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COVID-19 Restrictions Should Not Stop Freedom Of Assembly And Association, Says UN Expert

A UN expert today called on States not to use state of emergency declarations during the COVID-19 crisis to impose wholesale restrictions on freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and released detailed Guidelines governments and law enforcement agencies must follow to avoid human rights abuses.

“No country or government can solve this health crisis alone and I am concerned about worrying trends and limitations emerging from civil society reports around the world, including on civil society’s ability to support an effective COVID-19 response,” said Clément Nyaletsossi Voule, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association.

“Civil society organisations are key in helping States to frame inclusive policies, disseminate information, and provide social support to vulnerable communities in need,” he said.

In his 10 Guidelines, the expert said that where new laws or regulations are adopted, any limitations on rights imposed must adhere to the principles of legality, necessity and proportionality. Free-flow of information is crucial in times of crisis and laws criminalising ‘false news’, including those targeting human rights defenders, must be avoided.

“It is inadmissible to declare blanket restrictions on human rights and fundamental freedoms,” Voule said. “Exemptions should be foreseen for civil society actors, particularly those monitoring human rights, trade unions, social services providing humanitarian assistance, and journalists covering the management of the crisis.

“State of emergency does not halt the freedoms of peaceful assembly and of association,” the human rights expert said.

Voule said his Guidelines could help States reassess measures already in place to ensure compliance with their human rights obligations and to take citizens’ demands fully into account.

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