ARTICLE 19 has submitted its response to the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association regarding his upcoming report at the 77th session of the UN General Assembly focused on the impact of social movements. In the submission, we outline several examples of how social movements led to significant achievements for the protection of human rights and democracy. We also express concerns about restrictions on the rights to protest and freedom of expression that hinder various social movements around the globe. We call on States and non-state actors to enable a safe environment for these movements to grow and empower the people who champion these causes. This support is crucial in order to achieve equal and sustainable societies.
Over the past years, civic space has been shrinking globally. The fundamental rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of expression have suffered severe restrictions, whether that be through draconian laws, increased surveillance or direct threats against those who exercise their rights. The Special Rapporteur’s report is an excellent opportunity to tackle the shortcomings of States in safeguarding these rights and offer concrete solutions to address these failures.
We highlight, in our submission, that social movements have a large impact on our democracies, no matter how small or large they are. Social movements bring together an array of people who share a common social goal. Their aim can be tackling an injustice or pushing for change within society. Therefore, we firmly believe that States and other non-state actors should help create an environment in which these movements are most likely to succeed.
In our submission, we highlight the following:
- The difference between a social movement and a ‘State-mobilised movement’. A social movement is a campaign that is organised to achieve a social goal or champion change. A ‘State-mobilised movement’ is one organised by the State to display its force, to advance its own interests. A prominent example of the latter is the Capitol Riots in the United States of America on 6 January 2021.
- The comparative approach that is needed to study a social movement’s impact. In other words, comparing social movements across borders and across time may lead to a better understanding of the role and impacts of social movements. If this is carried out, States and non-state actors will be in a better position to provide the movements with what they need to succeed.
- The various positive contributions social movements have had over the past 25 years. From Generation Z-led movements in Myanmar that have amplified a range of minority voices to social movements in Kenya pushing for constitutional reform, it is undeniable that this form of public participation is crucial in holding governments to account and pushing for long-term social transformation.
- The Internet has become an important organisational tool for social movements, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. This further highlights the importance of increasing access to the Internet and promoting digital literacy, especially in the Global South.
In order to help social movements achieve their goal and full potential, we recommend that States:
- Protect and promote the full respect of the right to protest of all persons, including children;
- Condemn any excessive use of force and any other type of human rights violations, including those committed by law enforcement, against protesters;
- Facilitate the activities of social movements, in particular by refraining from adopting policies and legislation that unduly restrict the right to assembly and the right to freedom of expression. This includes interfering with a movement’s access to foreign funding, supplies and means of communication.
States are not the only actors that can contribute to the safeguarding of social movements. We suggest that the Special Rapporteur also provide recommendations to non-state actors, particularly non-state donors on how they can help:
- Donors should provide funding to civil society organisations across the globe, preferably for long-term support to ensure financial stability, security and sustainability;
- Donors should consult civil society to identify their needs and understand the local social and political context, giving particular attention to grassroots and minority-led organisations;
- Digital security and digital literacy training should be included in the funding to ensure not only the safety of those who participate in social movements but increase the reach of the movement;
- Donors should support the entire cycle of the social movement. This means supporting it from its conception until well after the ‘height’ of the movement has died down. This can be shown by helping finance long-term infrastructure or funding future trainings.
ARTICLE 19 welcomes the opportunity to contribute to this report and continue to support the Special Rapporteur’s work in this area.