How to protect the rights of peaceful protesters
09 Jul 20120 comments
Russia, Bahrain and Syria are now notoriously known for violating the rights of human rights defenders and denying a space for peaceful protests. International law lacks provisions to protect the rights of peaceful protesters – so what is the way ahead?, On 6-8 June 2012, I attended a Seminar on “Human Rights defenders and peaceful protests”, organized by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway.
It was a sort of follow up to the seminar on the same topic organized in January 2012 by the Ministry, together with the Swiss Government, in Wilton Park The Oslo meeting was far less academic (Wilton Park discussed the topic from a rather theoretic and normative perspective) as it gathered activists and defenders.
The Seminar explored the issue of peaceful protest from different perspective. I missed the beginning which had Gene Sharp (Professor Emeritus of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts ,Dartmouth.) presenting his theory and campaign of protest. The sessions otherwise included: normative framework (what is missing in the current international law standard and what is needed to protect rights within peaceful protest), use of force during protest, sexual violence against female protesters, UN monitoring of protests and UN role, role of international mechanisms and accountability strategies. I chaired one session on social media and peaceful protest with panellists Frank LaRue, Mohammed Al Amaskati (an activist from Bahrain) and, Joao Paolo (journalist from Conectas Brazil). I tried to dissect some problems or issues, such as social media used for organizing and communicating about protest, using social media to report on protest and human rights violations within, states interference with social media as result of the protest (internet kill switch being most extreme), ISP and applications used for protests, prosecuting the organizers and participants due to identification of them through social media, as well as the right to protest on internet as compared to physical space (and what this entails).
We have received a very positive feedback on the session from participants and organizers, saying that it was the best session of the whole meeting. I am somewhat puzzled as why as the panellists did not stick to the topic and talk about things such as citizen journalism or basically what was in their head that minute. But it is good that the participants found the discussions useful.
The meeting was an opportunity to meet and discuss issues with participants who were all extremely committed activists, operating at many occasions in extremely difficult circumstances and facing harassment, prison and attacks due to their activities. It was very humbling to hear about their experiences.