LRC welcomes the UN Civil Society Guide on assemblies

The Legal Resources Centre (“LRC“) welcomes the release of the “10 Principles Civil Society Guide: How to Advocate for Better Management of Assemblies” (“Civil Society Guide”) on 13 January 2017 by the UN Special Rapporteurs on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns.

The Joint Report

This Civil Society Guide represents the second and final implementation tool to substantiate the Rapporteurs’ initial Joint Report entitled “Practical Recommendations for the management of Assemblies joint report” (“Joint Report”), which was released in March 2016,[1] and was followed by a “10 Principles Implementation Checklist” (“Checklist”) intended as a toolkit for monitoring state practice regarding the management of assemblies.[2]

The original Joint Report collected practical recommendations and proposed 10 principles, based on existing best practices, as a result of a mandate from the Human Rights Council[3] and carried out in consultation with UN agencies, over 50 UN member states and other stakeholders, including over 100 experts[4] conducted through four regional consultations, with the assistance of a nine-member advisory panel, and an online questionnaire.[5]

For South African civil society and activists, the Civil Society Guide provides a practical means to safeguard the right to protest under the Regulation of Gatherings Act (205 of 1993). By engaging with State and private actors through direct site-level interactions as well as targeted advocacy, it is only through continued cooperation and vigilance that the South African protests rights can continue to be realised and developed in line with international best practices.

Yotam Ronen / Active Stills

Yotam Ronen / Active Stills

Reliance on Lethal in Disguise

The LRC in particular welcomes the Civil Society Guide’s reliance on the 2016 report “Lethal in Disguise: The Health Consequences of Crowd-Control Weapons” published jointly by Physicians for Human Rights and the International Network of Civil Liberties Organisations (“INCLO“), which the LRC contributed to. The LRC also organised a South African launch event at the University of the Witwatersrand on 29 August 2016.

The Civil Society Guide, as well as the preceding Checklist, represent a welcome trend of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (“OHCHR”) and UN Special Procedures towards open access and empowerment of civil society organisations (“CSOs”) and individuals in safeguarding human rights and fundamental freedoms. The LRC welcomes the open engagement of the Special Rapporteurs and encourages all international and regional mechanisms to adopt a similar approach in their future work.

This capacity building approach taken by the Special Rapporteurs is truly unique in ensuring that their work on realising the right to public protest remains relevant to the global public, particularly given the need for cooperation, continued learning and positive engagement by all organs of society — particularly law enforcement officials — to protect rights in the context of the management of assemblies.

Focusing on the proper management of assemblies and public protests is only one context in which the rights to assembly, association, and expression are exercised, and further collaboration with other Special Rapporteurs (for example the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders) is crucial in order to ensure that all human rights and fundamental freedoms remain universal, indivisible, interdependent, interrelated and mutually reinforcing, an approach that first led to the creation of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights itself.[6]

Building vocal and vibrant CSOs

To this extent, the LRC believes it is crucial to empower and institutionalise vocal and vibrant CSOs, which can act as independent advocates for the right to public protest. To this end, it is crucial to ensure open societies that provide an enabling and adequate policy space in which to carry out the monitoring and documentation practices compiled by the original Joint Report and presented in this Civil Society Guide, which should be used in conjunction to safeguard the universal rights to assembly, association, and expression at national, regional and international levels.

The LRC encourages continued public engagement by protestors and organisers, and critical self-reflection by law enforcement officials in ensuring that the laws, policies and practices of States, particularly South Africa, can improve their effectiveness at protecting human rights in line with the best practices presented by the Rapporteurs in their earlier Joint Report.

Individuals and organisations seeking to organise a public protest or engage with public protest issues can find further information here.

Prepared by Eric Cheng

Johannesburg Office, Legal Resources Centre


[1] Human Rights Council, “Joint report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions on the proper management of assemblies.” (4 February 2016) U.N. Doc. A/HRC/31/66, available online: http://freeassembly.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/A.HRC_.31.66_E_with_addendum.pdf

[2] http://freeassembly.net/reports/managing-assemblies-checklist/

[3] Human rights council, UNGA Resolution 25/38 “The promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests.” (11 April 2014) U.N. Doc. A/HRC/RES/25/38; available online: http://freeassembly.net/wp-content/uploads/2015/03/UNO-Resolution-Human-Rights-2014_EN.pdf

[4] http://freeassembly.net/reports/managing-assemblies-checklist/

[5] A/HRC/31/66, at para.3; http://freeassembly.net/reports/managing-assemblies/

[6] Vienna Declaration and Programme for Action (25 June 1993)