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Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)


The UN Human Rights Committee has recently published its official interpretation on the right of peaceful assembly (Article 21 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)) in General Comment 37. 

Recent developments, including the COVID-19 pandemic and worldwide protests in support of Black Lives Matter, underline the importance of this landmark document. The General Comment clarifies how the term ‘peaceful assembly’ shall be understood. Crucially,  it defined the scope of assembly as applying to both physical meetings and virtual online gatherings. The Human Rights Committee also elaborated extensive government obligations with regards to the right. 

In drafting General Comment 37, the Human Rights Committee consulted far and wide. As part of this process, CGHR built upon its longstanding collaboration with Professor Christof Heyns at the University of Pretoria, a member of the committee and the Rapporteur on General Comment 37. CGHR collaborated with researchers at the University of East Anglia Law School to create a research pack outlining six key dimensions of the right to peaceful assembly as practised online in particular. Then, together with the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law, CGHR and the UEA Law School held an expert workshop in Cambridge in December 2019 to discuss these issues with academics, policymakers, human rights practitioners and members of the UN Human Rights Committee, including ProfessorHeyns.

‘It is a fundamental human right for individuals to join a peaceful assembly to express themselves, to celebrate, or to air grievances. Together with other rights related to political freedom, it constitutes the very foundation of a democratic society, in which changes can be pursued through discussion and persuasion, rather than use of force,’ Heyns said on the occasion of the published interpretation.

 ‘Everyone, including children, foreign nationals, women, migrant workers, asylum seekers and refugees, can exercise the right of peaceful assembly, which may take many forms: in public and in private spaces, outdoors, indoors and online,’ he added.

 The full text of General Comment 37 is now available in English online.