Assemblies—whether political protests, cultural parades, online gatherings, or some other form of coming together for a common purpose—are a core component of thriving pluralistic societies. The freedom to assemble peacefully is a fundamental right protected by international, regional, national, and even local legal instruments. States should enable and protect the exercise of this fundamental right by various means, including supportive legal frameworks. ICNL and ECNL actively monitor restrictions on the freedom of assembly. We offer resources and technical expertise to enable the full enjoyment of this right around the world through laws and regulations.
Freedom of Assembly
“The freedoms of peaceful assembly and association are not cultural or specific to a particular place or time. They are born from our common human heritage. It is human nature – and human necessity – that people come together to collectively pursue their interests.”
- Former UN Special Rapporteur, Maina Kiai
ECNL has worked extensively to promote and protect the right to freedom of assembly in Europe and around the world. They have collected a library of varied resources on the topic, ranging from international and regional standards to tools for monitoring the exercise of this fundamental right. They have also helped shape many United Nations resolutions, European Union documents, and progressive national laws that protect and enable freedom of assembly.
ICNL and ECNL are contributing to the development of the United Nations Human Rights Committee General Comment 37 on Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The General Comment will offer comprehensive guidance on measures to be adopted to ensure full compliance with Article 21, which addresses freedom of peaceful assembly. ICNL and ECNL are providing legal expertise, organizing consultations with civil society representatives, and coordinating their contributions to the draft document.
In 2017, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights adopted groundbreaking guidelines to support and protect freedom of assembly on the African continent. ICNL and our regional partners are members of the support group that works with ACHPR’s special rapporteur on human rights defenders to increase awareness of the guidelines and monitor states’ compliance with them.
ECNL built this library of resources to support efforts to develop international standards for freedom of assembly and help organizations advocate effectively for more favorable legal environments. The library includes UN and regional materials related to the right of peaceful assembly.
Since 2016, ECNL has helped a network of local partners monitor laws, observe protests, report challenges, and engage in legal reform processes to protect and promote this fundamental right. In 2018, ECNL’s monitoring reports covered twelve countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
Since November 2016, thirty-five states have considered 100 bills that would restrict the right to protest in the United States. The U.S. Protest Law Tracker tracks federal and state initiatives that seek to restrict the right to freedom of assembly and protesting.
UN Special Rapporteur Reports
This 2019 report from the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association focuses on opportunities and barriers to the exercise of these rights online.
This 2018 report from the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association explores the relationship between these key rights and implementation of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
This 2014 report from the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association examines the threats and challenges facing at-risk and marginalized groups when they seek to exercise these key rights.
Guidelines & Best Practices
These guidelines released in 2017 by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights provide practical suggestions for protecting the rights to freedom of association and assembly, based on international law and best practices.
This 2016 joint report from the United Nations special rapporteurs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association and on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions offer recommendations for managing assemblies to protect the rights of the people involved.
This 2012 report from the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association outlines best practices for promoting and protecting freedom of assembly.
These 2010 guidelines from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe serve as a toolkit for legislators and practitioners seeking to enable and protect the exercise of this key right. Examples of good practice are drawn from European and OSCE member state national legislation as well as case law of the European Court of Human Rights.
Legal Instruments & Case Law
Bukta and Others v. Hungary, Application No. 25691/04; judgment of 17 October 2007: The European Court of Human Rights held that dispersing an assembly solely for failure to provide prior notification is a violation of the right to peaceful assembly.
Belyazeka v Belarus, UN Human Rights Committee Communication No. 1772/2008: The United Nations Human Rights Committee found that because the state could not provide any evidence that a public commemoration was a threat, its dispersal was a violation of the participants’ right to assemble.
This 2018 in-depth study assesses formal and informal restrictions on the viability of civil society in Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and Tunisia, including constraints on the right to freedom of assembly. The report is available in English and Arabic.
ECNL’s 2017 report maps out the environment for freedom of assembly in Albania, Armenia, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, and Serbia.
This 2014 article from ICNL focuses on the legality of permission requirements and discusses other practices that facilitate the exercise of the right to peaceful assembly.
This 2011 article in the International Journal of Not-for-Profit Law explores the connection between new technologies and the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly.
This ICNL Country Note provides an overview of the regulation of freedom of assembly in Burundi, including legal definitions, notification procedures, and regulatory approaches to spontaneous gatherings and counterdemonstrations.
This ICNL Country Note provides an overview of the regulation in of freedom of assembly in the Czech Republic, including legal definitions, notification procedures, and regulatory approaches to spontaneous gatherings and counterdemonstrations.