The Right of Peaceful Assembly

Video produced by UN Human Rights, South-East Asia Regional Office

The Right of Peaceful Assembly is a fundamental human right that enables individuals to express themselves collectively and to participate in shaping their societies.

Together with other related rights, such as freedom of expression, freedom of association and political participation, it constitutes the very foundation of a system of participatory governance based on democracy, human rights, the rule of law and pluralism.

The Human Rights Committee, custodian of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, adopted General Comment 37 in July 2020 to provide guidance and orientation on the scope of this fundamental freedom.

The right of peaceful assembly protects non-violent gatherings, wherever they take place – outdoors, indoors and online, in public or in private.

Such assemblies may take many forms, including demonstrations, protests, meetings, rallies, online assemblies, civil disobedience or direct action campaigns, provided that they are non-violent.

Everyone has the right of peaceful assembly: including non-citizens and children. It is particularly important for marginalized individuals and groups.

States not only have the obligation to allow such assemblies to take place without unwarranted interference, but also to facilitate the exercise of this right and to protect participants.

Therefore, States must promote an enabling environment without discrimination and must not, for example, block or hinder Internet connectivity in relation to peaceful assemblies. The same applies to geotargeted or technology-specific interference with connectivity or access to content.

While the right of peaceful assembly may in certain cases be limited, authorities must justify any restrictions. Restrictions must meet the requirement of legality, and be both necessary for and proportionate to at least one of the grounds for restrictions enumerated in the Covenant. Restrictions must not be discriminatory, impair the essence of the right, or be aimed at discouraging participation in assemblies or causing a chilling effect – on the contrary, they should be guided by the objective of facilitating the right.

It is not always easy to tell whether assemblies are peaceful or not, but there is a presumption in favour of considering assemblies to be peaceful. Moreover, isolated acts of violence do not make the whole assembly violent. Similarly, violence against participants in a peaceful assembly by the authorities, or people acting on their behalf, by other members of the public or participants in counterdemonstrations does not make the assembly non-peaceful.

The role of journalists, human rights defenders, election monitors and others involved in monitoring or reporting on assemblies is particularly important for the full enjoyment of this right.

The right to peaceful assembly is critical to advance ideas and aspirational goals and to create opportunities for the inclusive, participatory and peaceful resolution of differences.