News Global People Never Came Close to Expect: UN Warns Americans’ Right to Protest in Grave Danger Under Trump

Two UN human rights experts are calling on lawmakers in the United States to stop the “alarming” trend of “undemocratic” anti-protest bills designed to criminalize or impede the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

Freedom of assembly is often used in the context of the right to protest, while freedom of association is used in the context of labor rights and in the Constitution of the United States is interpreted to mean both the freedom to assemble and the freedom to join an association.

The Independent reports (source):

After a turbulent start to Donald Trump’s presidency, which has seen millions of Americans take to the streets, Republican states are introducing a number of ‘anti-protest’ laws.  Some of the bills were registered before Mr Trump’s inauguration, as a response to mass protests organised by Black Lives Matter and at Standing Rock.  However, the laws have come under fresh scrutiny after mass protests against the Mr Trump administration, including the Women’s March, which may have been the largest demonstration in US history.

At least 10 new bills which aim to curb the right to protest have been filed by state legislatures in recent months. In North Dakota, where a protest camp has been established for months on the proposed site of the North Dakota Access pipeline, legislators recently introduced a bill which would allow motorists to run over and kill a protester, so long as the driver did not “intend” to kill them.

Washington Post reports (source):

The right to protest is fundamental to American democracy. The country was born, after all, out of decades of civil disobedience by people angry about taxation without representation. (In Washington, FWIW, we are still angry.)

But according to United Nations human rights investigators, this very basic principle is under attack. Over the past few months, on the heels of a fresh wave of organizing by liberals, at least 19 states have introduced measures that would criminalize peaceful protest. In places such as Minnesota, Michigan and Iowa, Republican lawmakers have proposed laws that would stiffen penalties for demonstrators who block traffic. In North Dakota, GOP leaders are pushing a bill that would allow motorists to run over and kill agitators, as long as the crash was accidental. In Indiana, conservatives want to instruct police to use “any means necessary” to remove activists from a roadway. Opponents worry this could lead to more brutal police response.

Colorado lawmakers are considering a big increase in penalties for environmental protesters. Activists who tamper with oil or gas equipment could be, under the measure, face felony charges and be punished with up to 18 months behind bars and a fine of up to $100,000. A bill pending in the Virginia state legislature would dramatically increase punishment for people who “unlawfully” assemble after “having been lawfully warned to disperse.” Those who do so could face a year in jail and a $2,500 fine.

In Missouri, some lawmakers want to make it illegal to wear a robe, mask or disguise (remarkably, a hoodie would count) to a protest. Lawmakers in North Carolina want to make it a crime to heckle lawmakers. Taken together, the United Nations warns, these bills represent an “alarming and undemocratic” trend that could have a chilling effect on activism.

“From the Black Lives Matter movement, to the environmental and Native American movements in opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and the Women’s Marches, individuals and organizations across (American) society have mobilized in peaceful protests,” Maina Kiai and David Kaye, independent U.N. experts on freedom of peaceful assembly, said in a statement. These bills would make that harder.

“The trend also threatens to jeopardize one of the United States’ constitutional pillars: free speech,” the pair wrote. And the bills violate international human rights law, they said.

Supporters of the measures argue that the laws are needed to maintain public safety. The experts, though, disagreed. “One person’s decision to resort to violence does not strip other protesters of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly,” Kaye and Kiai said.

ACLU advises (source):

The right to join with fellow citizens in protest or peaceful assembly is critical to a functioning democracy. But it is also unfortunately true that governments and police can violate this right – through the use of mass arrests, illegal use of force, criminalization of protest, and other means intended to thwart free public expression.

Standing up for your right to protest can be challenging, especially when demonstrations are met with violence. But knowing your rights is the most powerful weapon you have against police abuse. Read on to learn what you need to know before heading out to exercise your constitutionally protected right to protest.

  1. Can my free speech be restricted because of what I say — even if it is controversial?
  2. Where can I engage in free speech activity?
  3. How about on private property?
  4. Do I need a permit before I engage in free speech activity?
  5. If organizers have not obtained a permit, where can a march take place?
  6. May I distribute leaflets and other literature on public sidewalks without a permit?
  7. Do I have a right to picket on public sidewalks?
  8. What do I do if I get stopped by the police?
  9. And if I’m under arrest?
  10. Can I be searched?
  11. What do I do if my rights have been violated?
  12. Do I have the right to photograph or videotape during protests?
  13. Can government impose a financial charge to exercise free speech rights?
  14. What if we can’t afford the fees?
  15. Do counter-demonstrators have free speech rights?
  16. Does it matter if other speech activities have taken place at the same location?

UN GENEVA (source)

 Two UN human rights experts are calling on lawmakers in the United States to stop the “alarming” trend of “undemocratic” anti-protest bills designed to criminalize or impede the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and expression.

Since the Presidential Elections in November, lawmakers in no fewer than nineteen states have introduced legislation restricting assembly rights by various degrees. The moves come just as the United States is seeing some of the largest and most frequent protests in its history.

“Since January 2017, a number of undemocratic bills have been proposed in state legislatures with the purpose or effect of criminalizing peaceful protests,” the experts said.

“The bills, if enacted into law, would severely infringe upon the exercise of the rights to freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly in ways that are incompatible with US obligations under international human rights law and with First Amendment protections. The trend also threatens to jeopardize one of the United States’ constitutional pillars: free speech.”

Concerns about the implication of these bills were recently raised by the experts in a recent communication sent to the US authorities on 27 March 2017. The bills come amid a wave of US protests over the past few years which have intensified in recent months.

“From the Black Lives Matter movement, to the environmental and Native American movements in opposition to the Dakota Access oil pipeline, and the Women’s Marches, individuals and organizations across society have mobilized in peaceful protests, as it is their right under international human rights law and US law,” the experts said.

“These state bills, with their criminalization of assemblies, enhanced penalties and general stigmatization of protesters, are designed to discourage the exercise of these fundamental rights.”

In Indiana, Senate Bill No. 285 would allow law enforcement officials to “use any means necessary to clear the roads of people unlawfully obstructing vehicular traffic”. Several bills, such as those proposed in Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Missouri, disproportionately criminalize protestors for “obstructing traffic”.  One Missouri bill proposes a prison term of up to seven years for “unlawful obstruction of traffic”.

Other bills in Florida and Tennessee would have the effect of exempting drivers from liability if they accidentally hit and even kill a pedestrian participating in assemblies. Bills in Florida, Indiana, Minnesota and Missouri refer to what they consider “unlawful” or unauthorized assemblies, and in Minnesota and North Carolina, individuals could be liable for the total public cost of ending “unlawful assemblies”.

In Minnesota, the proposed bill could have the effect of criminalizing peaceful protesters for participating in demonstrations that turn violent or result in property damage – even if those protesters did not personally participate in the violence or property damage.

In Colorado, North Dakota and Oklahoma, several bills proposed as a response to the protests organized by activists and opponents of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota, would have a chilling effect on environmental protestors.

The experts took particular issue with the characterization in some bills of protests being “unlawful” or “violent”.

“There can be no such thing in law as a violent protest,” the experts said. “There are violent protesters, who should be dealt with individually and appropriately by law enforcement. One person’s decision to resort to violence does not strip other protesters of their right to freedom of peaceful assembly. This right is not a collective right; it is held by each of us individually,” the experts stressed.

“Peaceful assembly,” they added, “is a fundamental right, not a privilege, and the government has no business imposing a general requirement that people get permission before exercising that right.”

The experts also emphasized that legislators should be mindful of the important role that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly has played in the history of American democracy and the fight for civil rights.

“We call on the US authorities, at the federal and state level, to refrain from enacting legislation that would impinge on the exercise of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly, expression and opinion,” they concluded.

The UN experts: Mr. Maina Kiai, Special Rapporteur on freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, took up his functions as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in May 2011. He is appointed in his personal capacity as an independent expert by the UN Human Rights Council. Mr. David Kaye (USA) was appointed as Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression in August 2014 by the United Nations Human Rights Council.

The full press release is available in English via OHCHR.

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