Protests play an important part in the civil, political, economic, social and cultural life of all societies.
Historically, protests have often inspired positive social change and the advancement of human rights, and they continue to help define and protect civic space in all parts of the world. Protests encourage the development of an engaged and informed citizenry. They strengthen representative democracy by enabling direct participation in public affairs. They enable individuals and groups to express dissent and grievances, to share views and opinions, to expose flaws in governance and to publicly demand that the authorities and other powerful entities rectify problems and are accountable for their actions. This is especially important for those whose interests are otherwise poorly represented or marginalised.
Yet governments around the world too often treat protests as either an inconvenience to be controlled or a threat to be extinguished.
Digital technologies offer new opportunities and challenges to protests and they are used both as a crucial medium for enabling protests to take place and a platform for protest. Technological advancements have also significantly enhanced the ability of governments to infringe and potentially violate human rights in protests.
The right to protest formally involves the exercise of numerous fundamental human rights, and is essential for securing all human rights. While important in all societies, few protests are completely free of risk or potential harm to others. Hence, international standards allow for restrictions on many of the human rights engaged in protests; however, these are allowed only under limited and narrow circumstances. Despite existing guarantees in international human rights law, it has been widely recognised that States need greater guidance in understanding and implementing their obligations in this field.
These Principles, therefore, elaborate a set of minimum standards for the respect, protection and fulfilment of the right to protest, while promoting a clear recognition of the limited scope of restrictions. They represent a progressive interpretation of international human rights standards, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; of regional human rights standards; of accepted and evolving state practice (reflected, inter alia, in national laws and the judgments of national courts); and of the general principles of law recognised by the community of nations (in particular the UN Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, the UN Code of Conduct for Law Enforcement Officials, the standards elaborated by special procedures of the UN Human Rights Council, and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Guidelines on Freedom of Peaceful Assembly).
The Principles are intended to be used by civil society organisations, activists, human rights defenders, lawyers, judges, elected representatives, public officials and other stakeholders in their efforts to strengthen the protection of the right to protest locally, regionally and globally.
We – individuals and organisations – who endorse and agree to the present Principles
Convinced that protests constitute a fundamental pillar of democracy and complement the holding of free and fair elections;
Recalling that protests occur in all societies, as people stand up for their civil, political, economic, cultural and social rights, struggle against repression, fight against poverty, protect the environment or demand sustainable development, and thereby contribute towards progress;
Bearing in mind that participating in protests enables all people to individually and collectively express dissent and seek to influence and strengthen governments’ policymaking and governing practices, as well as the actions of other powerful entities in society;
Highlighting that the right to protest embodies the exercise of a number of indivisible, interdependent and interconnected human rights, in particular the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the right to take part in the conduct of public affairs, the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, the right to strike, the right to take part in cultural life, as well as the rights to life, privacy, liberty and security of the person, and the right to freedom from discrimination;
Recognising that a free and independent media and digital technologies are essential for ensuring the public is informed about protests and their context, for facilitating and organising protests, for enabling the free flow of information between all actors concerned in protests, and for monitoring and reporting on violations;
Acknowledging that digital technologies and the internet also provide a platform for online protests;
Emphasising the invaluable role of civil society, including journalists and human rights defenders, in protests, including through their organisation and mobilisation of others, and by documenting, reporting on, and demanding accountability for violations of the rights of protesters;
Expressing our abhorrence at brutal repression against many protests, including the unnecessary, excessive and unlawful use of force, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances, torture, summary executions or extrajudicial killings;
Deeply concerned by legal, policy and law enforcement measures that deter, prevent or obstruct protests, including detention, harassment and intimidation, and disproportionate criminal, administrative and civil sanctions against protesters;
Cognisant that the development of surveillance technologies and the data retention capabilities of both public authorities and private actors may violate the human rights of protesters and have a chilling effect on protests generally;
Desiring to demand that governments fulfil their obligation to respect, protect and facilitate the enjoyment of the right to protest without discrimination of any kind, to avoid unlawful, unjustified or unnecessary restrictions, and to ensure accountability for violations; and to encourage private entities to meet their responsibilities in this regard;
Call on all appropriate bodies at international, regional, national and local levels and private actors to undertake steps to promote widespread acceptance and dissemination of these Principles and give effect and practical implementation to them in all situations.