Shaky road to important peaceful protest resolution

In a year that has seen protests in the Ukraine, Venezuela and Turkey, to name but a few, the UN Human Right’s Council resolution, passed on Friday 28 March, on The promotion and protection of human rights in the context of peaceful protests, tried to safeguard this right.

Yet, despite its significance, its road to approval was paved with difficulties and idiosyncrasies:

  1. Turkey remained as a main sponsor of the resolution.  With a tally of nine dead following last June’s protests against Prime Minister Erdogan and the continued use of force by police in recent protests in March, it is inappropriate and regrettable that Turkey remained as a main sponsor for this resolution.  Sponsors of the text should have taken note of Egypt’s removal as main sponsor of the resolution on Freedom of Expression, following its widespread arrest and imprisonment of journalists.
  2. Countries tried to pass four problematic amendments to the text that would weaken the resolution and make it easy for problematic countries to justify use of force against peaceful protestors.  For example, one of these amendments sought to place additional responsibilities on protestors.  This would have deflected the responsibility that States have to protect individuals from human rights violations.  However, most concerning is that each one of these amendments was proposed by South Africa on behalf of the Like Minded Group, which included human rights champions such as Algeria, Belarus, China, Cuba, Egypt, Ethiopia, Russia,  Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.  As the British delegation so aptly put it:

    South Africa, as a democratic state, should be promoting the right to peaceful protests rather than curtailing it.

  3. Each of the four amendments were defeated, however, not by a landslide of outraged countries as should be expected, but by a small margin of three to six votes each time (see results here: amendment 1; amendment 2; amendment 3; amendment 5).  Moreover, it was regrettable that only a minority of Council members opposed them. What should have been a ‘non-brainer’ for the UN’s leading human rights body, clearly was not.  In addition, democracies, such as India, did not stand up for principle and voted in favor of these troubling amendments and even voted against the resolution.

A resolution of this kind should have passed without issue, yet the difficulty of the process highlights the increasingly problematic input of some of the Council’s member states.

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