Monday, December 5, 2016

UN rep says violent protest a 'false' concept

Alyaa Alhadjri     Published     Updated

A United Nations representative today decried the concept of a violent protest as being false, pointing out instead that there could only be individual violent protestors.

UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association Maina Kiai said this was because the right to freedom of assembly is an individual right that is exercised independently.

"Therefore the concept and idea that there can be a violent protest is false.

"There can be violent protestors but not violent protest. A protest cannot be violent. Protestors can be," said Kiai in his special lecture titled 'Freedom of Assembly: Trends and Challenges in International Human Rights' at the Integrity Institute of Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur this morning.

He further said that while individual protestors could breach and lose their rights to peaceful assembly by using violence, it did not render the whole protest as a violent protest.

"The obligation of the state at that point is to pick out those people and remove them from the assembly and let the peaceful people continue with their protest.

"That is the obligation of the state," he stressed.

At the same time, he also cautioned that protestors deemed as "violent" would still maintain their rights to bodily integrity, including to not be beaten up, tear gassed or hit by water cannons.

"They should not be treated that way just because they are protesting," he said.

This concept, Kiai said, was based on accepted international norms as contained in a report which he had submitted to the United Nations Human Rights Council.

While noting that Malaysia was not a party to two UN conventions which touched on a person's civil, political and social rights, Kiai reminded the Malaysian government that it was still bound by such accepted norms and practices.

In stressing that governments should not view public protests as as means to push for a regime change, Kiai said all individuals should exercise their rights to peaceful assembly.

"Please exercise your right. For whatever reason. Even if there is no reason. Just exercise it.

"The right is there to be used. If you don’t use it, it will cease to be a right and turned into a privilege by the government," he said.

Among others, the government had repeatedly claimed that the series of rallies led by electoral reform coalition Bersih were held as part of efforts to push for a change of government via undemocratic means.
The Peaceful Assembly Act 2012 also required organisers to provide the police with a 10-day notice and Kiai noted that while the process may be a good move, it should not be a licence for authorities to stop any assembly.
"It is supposed to be a facilitating issue. They facilitate you to do all these things, not stopping you on that," he said.

On counter-rallies, Kiai said the government should similarly facilitate the assembly, including to prevent clashes between any rival groups.

The recently-concluded Bersih 5 rally saw resistance from a counter-rally by Umno-linked red-shirts but police had prevented supporters of the two groups from clashing.

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