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Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)


On Wednesday, 18 October 2023, in the first of CGHR's four seminars for Michaelmas 2023, Dr Ella McPherson, Dr Thomas Probert and Dr Sharath Srinivasan gave a talk "The Right of Peaceful Assembly Today: Technology, Policing, Politics". 

Historically, peaceful assemblies played a critical role amidst social and political changes throughout the 20th century, and in today’s day and age, they are of special importance as seen in the assemblies in Hong Kong, Belarus, and across the world with Black Lives Matter protests. However, the more mundane and long-forgotten assemblies behind every high-profile gathering too bring much to the table and must not be overlooked as they are crucial in building solidarity behind a cause.

In recent years, researchers and students at the Centre of Governance and Human Rights have collaborated with colleagues in other universities and at the United Nations to advance academic thought and normative policy work on the right of peaceful assembly. This has included research and advice on recognising that the right extends to online spaces, supporting the development of the UN Human Rights Committee’s General Comment 37 on the right, and contributing to and co-editing the forthcoming Oxford Handbook of Peaceful Assembly.

In this panel discussion, Ella McPherson, Thomas Probert and Sharath Srinivasan shared insights from this work and expanded upon their contributions to the Handbook. They spoke about the digital mediation of assemblies (Ella), how the right impinges on how assemblies are policed (Thomas) and theorising the central role of assembly in politics beyond the right (Sharath). Drawing from their recently published paper, “The Digitally Mediated Freedom of Assembly,” they urged for a reimagination of how we think about and analyze the assemblies in the digital space, as it is an expression – often misconstrued – of a basic human right. Bringing peaceful assemblies online enhances its potential reach to people and practices globally while introducing a more mediated form of assembly. Though it is the source of heavy and growing criticism as a form of “slacker activism,” the benefits of merging human rights and technology must be considered for its facilitation of pre-assembly and gathering, amongst other reasons. Such intersection is of particular importance today in the context of recent trends of depoliticization, network fragmentation, and user alienation.

-by the CGHR Student Group, Oct 2023