The Right to: Freedom of Assembly Article 21 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Now we’re going to look at the right to
freedom of peaceful assembly. Freedom of peaceful assembly is the right to gather for a common purpose. This can be done publicly or privately. It includes the right to participate in assemblies, meetings, protests, strikes, sit-ins, demonstrations and other gatherings. International law only protects assemblies when they are peaceful. However, an assembly does not lose its peaceful character due to sporadic violence or unlawful behaviours of some individuals. The peaceful intentions of the people assembling should be presumed. No assembly can be banned on the assumption that it may turn violent. This right may not be denied to any one group; it is open to everyone. Even counter-demonstrators have the right to assemble peacefully. Exercising freedom of peaceful assembly should not be subject to the permission of the authorities. States may require notice – but not authorization. Since public peaceful assemblies are held to convey a message, they must be facilitated within ‘sight and sound’ of their target audience. Under international law, assemblies may be subject to certain restrictions, however these restrictions must be provided by law and meet a strict test of necessity and proportionality. All limitations to this right have to be justifiable in the interests of national security or public safety, public order, the protection of public health or morals, or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others. Restrictions should never impair the essence of the right. Freedom must be the rule and not the exception. So, to recap: States have the obligation to protect and fulfill the right to peaceful assembly, and to take measures that facilitate it, enabling people’s capacity to express their opinions. Freedom of peaceful assembly is an important means through which people can exercise their freedom of expression.