with the aftermath of demonstrations. There should be guidelines on how recommendations by national human rights institutions should be acted on.

BAHEY EL-DIN HASSAN, General Director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights, in reply to questions and comments by Member States, said that there was a necessity for the Human Rights Council to establish an overall framework for the United Nations’ system for dealing with the issue of human rights in peaceful demonstrations. Mr. Hassan said that all Arab countries which had gone through the recent uprisings had ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and stressed that the relevant laws in the Arab region for dealing with public protests were not derived from human rights law. Mr. Hassan said there should be one standard to deal with human rights and no politicalization or double standards should be applied. Concerning the issue of how to promote a national dialogue between the State and protestors, in some countries there were non-governmental organizations and political parties only on paper and no dialogue took place, notably in the six countries where the uprisings took place.

Discussion

Speakers said that the violent repression of peaceful protests was a clear violation of human rights and those responsible for such violations should be held accountable. Speakers encouraged all the Special Rapporteurs to focus on urgent situations like Syria as well as persistent violators of the human rights of peaceful protestors. A Member State invited the panellists to make recommendations on how to ensure that the right to peaceful assembly was guaranteed for all members of society and asked whether or not there was a need to further define the specific limitations of legitimate law enforcement in the face of public protests. Capacity building was emphasized, especially the role it could play in training security and law enforcement officials in human rights laws and standards to minimize the use of force. A speaker stressed that there should be no support for blanket restrictions on speech or the use of the Internet or social media, while noting the important vehicle for free expression that social media played in society.

Speaking were the United States, Norway, Cuba, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. The Press Emblem Campaign also took the floor.

For use of the information media; not an official record

URL: http://www.newageislam.com/islam-and-politics/arab-spring-proves-islam-is-fully-compatible-with-democracy--maldives-president-mohamed-nasheed-tells-unhrc/d/5529


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